Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin were in the United States last week for a series of high profile political meetings and briefings.
Arriving in Washington for a meeting with President Clinton on Wednesday, 12 January, Adams spoke of the need to build on the progress made so far. President Clinton was joined by the Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, and officials from the National Security Council.
Gerry Adams then travelled to New York to meet Martin McGuinness and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin for a Presidential Conference on Thursday morning at the Sheraton Hotel in Manhattan. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin emphasised that Sinn Féin was an all-Ireland party and the potential for increased political strength in the south of Ireland. An unexpected bonus for the Sinn Féin delegation was the discovery that the Reverend Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition were holding a major conference in the same hotel. When the Reverend Jackson was informed of the Sinn Féin delegation's presence, he immediately agreed to meet them. He warmly greeted Adams, saying: ``We have much in commen to talk about, let's make it happen.'' He then invited Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin to the lunch that was addressed by President Clinton. The Rainbow-PUSH coalition's Wall Street Project, which was the theme of the conference, is aimed at ensuring participation in economic power by minorities. The Rev Jesse Jackson, launching the project, said: ``We insist that corporations stop the formula of targeting us for consumption and then boycotting us. We don't want to bye boycotting partners we want to trading partners.''
The Sinn Féin team's next appointment had an added significance after the meeting with Jesse Jackson. Martin McGuinness' itinerary included meetings in line with his position as Minister for Education and our next stop was at the Rice High School in Harlem, on the corner of Malcom X Boulevard and Lennox Avenue. Mutual concerns for social justice issues, particularly in relation to inner city schools made Rice High School a perfect choice for McGuinness' first visit to an American school. Rice High School is run by Christian Brothers and the all-boys school serves primarily African-Americans and Latinos from Harlem. The school has a proud record of sending an extremely high ration of pupils on to third-level education, and the focus on equality of opportunity was obvious.
Adams and McGuinness were met by school pupil president Onyx Echavarria, who informed Martin McGuinness that he had read several books about Ireland. The school president, Brother John Walderman, Principal Orlando Gober and PRO Ed Morrero introduced the Sinn Féin delegation to representatives of each class in the school. A lively exchange followed before the boys took the Sinn Féin delegation on a tour of the school, finishing with a reception. This school and the issues it deals with had clear and obvious resonance for McGuinness and this visit was one of the most rewarding and warmin Sinn Féin's experience.
Thursday's main event was a rally in Manhattan. Congressman Joe Crowley, introducing Adams and McGuinness, spoke of Irish America's hope for freedom and justice in a united Ireland. Adams told the packed hall on 44th Street of his confidence that a free and united Ireland is achievable. He asserted that if Irish people everywhere continue to work with integrity and commitment, a united and independent Ireland will be a reality by the time we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. Referring to the Good Friday Agreement, Adams said that only Sinn Féin will push to ensure that its potential for change, for equality and justice will be realised and its all-Ireland dimension translated into real change.
The Question and Answer session ranged from the serious concerns about a new policing service, demilitarisation, the role of Irish America can still play, to queries on Martin McGuinness' son's examination results. The confidence and good humour of the crowd was infectious and McGuinness and Adams left the rally buoyed up by the clear goodwill and support of the crowd.
Congessman Crowley announced that a bipartisan Irish Presidential Forum would be held in New York in Febuary to ensure that the Irish peace process is firmly on the political agenda for the forthcoming Presidential elections.
While Gerry Adams stayed in New York for a series of meetings and media briefings, including a reading from his books at the Irish Historical Society, McGuinness travelled to Washington to meet with the US Secretary of Education, Richard Riley and officials from the Department. Riley spent most of the day with McGuinness, an unusual and very generous allocation of time. The US Education Department also laid on a daylong programme of briefings for Six-County Education Department officials. McGuinness then visited a magnet school in Burtonsville, Maryland, a new experiment aimed at integrating ethnic groups in a positive manner.
Also in Washington, McGuinness and Rita O'Hare met with Hilary Clinton's chief advisor, Melane Ververe, who assured them of Hilary Clinton's continuing concern and interest in Ireland.
McGuinness spoke of his support for equality of opportunity for all pupils, regardless of gender and informed Vevere of his allocation of funds for integrated schooling. He spoke passionately of his concern at the selection process that deems so many children failures at 11 years of age and his determination to change that. McGuinness later met with Irish Ambassador, Seán Ó hUigín, while Gerry Adams' last public engagement was a dinner to honour John Cardinal O'Connor of New York, who is renowned for his support for the needy and homeless of New York. Speaking as he entered the event, Adams said: ``I am here because of Cardinal O'Connor's outspoken support for peace and justice in Ireland.''