Thursday, March 17, 2016

Erin Go Home

Just as I was at the point of despairing of finding suitable material for a St. Patrick's Day post, theguardian.com handed one to me this morning. The headline reads: "Gerry Adams expresses anger after being denied entry to White House."

"Gerry Adams," the Guardian reported, "who was refused entry into the White House to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, has described the incident as an 'unacceptable development'. The Sinn Féin leader turned up for the annual Irish reception hosted by the US president, Barack Obama, on Tuesday evening only to be stopped over a 'security' issue. It is understood he left after being forced to wait for an hour and a half to get clearance. In a statement confirming the incident, he said Sinn Féin 'will not sit at the back of the bus for anyone'."

As an Irish-American, I know who Gerry Adams is. More than that, I know who he was. Just now he is the president of Sinn Féin, a Northern Ireland political party that has a long and spotty history. Adams was also a prominent leader of the Irish Republican Army, the military - some (like me) would call it the terrorist - wing of Sinn Féin. In 2014, Adams was arrested by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and held for four days while being questioned about his role in the murder of Jean McConville, one of the "disappeared" of the Northern Ireland "Troubles." He was released and a report stated that it was due to insufficient evidence to detain him further.

Some of you may remember how Adams petitioned for a visa to the United States in 1993, about how President Bill Clinton personally approved the visa and how Clinton later welcomed Adams to a visit to the White House on St. Patrick's Day, 1995. Adams requested entry to the U.S. in order to facilitate his party's fund-raising efforts among Irish-Americans. Last year on this day, Hillary Clinton was inducted to the Irish-American Hall of Fame and posed for photographs next to Adams in New York City. She has stated that she regards Adams as an important figure in the history of Northern Ireland comparable to Nelson Mandela's position in South Africa. I find her views typically obtuse and disgusting in the extreme. Unlike South Africa, there are no heroes in the Northern Ireland Troubles - only victims, some living and some dead.

I, for one, was appalled in 1995 to see an American president shake hands with a known leader of a terrorist organization. But Clinton and his friend Tony Blair claimed that it was the only way that Sinn Féin could be relied on to cooperate in peace talks that led eventually to the Good Friday Accord in 1998, and the announcement in 2005 in which the Provisional IRA agreed to abandon its "armed campaign" and embrace a democratic political solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland. Recently released transcripts of phone conversations between Clinton and Blair the day after the Omagh bombing in 1998 (four months after the Good Friday Agreement) reveal Clinton's misgivings about trusting Adams, whose murky ties to the IRA he was never able to clarify.

The trouble is, Gerry Adams, while maintaining his evasive stance regarding his terrorist past and attempting to excuse his past actions with the blanket alibi, "we were at war," is the head of a Marxist/Leninist political party that remains committed to revolutionary change.

I have described in previous posts how in my teens I went through my own Irish Republican phase. Like many Irish-Americans, I embraced the quite ludicrous version of Irish history in which the British Army's intervention in Northern Ireland in the 1970s was just another example of British colonialism, and I, too, listened to the Paul McCartney song, "Give Ireland Back to the Irish," among other, much older rebel songs. As I grew up, however, I gradually realized that the situation in Norther Ireland was far more complex and that the struggle between the Protestants and Catholics was about power and political control of the six counties of the North. The IRA wanted the British Army out so that they could wage war on the Protestants with impunity.

I grew sickened by the stereotypical image of Irish-Americans, especially on this day, sitting in bars all across America, tearfully swapping stories about the Old Country and handing over their hard-earned dollars to organizations like Sinn Féin, clandestinely funding terrorist acts. My feelings, then as now, are those of an interested observer of events that the Irish themselves have shaped. No one was as surprised as I was by the Good Friday agreement, but peace has not come without resistance.

When president Bill Clinton first welcomed Adams to the White House in 1995, I thought that it was a terrible precedent. Perhaps Bill Clinton considered kissing a terrorist's arse on the White House premises a small price to pay for establishing a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. Whatever the reason for refusing Adams entry to the White House for this year's celebration, I think it's high time he was shown the door. Erin go bragh.

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