15 March 2006

Bush 'hampering NI peace process'


15/03/2006 - 07:02:13

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has said that the Bush administration is hampering the Northern Ireland peace process by restricting his party’s ability to raise funds in the US even after the IRA agreed to scrap its weapons.

Adams has been invited to the White House on Friday, a warmer reception than he got last year for St. Patrick’s Day, when the Bush administration refused to meet with him or any of the Northern Ireland party leaders in addition to cutting off Sinn Féin’s fundraising privileges in the US.

That was intended principally to isolate the IRA-linked Sinn Féin, which relies much more heavily than other Northern Ireland parties on support from Irish-American supporters.

The US moves followed a 2005 verdict by an international fact-finding panel that blamed the IRA for killing a Catholic civilian in January 2005 and robbing a Belfast bank of £26.5m a month earlier.

Yesterday, Adams criticised the Bush administration for maintaining the sanctions.

“Not only does this go against the principles of equality and inclusion that are at the heart of the peace process, it is being used by those opposed to the Good Friday Agreement” of 1998, a bid to end Northern Ireland’s decades-long civil strife.

The key aim of Northern Ireland’s peace accord, a joint Catholic-Protestant administration, has remained in political limbo since 2002, when the previous coalition collapsed over an IRA spying scandal. Leaders of the major Protestant party, the Democratic Unionists, say they will not share power with Sinn Féin until the IRA disbands.

“It’s quite remarkable, I don’t understand why this restriction is being put on me. I’ve been invaluable to the White House, and I don’t understand why I can’t walk around the corner and go into a restaurant,” Adams said at a press conference, referring to a fundraising event planned in Washington tomorrow.

“I’m surprised and bewildered as to the rationale and the purpose” of the fundraising ban, Adams told The Associated Press.

“The issue is that the administration has chosen to treat Sinn Féin differently than it treats the other parties, and the peace process is based upon equality, and based upon inclusivity,” Adams said.

“And I find it quite remarkable, given the huge advances that have been made by Irish Republicans in Ireland last year and the IRA putting its weapons beyond use,” Adams said.

“Many people, Irish Americans and friends of Sinn Féin, are angry,” Adams said of the continued ban, but added that he would shake President Bush’s hand if he encountered him at Friday’s White House event at which other Northern Ireland leaders will also be present.

In 1995, President Bill Clinton lifted fundraising restrictions on Sinn Féin and invited Adams to the White House for St. Patrick’s celebrations, a policy continued annually under Bush until last year.

A leading Irish-American congressman said yesterday that the Bush administration does not intend to lift the fundraising ban.

Rep. James Walsh, chair of the Friends of Ireland congressional group, said: “It’s true, though there hasn’t been an official statement yet. What they decided to do was invite Adams to the White House, but they’re not lifting the fundraising ban.

Walsh, a New York Republican, strongly criticised the decision, saying it effectively punishes Sinn Féin for the IRA’s pledge last year to decommission its weapons, announced by Adams and Martin McGuinness, a veteran IRA commander and chief negotiator for Sinn Féin.

“What is absolutely bizarre about the decision is that Adams and McGuinness have delivered. They got a complete cessation, a complete decommissioning. The IRA stood down. To punish them for it makes no sense at all,” Walsh said in Washington.

Outlawed Protestant paramilitary groups, chiefly the Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Volunteer Force, less well-armed than the IRA but involved in much more violence, have said they will not disarm.

While Sinn Féin and its supporters were frustrated about the fundraising ban politically, they said the financial effects were minimal, if not inspiring, to donors to the party.

“Interestingly enough, I was denied a visa to attend a fundraiser in November and I didn’t come to the US and I think we raised 500,000,” Adams explained. “So I think my absence was a financial boost for our efforts.”

“At the end of the day it doesn’t restrict how much money we make,” said Larry Downes, president of the Friends of Sinn Féin.

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