Sinn Féin’s representative to Washington, Rita O’Hare, was temporarily denied permission to visit the United States this week following a dispute over her itinerary on her previous trip.
It is understood, however, that there has been no change in policy towards Sinn Féin and that Ms O’Hare’s next application for a visa waiver will not be affected.
Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness has been given permission to travel to New York and Washington next week and he is expected to meet State Department officials in the US capital.
Ms O’Hare planned to accompany Mr McGuinness, but was refused permission, apparently as a ‘slap on the wrist’ for deviating from her agreed itinerary on a recent visit to the US.
Like many Sinn Féin figures, Ms O’Hare is ineligible for a US visa because of her past association with the Provisional IRA and must apply for a waiver for each visit. A waiver has been granted regularly in the last six years, allowing Ms O’Hare to make frequent visits to the US as Sinn Féin’s Washington representative.
One of the rules of the waiver is that the person applying must provide a detailed itinerary, giving details of what places are to be visited in the US.
It is understood that on a recent visit, Ms O’Hare failed to provide adequate notification to the State Department of her intention to visit supporters of the peace process in Florida.
Several US Congressman made representations to allow the visa application. Initial accounts had suggested that a more enduring ban had been imposed.
The US State Department subsequently said its position was unchanged in that it attaches importance to the peace process, including continued dialogue with Sinn Féin.
Mr McGuinness, the party’s chief negotiator, said the matter had generated concern.
“I am certain there will be huge concern and dismay, and I have already been told this has been voiced in protest to [US envoy] Mitchell Reiss and to the State Department by members of congress and I am sure many other people.”
Mr McGuinness said Rita O’Hare had made “a huge contribution” to the peace process and had built up many important contacts in the U.S.
Ms O’Hare was due to accompany Mr McGuinness, who has been granted permission to travel, on a trip to New York and Washington next week to meet members of the US administration, Congress and Irish American organisations.
“I don’t have any doubt that I will get the usually very warm reception that I receive when I go there,” Mr McGuinness said.
Mr McGuinness welcomed the statement from the US State Department that there had been no change in policy with regard to allowing Sinn Féin access.
“We have been told by the State Department that this doesn’t affect their relationship with Sinn Féin, they are citing this issue of a change of venue, so it appears to be a minor matter,” he said.