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A Conversation with Gerry Adams

Speaker: Gerry Adams, president, Sinn Fein
Discussant: Warren M. Hoge, foreign affairs correspondent at the United Nations, the "New York Times"
March 14, 2005
Council on Foreign Relations



New York, N.Y.

WARREN HOGE: Shall we begin? Good morning. I'm told to start by asking you all to make sure your cell phones and wirelesses and BlackBerrys and whatever are turned off. The second thing I'm supposed to do normally is to tell you that this is off the record, not for attribution. But as you see the commotion of all my subtle hacks in the back of this room, you'll know that's not true. This is very much on the record.

I was in Northern Ireland for many years, and one of the things you do as a reporter in Northern Ireland is listen to Northern Irish politicians talk. And so, Gerry Adams, I wanted to tell you my revenge this morning will take only five minutes, but I would like to take five minutes to simply put the members in the picture in Northern Ireland, and also to arrive quickly at the events of today, which I think could be a defining moment in Irish Republican politics.

I'd like to start with the good news about the beleaguered Northern Ireland peace process, and given recent events you can be forgiven if you thought there wasn't any. I first went to Belfast in 1996, at the start of what was to be a seven-and-a-half year assignment for the New York Times as London bureau chief. And I mention that because it was a foreboding place at that time. It was shuttered and deserted at night, and it was still the scene of killings; where venturing out in the football jersey of a team representing one tradition in Northern Ireland could cost you your life from a gunman of the other tradition. There would be many times after that in Northern Ireland when I had to remind myself that I was really in Western Europe.

But then in April 1998 the Good Friday agreement occurred and things began to change. By the time of my last visit in November of 2003, Belfast was a profoundly altered place. Construction cranes dotted the horizon. Old courthouses and markets were being refurbished; hotels and convention centers rose along the Lagan River; a member of Mr. Adams' party was seated in the ornate old Victorian city hall downtown in Belfast, overlooking a statue of Queen Victoria and surrounded by the symbols of empire; and most importantly, people who had left in despair in the preceding decades came back, in effect a second return of the Irish diaspora. Economic indices shot up; jobs became available, offered on an equal opportunity basis; and the previously darkened streets around Donegal Square hummed with commercial activity in the daytime and buzzed with club life at night.

It was my experience that disillusionment was so endemic to Northern Ireland that real optimism was always in short supply. But over one weekend of conversations with scores of people of all ages and backgrounds in downtown Belfast in 2003, I couldn't find anyone who thought the sectarian violence of the troubles might return. That's the good news of the Northern Ireland peace process. Basically, what had happened was that the citizens of Northern Ireland had stepped out in front of the politicians and brought change to their lives while public leaders fell into feuds that prevented the power-sharing government imagined by the agreement from ever gaining sustainable life.

That's not to say that the political efforts were not intense. The prime ministers of Britain and Ireland, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, devoted extraordinary amounts of time to the process, sometimes spending three and four days in a row out of their own capitals, hunkered down with the leaders of Northern Ireland's various parties, trying to put the fractured accord back together again and get the new, home-rule government up and running.

There were a number of dramatic personalities on the scene, ranging from the legendary [Northern Irish politician and unionist leader, Reverend] Ian Paisley to the Nobel Peace Prize winner, John Hume [head of the Social Democratic and Labor Party]. But indisputably, the most charismatic figure and the most skilled political tactician was our guest this morning, Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army [IRA]. Leaders from the unionist movement—and that's the movement, of course, that wants Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom and not become, as republicans and nationalists would wish, at one with the Irish Republic—leaders of the unionists may consider Gerry Adams public enemy No. 1, but they all used to tell me they wished they had someone as effective as he on their side.

Mr. Adams was able to achieve an IRA cease-fire and to build a republican political movement that saw Sinn Fein become the largest nationalist party in the north; a growing political force in the republic [of Ireland], with five seats in the Irish Dail [lower house of the parliament], and at least a grudgingly accepted presence on the British mainland with four seats in the parliament at Westminster. Mr. Adams and his party managed to thrive despite building pressure on the IRA to declare the war over and disarm. But that progress has come to a dramatic halt in the last three months.

