In US, Gerry Adams Seeks Ireland `Peace Investment'

DOZENS of reporters jostled each other for position inches from Gerry Adams's face, but the Irish nationalist stayed cool and relaxed. This was his first trip to Boston and he was with ``family.''

About 200 Irish Americans gathered on Sept. 26 at a local hotel to hear Mr. Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army's political wing.

While reporters sought in vain to tease the words ``permanent cease-fire'' out of Adams - clarifying for a hesitant British government the status of the Aug. 31 truce in Northern Ireland - most attendees sought photos with him.

This trip to the United States comes at a critical time for Adams, who seeks support from Americans for Sinn Fein's immediate inclusion in peace talks on Northern Ireland. And over the long term, Adams also would need money to fund his dream of an independent, united Ireland, since the British now subsidize Ulster heavily.

The smiles and green ties filling the hall gave no doubt of the good will beaming from Boston, one of Irish Americans' largest strongholds. Adams may not be meeting with President Clinton during his tour, but several local politicians, including Sen. Edward Kennedy, have met with him and the grass roots have turned out in full force.

``Everybody wants to get his signature ... the reception has been tremendous,'' says Sinn Fein spokesman Richard McAuley.

When Adams visited nearby Springfield, Mass., he was greeted in Gaelic.

``It was like going home,'' Mr. McAuley says.

Much of the enthusiasm stemmed from Adams's crucial role in the IRA cease-fire. ``As long as he keeps talking peace, we're singing off the same hymn sheets,'' says attendee Kingsley Atkins.

But Irish American author Elizabeth Shannon urges caution. Though she says all politicians involved in the truce are to be admired, she warns against what she terms ``triumphalism.''

``A more low-key approach [for Adams] might be valid,'' she says. ``Irish America [has] a nationalist voice, but we also have a loyalty to pluralism, and that's our strongest tradition.''

Adams said he too supports pluralism. ``If people in Ireland didn't have civil rights or religious liberties, then it wouldn't be the type of Ireland which I would want to be part of.''

Adams also embraced the diversity of the Irish diaspora, in particular the common cause of the Irish who came to the US as ``indentured servants'' and blacks who came ``with even less, [as] slaves.''

This struck a chord with Irish African-American Deahdra Butler-Henderson, who said she was ``initially ashamed'' of her mixed heritage, but that ``I found it in fact is true ... about affinity'' between blacks and the Irish.

Listening to a variety of political voices will be a necessity for Sinn Fein, which holds only about 12.5 percent support in Ulster polls and 2 percent in the Irish Republic.

ACCORDING to Adams, American support has already helped him. Despite being granted only US visas that came with certain restrictions, Adams credits to his US trips the Sept. 16 end of Britain's ban on media broadcasts of Sinn Fein voices.

``When I came here in February, your media couldn't believe [the censorship]. The British were exposed,'' he said. ``When I was going back, they didn't want to suffer the embarrassment again, so the ban was lifted.''

Financial support for Ireland, which would bear the economic burden of supporting the northern province if Britain withdraws, was clearly a theme.

``I don't come here with the notion that the US will fly millions of dollars into Ireland tomorrow,'' Adams said. ``But what I would like to see happening is an economic investment in the peace process.''

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.