Emory Report

Mar. 29, 1999

 Volume 51, No. 25

Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams calls for British adherence to accord

Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the political party aligned with the Irish Republican Army, told a WHSCAB auditorium audience on March 15 that the current struggle in Northern Ireland is similar to the civil rights movement in the United States.

"Your government took a handle on [civil rights] and changed the situation," Adams told the near-capacity crowd. "The last 30 years of conflict in Ireland [happened] because the state could not concede to the idea of one man, one vote."

The Sinn Fein president asked the audience to help him "complete the circle so that the place we live can become a place for our children." Sinn Fein consciously targeted the United States for the support because of its large Irish-American community and the political clout of the White House. "Before I came to Washington I wasn't allowed in London. It was illegal for my voice to be on British radio. It embarrassed the British government."

In Georgia to serve as grand marshal at the Savannah St. Patrick's Day parade, Adams said he was rocked the morning of March 15 when news that prominent Catholic attorney Rosemary Nelson, who defended Garvaghy Road residents in their conflict with the Protestant Orange Order last July, died after a bomb placed in her car exploded near her home in Lurgan, 30 miles southwest of Belfast. After the bombing, Adams skipped the parade to meet with President Bill Clinton and David Trimble, the first prime minister of Northern Ireland.

"It is fitting that all of us who have a stake in the peace process redouble our efforts to make the process work," Adams said. "Rosemary is a tragic reminder of how the precarious process works." The remainder of Adams' remarks focused on what he called the British government's reluctance to adhere to the Good Friday Accord, signed a year ago this month. He specifically attacked Trimble, saying several times that "there are people in power that don't want to see changes."

Professor of Performing Arts and W.B. Yeats Scholar James Flannery, who was instrumental in bringing Adams to Emory, sympathized with the Sinn Fein leader's current predicament. "He's an extremely intelligent, sensitive man in an extraordinarily difficult situation," Flannery said.

Adams, a West Belfast resident, who wore a bright green tie and lapel pin to commemorate the upcoming St. Patrick's Day holiday, lamented the Irish's lack of basic civil rights in British-controlled Northern Ireland. "If any section of this humanity deserves justice, it is the people of Northern Ireland," he said.

Although most of the crowd--who paid up to $20 to hear the hourlong speech and the question-and-answer session that followed--were sympathetic to Adams and Sinn Fein, some found problems in the political leader's address. "I thought that his speech was a bit problematic in his treating of history," said Bobby Jones Scholar Debbie Palmer, a native of Scotland. "He used the parts that suited his purpose.

"He failed to explain the difficulties facing the British government," Palmer added. Adams, who served more than five years in British prisons without facing trial in the 1970s, declared that the IRA would "go home" if all aspects of the Good Friday Accord were implemented immediately.

In perhaps the most emotional moment of the lecture, Adams read a letter from an Irish family whose young daughter was killed by a British soldier in Northern Ireland. "All we want is justice," the letter read. "How long do we have to wait?"

--Reid Epstein

This article is excerpted from one that first appeared in The Emory Wheel and is used with permission.

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