First, another hope for a settlement of political differences ended in December in a dispute over whether the IRA would permit verification of its disarmament by photography. Then the IRA was accused of masterminding a $50 million bank holdup in Belfast. An illegal laundering of additional millions was turned up by police in the republic. Mr. Ahern, the Irish prime minister, who had always provided Sinn Fein with crucial support, accused the party of betrayal. And the Irish justice minister, abandoning the tradition of, quote, constructive ambiguity, unquote, wherein the linkage between Sinn Fein and the IRA was acknowledged but conveniently left vague, declared that Mr. Adams and two other Sinn Fein leaders were themselves members of the IRA ruling council. Bad as that was, nothing has damaged Sinn Fein as much as the horrific murder of a 33-year-old republican father of two named Robert McCartney in January in a downtown Belfast pub by IRA thugs who virtually disemboweled him, then intimidated 75 witnesses into remaining silent. Five key people in that case, though, refused to remain silent: they were Mr. McCartney's sisters.

Mr. Adams and other leaders of Northern Ireland's political parties are not being invited to the White House this year for the traditional St. Patrick's Day commemoration, but all five McCartney sisters will be there. In addition, on this trip Mr. Adams will not be raising any funds, and he will be encountering some harsh views from Sinn Fein's traditional defenders on Capitol Hill when he gets to Washington later this week. And as you probably know from the news today, Senator Ted Kennedy [D-Mass.] has said that he will not be seeing Mr. Adams in Washington on this visit.

Yet, in a final and important point, polls show that despite feelings of disgust, revulsion in some cases, gathering distrust, and even a precipitous fall in Mr. Adams' own popularity, his party continues to turn out voters, and a majority of people believe that there can be no lasting peace without Sinn Fein in the mix. The question this morning is, can Sinn Fein remain viable as long as it is linked to the IRA? So, Mr. Adams, the IRA is indisputably damaging republican ambitions right now. Will Sinn Fein divorce the IRA? And if not, why not?

GERRY ADAMS: With, with respect, I think it's the wrong question. [Laughter] Sinn Fein is viable. We are the third largest party on the island of Ireland. We're the largest pro-agreement party in the north. If the institutions were put back in place today, you would have a Sinn Fein deputy first minister, a Sinn Fein deputy prime minister. So it isn't a matter of, you know, of the relationship, per se, [inaudible] between Sinn Fein and the IRA. The real question is, does Sinn Fein want to bring an end to the IRA? And we do. And then the second question is, will we be successful in achieving that? And in my view, we will. And we're going through a difficult period and we are being beat up on, but I think that you just have to take that. There's no running away from the issues.

I also happen—and I hope I'm not arrogant—but I think that I am probably, along with another small number of people, the best people to make the judgments on how we sort out this whole issue of armed groups, which includes the IRA, and how we do it is by looking back over the last 10 or 15 years and looking at what worked. When Irish America put the issue of Ireland on the president-hopeful Bill Clinton's agenda, the situation in Ireland was horrific. The situation was that there were daily atrocities. There was conflict that lasted, as you know, for decades. And by creating a different context, then we were able to persuade the IRA to step into that new context. John Hume played a leadership role, Bill Clinton, [former Irish Prime Minister] Albert Reynolds, myself, others.

So I think this is at a failing point. That's my very, very strong view. The difficulty with doing events like this is that in the eye of the storm you can't send, and you can't outline precisely what you want to do to bring the process into another phase because we are going through a phase. The whole process is in a transition. All society in Ireland is in transition, and that includes republicans. So you know, you may want to ask supplementaries, but I mean, my short take on this is, as I have said, one, Sinn Fein does want to bring about an end to the IRA; two, Sinn Fein, I think with others, will be successful in achieving that; and then, three, for Irish republicans, the alternative to the IRA has to be Sinn Fein. But we have to be the vehicle towards democracy and peace and justice in Ireland, and we are totally committed to democratic and peaceful means to both [inaudible] the peace process and then move beyond the peace process towards Irish unity.

