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Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Féin Visits New Jersey


The politics of peace

On common ground, Adams McGreevey discuss North


By Ray O'Hanlon

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PRINCETON, N.J. -- It was about as a far from the Short Strand as could be imagined. Gerry Adams stood at a lectern at the rear of a Greek Revival mansion in deepest New Jersey last Friday afternoon. But the Short Strand was very much on the Sinn Féin president's mind.

Adams, on a visit to the U.S. aimed at raising money and shoring up support for his party in uneasy times, spoke of feeling helpless and angry in the face of loyalist attacks on the Catholic enclave in East Belfast.

His frustration was sympathetically absorbed on a sun-dappled fall day by a crowd of Irish Americans invited to the occasion, a reception in the grounds of Drumthwacket, the official residence of New Jersey's governors.

Adams was flanked at the lectern, and in a press conference that preceded his speech, by the mansion's current tenant, Gov. Jim McGreevey.

If Adams was feeling a little in need of executive comfort in the post-Clinton era, McGreevey was clearly inclined to fill the former president's shoes.

Adams, McGreevey said at the outset of the press conference, has been a voice for justice and advocacy on behalf of the Catholic community in the north of Ireland "and indeed all sensible persons seeking a lasting peace."

The Sinn Féin leader's "strong, unqualified advocacy" for the Good Friday accord, said McGreevey, had helped bring about "the most significant steps toward a permanent peace."

Adams spoke of what was his first encounter with McGreevey as being a case of third time lucky.

A planned first meeting had been put on the long finger as a result of McGreevey breaking his leg a year ago. A second chance had been missed when McGreevey was last in Northern Ireland but Adams was traveling.

Adams spoke of having a "constructive meeting" with Dr. Richard Haass, the Bush administration's point man on the North, and of fruitful meetings with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and various members of Congress.

But McGreevey, it seemed, was being accorded special billing by Adams on a visit that took in Washington, D.C., New York, New Jersey and both Toronto and Montreal.

"The main message I have, and I think in many ways the governor personifies this, is the importance of an ongoing engagement by Irish America in the search for peace back home in Ireland," Adams told both reporters and later Irish-American guests at the reception.

Adams said that his party's message was one of support for the Good Friday agreement.

This message was for Irish America in both its Democratic and Republican guise. The two, Adams said, were able to coalesce on the issue of Ireland.

Some of the current difficulties facing the GFA, Adams said, were "quite profound" because of a resistance on the part of some to change.

"It remains my conviction that we will succeed and that this process will culminate in a democratic peace settlement in which everyone on the island of Ireland will be treated on the basis of equality," Adams said.

McGreevey, in contrast to what he saw as unqualified Sinn Féin support for the GFA, said that it had been "most recently unfortunate that the Ulster Unionists had backed away from some of the principle tenets of the Good Friday accord."

The accord, McGreevey said, was the best vehicle for a permanent peace. It was, he said, incumbent upon Irish Americans, and America, to continue to provide strong, clear leadership to bring justice and peace to the north of Ireland.

In the course of the press conference, Adams parried a number of questions focusing on the allegations against several Sinn Féin officials concerning theft of confidential documents from Stormont, and the feared dangers posed by those documents ending up in the hands of the IRA.

The allegations, Adams said, should be taken with "a sizable dose of salt."

"The arrest of these people came after a decision by the Ulster Unionist Party to leave the Executive next January, to leave the North-South ministerial Council immediately, and to leave the policing board in the short term if the British government went ahead with policing reforms.

"So it was clear," said Adams, "that the process was set to go into a crisis and what these arrests and allegations did was to accelerate that crisis."

McGreevey said that "right thinking, sensible unionist leadership" needed to understand the importance of the peace process.

"And by the Ulster Unionists walking away from the Good Friday accord, they are walking away from the peace process," he said.

This, he added, was jeopardizing the best potential hope for justice and peace.

Asked what alternative there might be to the accord, Adams interjected by saying "there is no alternative."

McGreevey followed by saying that there is either a rational peace process or a return to sectarian troubles.

Asked for his own views about the charges stemming from alleged theft of documents from Stormont, McGreevey indicated that he harbored concerns over the very justice system bringing those charges.

"The history of British occupation in the north of Ireland has been routinely condemned by the European courts and so clearly, considering the sectarian focus and the historic lack of equity in the application of the law, it is critically important that the international community, and the American community, understand the necessity for balanced justice," he said.

Adams, both at the press conference and in his speech to the invited audience afterward, admonished the media for paying excessive attention to the Stormont case in particular, and the IRA in general.

The news media "fixation" on the IRA was a matter of "some frustration," he said. "The reality is that the IRA has been on cessation for eight years."

He pointed to what he said had been 500 blast bomb attacks on Catholics in Belfast's "interface" areas in recent months.

"There's no threat to the peace process except from the rejectionist unionist section," Adams said.

Offered McGreevey, "Despite difficulties, Sinn Féin is irrevocably committed to this process."

Adams, in his speech that followed, again pointed to attacks against Catholic neighborhoods as events that, he said, are not getting the attention they should.

And yet, in an echo of statements made recently in Ireland, and again at the fundraising dinner in the Sheraton hotel the night before, Adams said he looked forward to a future in which there would be no armed groups in Ireland.

