30 September 2005

McGuinness barred from raising funds on US trip

Irish Times

30 September 2005

Sinn Féin chief negotiator Martin McGuinness has been barred by the US State Department from fundraising in the US this week, despite the decommissioning of weapons by the IRA, writes Mark Hennessy, Political Correspondent, in Belfast.

The move has worried the party's Irish-American supporters in advance of next month's Friends of Sinn Féin fundraiser in New York, though Sinn Féin sought to downplay its significance last night.

The annual Manhattan dinner, which costs $500 a head and is usually attended by senior Sinn Féin figures such as Mr McGuinness and party leader Gerry Adams, raises up to $400,000 for the party's coffers.

Heeding a warning last March from the White House in the wake of the Belfast killing of Robert McCartney, Sinn Féin did not apply for fundraising rights when Mr Adams travelled to the US for St Patrick's Day.

Under US State Department rules, foreign politicians have to apply for permission to raise funds from US donors before each of their visits to the country.

The restriction, The Irish Times understands, was specifically mentioned by the US special envoy to Northern Ireland, Mitchell Reiss, when he met Mr McGuinness in Washington on Tuesday, though he had been told of it before he travelled.

Efforts are now expected from Irish-American supporters to get the ban lifted quickly. "There is no question but that it will be a big problem next month if it is not lifted," one informed source commented last night.

The exact reasons for the US decision are not yet clear, though it could reflect White House caution about the IRA before the Independent Monitoring Commission issues the second of its reports next January.

Mr Reiss last night refused to discuss the visa restriction on Mr McGuinness. "US officials are not allowed to talk about the visa application of any individual."

Last night, a Sinn Féin spokeswoman said: "The fundraising wasn't a big part of this trip. He is doing all the political work that he intended to do on the west coast.

"We are hopeful that on the next trip he will be able to fundraise. We don't see this as a long-term problem. This trip was put together at the last minute," she said.

Mr McGuinness will travel to Seattle today before going on to San Francisco tomorrow and San Diego on Sunday. He concludes the US leg of his visit in Phoenix on Monday.

He will travel to Calgary in Canada on Monday and speak at a $100-a-head Friends of Sinn Féin (Canada) dinner there that evening.

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