HOGE: I've heard that sort of explanation many times in the past. I think the question I asked is the right question for now. I think you can no longer keep saying, "Yes, we will do away with the IRA one day;" "Yes, they will disarm at some point." I think the moment has arrived now where people are making those demands, and I also think that that question's going to be asked of you by people you see here in Irish America and certainly people you see on Capitol Hill that I've been talking with over the weekend. But let me put it to you this way. The prisoners are out. The civil rights movement has really accomplished most of its major goals. Why does the IRA still have to exist? I mean right today, not at some point in the future where you say you will—what possible justification is there right now in the politics of Northern Ireland at the point it's reached for a fully armed guerrilla army to resist the call to say the war is over and disarm?

ADAMS: Well, you see, I think, you know, implicit or even explicit in your question is that it's within the authority of Sinn Fein to bring this about, and it isn't within the authority of Sinn Fein to bring this about.

HOGE: I think that's why people vote for your party.

ADAMS: No, no. With respect, people vote for our party on a range of issues, because if your proposition is right, that means that instead of the IRA being actually a terrorist group, they have huge support. So people vote for our party because, one, we are the all-Ireland—or the only all-Ireland party in the field; two, we want equality in the island of Ireland and we want change and we want change now; three, we are totally wedded to the peace process and we have been successful, and that no one gainsays the progress that has been made, but no one gainsays the transformation of society, even though there's still a lot to be done, and we don't run away from those challenges; and then, because we are a united Ireland party.

And no one can understand what is happening in Ireland unless you understand it in the context of the conquest of Ireland by an English government. Ireland is partitioned. Ireland, a small nation—island, is divided artificially. The conflict didn't happen because we breathe different air. The conflict didn't happen because there was a row between the Pope and the Calvinists. The conflict happened, as happens in most situations, because of the out-workings of colonialism. And unless people have some sense of that, then it's very difficult to work out any of the issues, and I comment back directly to the point you made.

If Sinn Fein—because I could stand up tomorrow and declare Sinn Fein new, new Sinn Fein. I could stand up tomorrow. Others have done that. In his time, [rebel leader and former Irish prime minister] Eamon De Valera did that. Did that get rid of the issue of physical force, republicanism? It didn't. Other leaders, not as prominent as De Valera, in our time and over the last 20 or 30 years, have done exactly the same thing. Did that get rid of the issue of the IRA? No, it didn't. And what we have to do is to take—and my service to this process, by the way, is in my ability to bring people with me. Once I cease to be able—or [Sinn Fein official] Martin McGuinness or the rest of our leadership—once we cease to be able to bring people with us, then we cease to be of any service to this overall process. So what we have to do is to bring people through this transition and out the other side, and leave republicanism in a situation where there aren't elements within it who have some sense of hanging on or recommencing a war or recommencing conflict and so on.

HOGE: Is that the problem? You go back to Eamon De Valera and [his rival, Irish rebel leader] Michael Collins and the fear that people have always had in republican politics to provoke another split of that kind in republican politics. There are many, many people who sincerely believe that you want to get the guns out of Irish politics, that you would like to see the IRA disbanded—you yourself said so this morning, that's part of your ambition, but that you're—or that you're worried that, so far, you cannot bring them all with you. Is that the problem, that there are still elements of the IRA that are not yet wedded to the idea that they will no longer be an active guerrilla force?

