On a visit to Washington DC to attend the US Presidential inauguration ceremenonies, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has said he believes that President Obama can assist the Irish peace process.
Mr Adams was present in Washington for the swearing-in ceremony as a guest of congressman Richard E Neal of Massachusetts.
A wave of Obamania swept Ireland this week as events in Washington were greeted enthusiastically in homes, offices and pubs around the country.
“This is a huge watershed in US history,” Mr Adams said as he arrived in Washington DC for the inauguration.
“The feeling is palpable - there is a feeling of expectation and a sense of being involved in something which is very special.
“The world will look to the new administration for even-handedness, common sense and change.”
Mr Adams said he hoped that President Obama would help the Irish peace process.
“The policy of the US before the peace process with Irish-American issues was negative and unhelpful,” he said.
“Republican Ireland will look to the new administration to help encourage movement towards unity and end to the partition of our small island.”
Mr Neal agreed.
“I hope that the new administration will help nurture the peace process and reinforce the relationship between Ireland and the US,” he said.
US INPUT TO CAMPAIGN
Sinn Féin is to hold major conferences in the US this year to rally support among the Irish Diaspora for a united Ireland.
At the party’s celebrations to mark the 90th anniversary of the first Irish parliament, Mr Adams said the Ireland of today was not the state dreamed of by the 1916 leaders as partition had politically and economically stunted its potential.
“There are tens of millions of people across the globe who can proudly trace their lineage back to Ireland,” Mr Adams said.
“Sinn Féin will be inviting Irish-America to discuss with us how we can advance a united Ireland campaign.
“Our intention is to engage with the Diaspora and seek to marshal its political strength.”
Mr Adams said there was considerable goodwill in the US for a united Ireland and the party would be focusing its efforts this year on the Irish-American population.
Two major conferences will be held in the summer, although dates and locations have yet to be finalised. A third conference is also planned for London early next year.
“Now is the time to promote a united Ireland as desirable, viable and achievable in this generation through peaceful and democratic methods,” Mr Adams said.
HOPES FOR OBAMA
Meanwhile, there has been genuine excitement in Ireland over the potential of the new US administration to bring about positive change on a global scale.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the Obama inauguration was a cause for joy and celebration in Washington, the United States and across the world. Mr Cowen said the occasion marked a new chapter in history and a new beginning for the US.
“His inaugural address offered inspiration and hope to us all. As we face the great challenges that confront us, his leadership will be central to global economic recovery and to the advancement of peace and justice,” he said.
Mr Cowen said he wanted to offer Mr Obama warmest congratulations, best wishes and support on behalf of the people of Ireland.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said yesterday’s inauguration was a historical event which offered hope to the world. “[Mr] Obama has already shown himself to be a charismatic leader with the drive and vision necessary to bring about real change,” he said.
Mr Kenny said the hope that Mr Obama’s election had produced would be felt far beyond US borders. “The president’s inauguration address made it clear that he intends to re-engage with the global community. In a time of economic turmoil, where peace is threatened throughout the world, President Obama’s words offer hope and his commitment is very welcome.”
Mr Obama’s initial policy decisions were also welcomed, including the announcement of the winding up of the Guantanamo prison camp and the apppointment of onwe of the key brokers of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, George Mitchell, as US envoy to the Middle East.
The timing of Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza strip was also linked by Gerry Adams and Irish political commentators to the Obama inauguration process.
However, there were still calls for the new president to highlight the plight of 50,000 undocumented Irish immigrants living in the US who need his political assistance “now more than ever.” Fine Gael MEP Sean O Neachtain said the situation of the illegal Irish in America was “unacceptable” and they needed “urgent help”.
Elsewhere, plans are being discussed to turn Mr Obama’s Irish ancestral homestead into a museum.
Records from the area show that Obama’s great-great-great-grandfather Fulmuth Kearney was reared in Moneygall, County Offaly and left for America in 1850 when he was 19.
It is hoped the mooted Obama museum might prove to be an attractive destination for US tourists.