Sinn Féin encouraged by American support
BY RITA O'HARE
The St Patrick's Day celebrations at the White House this year, while clearly seen by the hundreds of Irish Americans who attended as a way to pay tribute to a President who has shown such commitment to peace in Ireland, had inevitably an underlying air of concern and regret. St. Patrick's Day 2000 should have been a celebration of the achievement of movement on the Good Friday Agreement of two years ago. Instead the main question in everybody's mind was how the political institutions could be reestablished and when.
Sinn Féin President, Gerry Adams arrived in Washington on Thursday, 16 March. After flying into New York the evening before, he had held a press conference and, accompanied by Dessie Mackin and Joe Cahill, spoke at a very successful reception at a well known New York restaurant, Rosie O'Grady's. He later attended a memorial event organised by the Rosemary Nelson Campaign in New York.
Sinn Féin had senior party members throughout America during the week around St. Patrick's Day. Bairbre de Brún was in San Francisco, where she walked in the city's St Patrick's Day parade and met with local politicians and media before travelling to Seattle in Washington State. Gerry Kelly spoke at several venues in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Trenton, New Jersey. He also attended the Irish American Top 100 event in New York on Monday, 12 March. Sean MacManus began his tour in Columbus, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan before travelling to Montana for meetings and events in Butte and Missoula.
Martin Ferris' itinerary included Boston, New Bedford, Plymouth and Lawrence in Massachesetts while Joe Cahill spoke at events in Scanton, Pennsylvania.
Martin McGuinness's first stop was Pittsburgh, where 15 March was designated Martin McGuinness Day by the city council. He then travelled to Cleveland for a public meeting with local dignitaries and a speech at the City Club of Cleveland, which was widely broadcast.
McGuinness also spoke at a big event in Stanford, Connecticut on Saturday, and marched in the Pearl River St. Patrick's Day Parade in Rockland County, New York. He then travelled to Washington where he and Gerry Adams met with President Clinton at the White House.
In Washington on Thursday, Gerry Adams attended the Speaker's Lunch before meeting the International Relations Committee. There, key members of Congress expressed their deep concern at the impasse on the peace process and assured Adams of their intention to do what they could to encourage movement. Committee Chair Ben Gilman took the opportunity to announce that the committee will conduct hearings on the stalled peace process. In an earlier St Patrick's Day address to Congress on 9 March, Gilman said:
``This year's St. Patrick's Day was to have held out great hope for lasting peace and justice in the long troubled North of Ireland. The Irish and peace-loving people all over the world were joyous last 29 November when the new Northern Ireland power sharing executive was finally formed and the British government devolved most of home rule to Belfast.
``It was a step backwards in the search for lasting peace and justice when the British government on 11 February 2000 suspended the power sharing institutions that had been the best chance to produce overall change in the North, including decommissioning.
``Even after positive steps were being made to resolve the arms issue - the IRA had committed to put them beyond use - the old unionist veto by the Ulster Unionist Party forced the suspension of power sharing under the threat of resignation by the UUP First Minister, David Trimble, from the new local government. Terms of the Good Friday Accord set out simultaneous time frames for removal of the guns on both sides from Irish politics.
``Those who have unilaterally changed its terms and exercised a veto over its cooperation must explain their intransigance, and be held accountable for failing to carry out the terms of the Good Friday peace accord.
``In order to create the climate for arms decommissioning as envisaged by the terms of the Good Friday Accord, power sharing institutions must be reestablished, sooner rather than later.''
Gerry Adams also met Senator Ted Kennedy and discussed the consequences of the suspension of the Executive with him. The Sinn Féin delegation came back to Ireland greatly encouraged by the messages of support for the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement and the expressions of America's commitment to help to ensure that the democratic political path mapped out in the Agreement succeeds.