ADAMS: Well, if we just revert very briefly to December, which is only three short months ago, and we had a situation in December where the IRA leadership was prepared to [put] arms beyond use, to invite a Protestant and a Catholic clergyman to verify and to witness that, to do that by Christmas, to go into a new mode in support of a new agreement, to instruct all of its volunteers that they could do nothing, that they could not engage in any activity whatsoever, I, for my part, was prepared in a given context, which the British government had agreed to, to go to the leadership of Sinn Fein and call a special conference on the issue of policing, and we were prepared to share power with Ian Paisley. And all of the issues of equality and rights and entitlements—you know, it's seven, eight years since the Good Friday agreement. We still haven't got a bill of rights. We still haven't got a decent human rights commission. We still haven't got a decent equality commission. There are still huge amounts of British soldiers in areas which are proudly Irish and proudly Irish republicans, who don't like to see heavily armed combat troops of the British crown in their villages and streets and fields and farmlands.

So in December, we had the ability and the potential. We were on the cusp of closing all of this. Now that, in December, happened after a torturous year. I mean, I don't know if you remember, but in July the rest of the parties went on holidays and we stayed with some brave unionists to keep the peace in interfaith areas during the Orange marching season [when unionists commemorate a victory over Catholic foes]. And [Sinn Fein spokesperson on Policing and Justice] Gerry Kelly, a friend and a colleague of mine, actually intervened—there were lots of televisual coverage of it—intervened to avert what could have been another Bloody Sunday [an incident in January 1972, when British soldiers fired on nationalist demonstrators], when heavily armed British paratroopers were confronted by nationalists in Ardoyne, and Gerry put himself between the troops and the people. And that followed a torturous negotiation, which commenced just after Christmas of 2004.

So people feel frustrated. How on Earth do you think we feel? Because we are the people who are bringing our own constituency with us, and we're bringing people through somersaults, through helter skelters of emotions. Now that failed because Ian Paisley, who refuses to talk to us—he refuses to talk. Well, what signal does that send to young people, that one isn't worthy to be talked to or to be listened to? And Ian Paisley said that there had to be acts of humiliation, that there had to be sack cloth and ashes worn by republicans, just at the point where we thought we had everybody over the [inaudible]. And then, of course, it backtracked since then, and the Northern Bank robbery happened almost immediately after that, and then this terrible, dreadful killing of Robert McCartney happened just after Christmas. And republicans have been—you know, who have had the initiative to a certain extent because we want to make this work—are now on the back foot. And I think that's, you know—I don't want to be drawing facile comparisons, but in any ball game, any team game, you don't have possession of the ball for the whole game. And we at the moment have lost possession, but our intention is to regain possession, is to regain the initiative, and is to drive the process on once again.

HOGE: But that's just the point I'm making. I think you are on the back foot right now, and I think you're on the back foot because of the activities of the IRA. For instance, you just said a moment ago policing powers is something you would like to have. How possibly could anybody give Sinn Fein policing power right now when you see what the IRA is doing and you see the inability of Sinn Fein and the IRA to punish the people, identify the people, force them to testify in the Robert McCartney killing? You know, in which case you have people—you have Sinn Fein people and IRA people really positively identified as responsible for that act.

ADAMS: Well—

HOGE: Why would we give your party policing power if you can't even control that?

ADAMS: Well, you're asking whether or not I'm surprised that the IRA should force people. You're asking that. I mean, not only would a good defense lawyer make mincemeat out of that if someone ever arrived in court, but you're actually suggesting that the IRA intimidates people to conform.

And let me tell you about the killing of Robert McCartney. Sinn Fein did not kill Robert McCartney, and neither did the IRA. And the people, apart from Robert McCartney's immediate family, who have been most angry and frustrated over this man's death are people like myself, because I have given, as have many others, our entire lives—whatever people think about us, we've given our entire lives to this struggle. And for republicans—and there are rogue republicans; there are a very, very small number—to behave like thugs, to take this man's life, to sully what we feel is our good name—and I have traveled extensively. I've been speaking from Cork to Tyrone, through Dublin, Wexford, and I can tell you the hundreds of thousands of Irish republicans feel exactly the same as I do. And the only way that the family will get justice is on their own terms: through a court, through people being held accountable for their actions.

