Sinn Fein leader says US could solidify peace in Northern Ireland

Irish nationalist politician Gerry Adams told The Hill Thursday that his recent arrest in relation to a 1972 murder could ultimately have a beneficial effect in bringing renewed U.S. attention to lingering issues from the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Adams was speaking at the conclusion of a two-day trip to the United States during which he briefed Irish-American leaders in New York, and met with Obama administration officials in Washington, including Vice President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.

ADVERTISEMENT
“My arrest alerted a lot of people here to difficulties, and part of the reason for my visit was to say to them, ‘Look, you know, now we have both [British and Irish] governments at least focusing on the need to sort this out,’” Adams said.

Adams has been leader of Sinn Fein since 1983. The party was, for many years, the political wing of the guerrilla Irish Republican Army (I.R.A.) but has grown prodigiously since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the U.S.-brokered accord which largely ended the three-decade armed conflict known as The Troubles.

At the end of April, he was arrested for questioning in connection with the 1972 murder in Belfast of a widowed mother of 10, Jean McConville. 

McConville was killed by the I.R.A., who believed she was an informer. Her body was not found until 2003. Two now-deceased I.R.A. members claimed Adams had authorized the killing but he has consistently denied any involvement. He was released without charge after four days in police custody. 

His party colleagues argued that the arrest was timed to hurt Sinn Fein’s chances in local and European elections that were held last week in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. But Sinn Fein performed very strongly in those elections, racking up its highest votes in modern times in the Republic.

Adams added, regarding his arrest, that his supporters among Irish-American politicians “were genuinely affronted by what happened. You know, I have been coming here since ’94, these people are friends, they have invested in, and been very helpful about, the process. So they were annoyed at what had happened.”

Back in early May, when Adams was still being held by Northern Ireland police, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told The Hill, “I have every reason based on his past record to believe Gerry Adams.”

On Thursday Adams met with the Congressional Friends of Ireland, a grouping whose members include King, Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.).

“I pay great credit to the small group of Congress members on the Hill who, through thick and thin, and all the twists and turns of the process — people like Peter King and Richie Neal and Joe Crowley and others — have all remained very solid,” Adams said.

He suggested that Irish-American politicians and the Obama administration had a role to play in ensuring the final stages of the peace process were fully enacted. 

He cited as an outstanding issue the failure of U.S. foreign policy experts Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan to broker a deal between Northern Ireland’s political parties at the end of last year. 

Haass and O’Sullivan were trying to find a way forward on contentious issues such as political parades, the flying of flags from public buildings, and ways in which to deal with the overall legacy of the conflict, in which more than 3,500 people were killed.

Adams noted that the British government had seemed lukewarm to the Haass-O’Sullivan proposals and suggested that the Obama administration could “encourage” the London government toward a more receptive position.

“I think their main role is encouraging the British. We are not looking for — and they wouldn’t do it anyway — the U.S. administration to beat up on the Brits,” he said.