US State Dept stuck in conflict mode

A historic statement by Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams that 'the war is over' has not moved the US government to change its position on Sinn Fein speakers attending fundraising events in the US.

US officials have denied there is a ban on Sinn Fein fundraising following protests on the issue by a group of US Congressmen.

But reports in recent days indicate that elements in the US administration believe Sinn Fein politicians should be prevented from holding fundraising events until the party lends its support to the PSNI police.

Visiting politicians from the party are still not being granted visas which would permit them to take part in fund-raising activities.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams is due to visit the country next week. The party has expressed concern at reports saying there could be a visa restriction on Mr Adams, who is due to visit New York later this month for an annual fundraising dinner.

Mr Adams again confirmed the end of the Provisional IRA's armed struggle on a television talk show at the weekend. "The war is obviously over," he told interviewer Gerry Kelly on UTV.

"The IRA said formally it was bringing an end to its armed campaign."

Mr Adams's words, following the complete and unilateral disarming of the Provisional IRA, were welcomed by unionists. But there are concerns among nationalists that US State Department policy could still hurt the peace process.

Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said Mr Adams would pull out of a visit to New York later this month if restrictions were placed on him addressing party events.

And he also warned that Irish republicans would resist any attempt by the Bush administration to link the visa conditions with Sinn Fein's opposition to the unreformed PSNI police.

Mr McGuinness said: "These fundraising events allow supporters of Irish unity to contribute to Sinn Fein's political programme to achieve this through peaceful and democratic activity.

"Such support is entirely legitimate and indeed necessary in demonstrating that politics works.

"The US has played a pivotal role in the creation and evolution of the peace process.

"An even-handed approach has been the hallmark of success in this. All parties have been treated equally.

"However, any heavy-handed attempt by the State Department to try and dictate Sinn Fein policy on policing is misguided and will do nothing to help in the resolution of this key issue."

In a letter last week, seven influential Congressmen urged the US administration to follow the lead of the British government an d lift the financial sanctions against the party.

They pointed to the recent sequence of events which culminated with the Provisional IRA putting its remaining weapons beyond use and calling an end to its armed campaign.

"We believe that the Sinn Fein leadership has kept its word and honored its commitments," the statement said.

"At this critical moment in the peace process, they should not be penalized for delivering on their promises. Every political party from Northern Ireland has the right to fundraise in the United States. We are simply calling for a level playing field. The ban that prevents Sinn Fein from fundraising in the United States should be lifted promptly."


Meanwhile, the family of murdered Dublin man Joseph Rafferty is to meet US ambassador James C Kenny in the hope of taking their justice campaign to the US.

The family, which blames republicans for shooting Mr Rafferty in Dublin last April, hopes to achieve the publicity accorded to the McCartney family earlier this year.

A former member of the IRA, who had a relationship with the mother of a family Mr Rafferty had feuded with, is considered a suspect in the attack.

Gerry Adams has described Mr Rafferty's death as a brutal murder, but denied Sinn Fein members were involved.

"This is a matter for the garda. Jo Rafferty's killing was a very, very brutal murder - one of a series of such murders in Dublin in the recent past."

He repeated his offer to meet the family. "If there is anything they want us to do that we can do, we will do it." His first offer, made last week, was rejected by Mr Rafferty's sister, Esther Uzell.

The McCartneys are due to travel to the US again next week. A meeting with them in New York or Washington has not been ruled out by Mr Rafferty's family.

"There are a lot of people in the US who support Sinn Fein and we would like to bring Joseph's story over there in the same way that the McCartneys highlighted their story," said Ms Uzell. "We're hoping that the ambassador can give us a bit of advice and some help in organising things."

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