Unhappy St. Patrick’s Day


While the Democratic Party has given the global Left little reason to believe it would make significant changes if it were to take power in Bushland, there is at least one European ‘republican’ who cannot wait for the big-R Republicans to leave the White House.

Gerry Adams, president of Ireland’s Sinn Fein party, has done his damnedest to cultivate friends in high American places. But it appears his warm embrace of the likes of the Clinton Global Initiative (documented previously in CounterPunch) haven’t endeared him sufficiently to the present US administration. Visiting the US for the traditional St Patrick’s Day parties and political attention to Irish affairs, he found himself subject to extra screening before boarding a flight at Washington’s Dulles Airport to Buffalo, New York, on St Patrick’s Day, apparently because he was on a federal ‘security-tagged’ list. Adams and the rest of a Sinn Fein party that included its US representative Rita O’Hare missed the flight, and thus an event at the Irish Centre in Buffalo, and then ended up travelling by train from Washington to Boston for fear the list might strike again for a second internal flight. An Irish newspaper reported that Adams’ luggage still had not been returned by the next morning. Adams is barred from US fundraising in any event, as the newest restriction on his visa.

Adams and O’Hare have more or less acknowledged past IRA activity (O’Hare more; Adams less). But the sudden American crackdown seems scant reward for the last year’s moves in the peace process, mostly notably the IRA’s apparent disarmament at the instigation of Adams. It seems likely, at least in the view of Irish-American supporters, that Adams was being slapped down for impertinent criticism of Bush’s ‘envoy’ to the interminable Northern Ireland peace process, Mitchell Reiss. “I don’t have any high regard for Mitchell Reiss’s input in this process,” Adams said on Thursday. “If it is he who is advising the president, then it’s very, very bad advice.” Bush declined to meet Adams or other Northern party leaders in private at the White St Patrick’s Day reception.

Until this weekend, Adams had travelled freely in the US since Bill Clinton moved to permit him a visa in 1994, to aid the peace process. The latest incident is a salutary reminder for Adams and other Irish small-r republicans of the pecking order that the peace process has produced. Adams, the leader of the North’s second most popular party, and the largest Irish-nationalist one, has less influence on political developments there than George Bush, Tony Blair and the Irish prime minister, Bertie Ahern. (Bush and Blair would probably enjoy even lower approval ratings in Northern Ireland than the 36 per cent or so that each man has at home.)

While Sinn Fein has effectively accepted the partition of Ireland as a political reality, Adams and his party colleagues are blocked from taking office in the North because the vaunted “Good Friday Agreement” of 1998 gives effective veto to the largest party on the unionist side ­ at present, pope-basher Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party. Paisley won’t go into government with Sinn Fein, a position that is unlikely to shift. So republicans’ reward for acceptance of partition, disarmament, and the unionist veto on local self-rule is precisely nothing–except an “up yours Adams!” from the White House. The fact that the loyalist UDA remains primed for action doesn’t help matters.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein’s quest for respectability has seen it vigorously denouncing some of its most natural supporters in the southern Republic: hundreds of working-class Dubliners who rioted in late February, succeeding in preventing a parade of Northern unionists from marching through the centre of the capital to protest past IRA murders. The party remains likely to make electoral gains in the Republic, but this discomfort, together with continuing media pressure about republican ‘criminality’ and recent reports of informers in the ranks, means that the upcoming 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising finds Sinn Fein in less-than-celebratory mood.

The Irish and British governments’ latest plans set out to please Paisley by allowing the Northern Ireland Assembly to run without requiring it to elect a power-sharing executive. (This is also designed to appeal to assembly-members who were being threatened with a possible block on their salaries just because they haven’t done any work for a few years.) Sinn Fein complains about the governments pandering to Paisley. But the party has signed up to a process in which such pandering is an inevitable part of the sectarian logic.

HARRY BROWNE writes for Village magazine and lectures in Dublin Institute of Technology: harrybrowne@eircom.net




Harry Browne lectures in Dublin Institute of Technology and is the author of The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power). Email:harry.browne@gmail.com, Twitter @harrybrowne