And you know, you mention 75 people in a bar. Well, whatever amount of people that were in the bar, there were only one or two people actually killed [inaudible]. It didn't happen in the bar; it happened outside the bar. And what I have said very, very publicly—and I'll put my reputation on the line—is that those people who did this should be man enough—should be man enough—if I had got myself, by some freak, caught up in this situation and I had been responsible for killing Robert McCartney and I had woken up the next day, I would have walked straight into whatever I thought was the appropriate body and admitted what I had done. That's what I would do. I think that those who did this are behaving in a most cowardly way and are motivated entirely by self-preservation.

Now should Sinn Fein be on the policing board? Sinn Fein will be on the policing board when we have a policing service which represents democratic and open policing of the kind that people deserve. And, you know, let no one lecture us on this because I am a person who has lived with state policing, which put me up against a wall and beat me for [inaudible] senseless. I have been subjected to house searches. [Inaudible] acts of humiliation have been visited upon my family umpteen times. I have buried neighbors and friends as a result of policing practice.

Now, have we got the possibility of sorting these matters out? Yes, because the British government, which two years ago told us that they had supplemented the policing commitments onto the Good Friday agreement, have since then been playing catch-up, and last October they agreed to transfer power. What we want, which is quite straightforward, is the democratically elected politicians, not spymasters, not MI5 [British security service], but democratically elected politicians, unionist politicians, as well as republicans or nationalists, should have responsibility [inaudible] control of policing. And I think we are going to get that.

Now again, like your earlier question, will we have a hard job to persuade republicans of that? Yes, because people are very skeptical, and not just Sinn Fein activists, but the broad constituency from which we draw our support. They're frightened of the police because of their experiences. Do they want to be policed? Yes. They pay taxes. They're very law-abiding. Think of a part of New York which didn't have policing for 30 years. Just think about it. Think of any section of New York that didn't have policing for 30 years, and then think of the constituency which I represent, a law-abiding, family-oriented, close community which cares about itself, in which—and this is the truth of it—in which killings like that of Robert McCartney are really very, very infrequent occurrences as opposed to what we read about what happens in other cities throughout the world.

So I think we will sort out the policing issue. I was quite prepared to go to our party leadership just before the new year to say to them, "Let's have a special conference and let's sort this out." Will we get that opportunity again? In my view, yes.

HOGE: Irish America has always given you a lot of support. I was, over the weekend, talking with a number of people in preparation for today, and three or four of them mentioned to me one passage in your speech to the Ard Fheis, to the [Sinn Fein] annual conference in Dublin last week, and let me read it to you. In your speech, you said, "We refuse to criminalize those who break the law in pursuit of legitimate political objectives." Now, seven years after the Good Friday agreement, is there still the need to break the law to pursue political objectives?

ADAMS: No, and I make that point later on in the speech. And the tense of that assertion is past tense, or should be past tense, because what there's an attempt to do at this time by opponents of Sinn Fein—

HOGE: It was not past tense in the speech.

ADAMS: No, I understand that, and I accept that entirely. That's my fault. But what our opponents are trying to do is to retrospectively criminalize a struggle. So, you know, am I a criminal? No, I'm not a criminal. Was [Irish republican] Bobby Sands, the man who died in a [1981] hunger strike, or his compatriots criminals? No, they weren't. Were those who declared the republic in 1916, those who were executed by the British for that, were they criminals? No, they weren't. You might as well ask Americans, "Was George Washington a criminal?"

The fact is that those who have stood—and, you know, I make the point in the speech that a crime is the breaking of the law. [Former British Prime Minister] Margaret Thatcher, for example, refused to meet with Nelson Mandela because he was a criminal. So it's retrospective. Do I think at the moment—and I make this very clear in the speech—that breaking the law or armed actions are an option? No, I don't. And why is that my view? Because there is an alternative. There is now an alternative. Those who used armed actions or supported armed actions in the past did so—this is one of John Hume's great, I think, qualities. They did so because they believed—and John used to say this. It doesn't matter what anybody else believes. The republicans believe that what they are doing is legitimate. And what we were able to bring to this process was the alternative, which has actually worked thus far.