Taking the gun out of Irish politics had taken a step forward. Now it was the gunman.

And taking an extra step of his own later that evening, McGreevey attended the Friends of Sinn Féin fundraising event in Hamilton, just outside Trenton.

Two near misses in a budding relationship with the Sinn Féin leader had turned into two friendly meetings in just one day.

This story appeared in the issue of November 13-19, 2002


The oldest of ten children, Gerry Adams was born on October 6, 1948 in the working class area of West Belfast where he continues to reside with his wife and son.

Upon finishing school in the 1960's, Gerry supported himself as a bartender while becoming increasingly involved in the civil rights movement. Modeled on the civil rights movement in the United States the Irish effort was founded to fight discrimination against northern Catholics by the British government in the areas of housing, employment, education and language.

Internment without trial was introduced in 1971 in response to the growing civil rights movement and community unrest over continued human rights abuses further provoking popular street resistance and campaigns of civil disobedience. The brutal reaction of the Unionist government in the six counties resulted in the ultimate breach of civil rights - murder by the government - of peaceful protesters at what has become known as Bloody Sunday.

For his activities in the ongoing effort to secure equality of treatment for all Irish men and women Gerry was interned in 1972 on the Maidstone, a British prison ship known for its inhumane conditions of overcrowding and brutality. Following this initial internment Gerry participated in peace talks with the British that resulted in a truce which was broken shortly afterwards by the British.

He was again arrested and held without trial from 1973 to 1977.

Over the years Gerry's family has also been targeted by unionist forces. His brother-in-law was killed by the British Army; his brother was shot by the British; several family members have been imprisoned, and his wife and son narrowly escaped injury when a loyalist bomb attack was carried out at their home. To the present day Gerry's health continues to be adversely affected by the years of punishment inflicted during his internment and from his closest call with death, when his body was riddled by automatic rifle-fire in a loyalist death squad attack in downtown Belfast.

Elected as President of Sinn Fein in 1983, Gerry was also elected as a Minister of Parliament from West Belfast during the same year. Refusing to take his seat in Westminster because of the compulsory oath of allegiance to the British Queen, Gerry continued to campaign for the rights of Irish nationalists.

Gerry Adams is widely acclaimed for his crucial role in laying the groundwork for the peace process in Ireland and for his continuing efforts in the building of a stable, democratically negotiated peace settlement.

In September 1993, Gerry Adams along with John Hume, leader of the Socialist Democratic Labour Party, played a pivotal role in reviving the Irish Peace Initiative. This cooperative enterprise lead to major political developments in the peace process including the Downing Street Declaration and the Joint Framework Document, both of which were in direct response to the Irish Peace Initiative.

The strategy adopted by Sinn Fein leadership, headed by Gerry Adams, played a significant part in the Irish Republican Army's courageous announcement on 31 August 1994 of ``a complete cessation of military operations.'' The IRA initiative enhanced the peace process begun by Adams and Hume and was followed six weeks later by a similar announcement on the part of loyalist paramilitary organizations. The work of Mr Adams was crucial in restoring the peace process this year after its collapse in February 1996 following eighteen months of British bad faith and unionist intransigence.

Centrally involved in the establishment of Sinn Fein's dialogue with the Dublin government and with most of the Irish political parties, Gerry was a member of the Sinn Fein delegation to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation.

Sinn Fein continues to achieve groundbreaking advances on both sides of the Atlantic in its quest for a just and lasting peace in Ireland. Despite efforts at marginalization, demonization, censorship and isolation significant inroads to peace continue to be made by Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein. The Clinton Administrat has been a positive and visionary contribution to the search for peace in Ireland. Gerry's trips to the United States thus far has swept Sinn Fein into an historic phase of meaningful dialogue with the U.S. government while allowing the American public, long suffering at the hands of the British propaganda machine, an opportunity to assess Sinn Fein's analysis and strategy for peace.

Highlights of Gerry's previous trips to the United States include a telephone call from Vice President Al Gore; meetings with some of the most senior Democratic and Republican political figures in Washington; meetings with leaders of the Irish American, legal, business, African-American and Hispanic communities, discussions on relevant issues with the Jewish Lobby and interviews with the editorial staffs of some of the most influential newspapers in the country. Gerry was warmly received at UC Berkeley and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a personal highlight was his meeting with Mrs. Rosa Parks, whom he has long admired and identified with because of their shared background in the civil rights movement of the 1960's.

A member of PEN, the international guild of writers Gerry Adams has published several books including; A Pathway to Peace, The Politics of Irish Freedom and Selected Writings, which provide expositions of his political thinking; Falls Memories, an autobiographical memoir; Cage Eleven, stories relating to prison experiences, The Street and Other Stories, a collection of short stories and Before the Dawn, an autobiography . He is also the author of countless articles and book reviews and a featured columnist on Irish politics for The Irish Voice. An enthusiastic Gaelic sports supporter Gerry Adams is also a fluent speaker of Irish and continues to support cultural growth and appreciation in Ireland.


Gerry Adams regained his seat as Sinn Fein MP for West Belfast in the recent Westminster elections.

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