THE head of the political wing of the outlawed Irish Republican Army (IRA) was in the United States Feb. 1 to talk about peace prospects in Northern Ireland, following disagreement within the Clinton administration over whether to grant him a visa.
``We want to take the gun out of Irish politics,'' Gerry Adams said at a press conference. ``The opportunity for peace was never more realizable than it is at present.'' Secret talks that were held for three years with the British government should be resumed, he said on the ABC news program, Good Morning America.
``How long it [the peace process] takes requires the cooperation of all parties,'' Adams said, adding that the British government set aside preconditions such as the renunciation of violence and open immediate talks with Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA.
Adams, who was scheduled to attend a Feb. 1-2 conference on Northern Ireland, had been banned from entering the United States because of his links to the IRA, which is waging an armed struggle to unite Protestant-dominated and British-governed Northern Ireland with the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Irish Republic in the south. Adams received an 48-hour entry visa after intense lobbying by influential Irish American legislators on the Clinton administration.
US officials say they hope the Adams trip will give a boost to ongoing Anglo-Irish peace talks. Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds, along with British leaders, are trying to convince Sinn Fein to join the peace process. According to ground rules laid out by London and Dublin, Sinn Fein must renounce violence to participate in peace talks, something that Adams has not done unequivocally. Violence in Northern Ireland has claimed more than 3,100 lives since 1969.
``People should talk,'' Adams said on Feb. 1, adding that it is easy to make peace with friends. ``The most difficult thing, however, is to reach a settlement with bitter enemies.''