Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are currently visiting the United States as part of their annual St Patrick’s Day trip, the highlight of which will be a meeting with US President Brack Obama at the White House.
Mr McGuinness said he and DUP leader Peter Robinson plan to discuss a number of “potential investment opportunities” with US based firms next week. The ministers will start their visit with a series of meetings in Chicago.
Meanwhile Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams told an audience in Boston that last week’s vote on devolution meant more powers were transferring “from England to Ireland”.
The Sinn Fein president was seated onstage beside newly-elected Republican Senator for Massachusetts Scott Brown who stunned America in January when he took the late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy’s seat in a by-election.
Democratic State Senator Jack Hart, who organised the breakfast, introduced Mr Adams by saying: “He has literally dedicated his life to the struggle for Irish freedom at great cost to himself and his family. It’s an extraordinary story.”
Mr Adams received two standing ovations from the sympathetic audience.
During his eight-minute address the West Belfast MP said: “I come with good news.
“Despite a number of difficulties over recent years... about a month ago Sinn Fein did a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party and that unfolded last Tuesday when the legislative assembly in Belfast passed the first motion to bring policing and justice powers from London to Belfast; to bring powers from England to Ireland,” he said.
Describing the transfer of powers as “symbolically important”, Mr Adams said the 1998 Good Friday Agreement “opens up a peaceful and democratic way of getting Irish unity; of getting an end to the awfulness that has been afflicted on our people for a very long time.”
He added: “Had I come here 20 years ago -- well I wouldn’t have been allowed to come here 20 years ago -- but if I had came here 20 years ago and told you there would be cessations (of armed struggle), a peace process, there were going to be agreements, that Ian Paisley was going to say ‘yes’, that Ian Paisley was going to be in government with Martin McGuinness, that Peter Robinson was going to be in government with Sinn Fein, then people would have had me locked up. But all of those things have happened.”
However, there were also questions for Mr Adams, who on Saturday night was the guest of honour at a dinner for the all-male Clover Club in the Massachusetts city’s Plaza Hotel.
The event was boycotted last year by the state’s governor because it refuses to allow female members.
Mr Adams said he had attended the event to thank Clover Club president Joe Leary for his charitable work in Ireland.
“Obviously I’m against exclusion, I’m for inclusivity and I made that point,” he said.
He added that he was sorry that members of the Irish media who turned up to cover his speech to around 500 members of the Irish American gentlemen’s club were turned away.
“I’m sorry you weren’t allowed in -- you should have been,” he said.
“I made the point [during the event] about women and for all of us on the island of Ireland to be together.”
“People are satisfied, they know my agenda, where I am coming from. They know our position very clearly on these iss ues,” he said.
Mr Adams also defended his decision to take part for the first time in the South Boston St Patrick’s Day parade. Lesbian and gay rights organisations are not permitted to join the parade, which has been boycotted for several years by the city’s mayor Thomas Menino.
“All groups should be free to be involved in any assembly, particularly one that is celebrating Ireland and about a celebration of the Irish,” he said.
“The gay and lesbian community are as much a part of Ireland as any other sector,” he said.
“But I decided to take part because having made our position clearly we are not going to exclude ourselves.
“I’m in political institutions where some people don’t want us to be there so I know about exclusion.
“We state our position very clearly and then we get on with it.”
Mr Adams is also travelling to New York and Washington for other St Patrick’s Day events along with other politicians from the north.