So for anyone thinking that they should be involved in armed actions of any kind—and you mentioned the Northern Bank. The Northern Bank robbery was totally and absolutely wrong, it should not have happened, and any other actions that one could conceive of, and all—all—because there is now an alternative. There's now a way to move forward through entirely peaceable and democratic means.

HOGE: The Northern Ireland Bank. One of the people I spoke with this weekend, actually from Ireland, said to me, "If you did know about the Northern Ireland Bank robbery, then you're duplicitous and we can't do business with you; if you did not know about it, then you don't know what's going on with the IRA and we can't do business with you." [Laughter]

ADAMS: Well, I actually said that, precisely that, that we're damned if we do and damned if we don't, because if one, as you have just said, one of the scenarios is that Adams and McGuinness knew, therefore we're disingenuous, we're acting in bad faith, we're fooling governments and so on, and we're not to be trusted; and if we didn't know, then we're out of control and there's no point doing business with us.

Now, what I have to do, you see—and you used this term, and I know you're only echoing what is said, but invented this lovely term "constructive ambiguity." Now you see, what you then have to sort of regard for a minute or two: In the establishment script of what has happened in the last 10 or 15 years, Sinn Fein was taken in from the cold by these very kindly politicians who embraced us and decided, because they are absolutely charitable people, to engage in fudge and constructive ambiguity to help us, and we have let them down and they're outraged. Well, that isn't what happened.

The person who went to John Hume was me. The person who went to John Hume, having failed to get anybody else on board, was myself and a man called Father Alex Reid [who worked as a Catholic mediator in Belfast]. The person who stood firmly against all of the nonsense that was going on and the vilification—and he himself was vilified—was John Hume. The people who were opposed to Sinn Fein, vehemently opposed to Sinn Fein, were put on the back foot in terms of the growth of the peace process.

Now, Sinn Fein was censured at that time. Sinn Fein was demonized and marginalized at that time. We couldn't go into municipal buildings in Dublin City to have party conferences. We were bound from traveling to Britain. We were bound from coming here to the U.S.A. Not so much that that is our entitlement, but American citizens clearly have the right to hear information. I mean, there's no one going to go out of this room the worse for this experience.

They may disagree vehemently with what I have said, but at least they have had the advantage of listening to the discourse.

So Sinn Fein has driven this process. And in the transition that has come forward, more and more people have come to support our position. And of course, people are frustrated with the incremental pace. Of course they are. So am I. I don't want to spend my life having the same dog's day or whatever the name is—groundhog day?—a million times. I could actually argue Ian Paisley's case. We know what has to be done. We know precisely what has to be done. The agreement is so obviously—the five or six issues of armed groups, of arms, of policing, of the institutions, of the equality agenda, of demilitarization, they're all there. What needs to be done is that we just have to seize this and move it forward in an energetic way

Now, those who are beating up on us, and particularly in Ireland—and remember, a lot of Irish America take their lead from the Irish government. And the Irish government have not behaved well recently in terms of these issues. And I have said this very, very frankly and very, very clearly to the Taoiseach [prime minister], whose contribution to the process I appreciate and have commended.

So I think our friends here in the U.S.A., our friends here in Irish America, will understand that in such a process, there are difficult moments, there are difficult phases, but that no one—and I haven't heard anyone saying that they don't believe that myself and Martin McGuinness and the rest of us are serious about making this work. And I haven't heard anyone saying that we want to go back to conflict. And that's the key. Whatever [inaudible] is going on, whatever politics is going on, whatever nervousness there is out there, the strength of the process is, one, it's the popular will of people back home, and two, the Sinn Fein leadership is totally [inaudible] to making a success of this process.

HOGE: I'm going to go to questions from the audience right now. And to my friends in the back, my colleagues, I'm going to be asking members [of the Council on Foreign Relations] for questions and not the press, unless members have no questions, and then you guys can get your shots. So would you please identify yourselves and wait for the microphone to get to you.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm Cora Weiss from the Samuel Rubin Foundation. Mr. Adams, a few years ago, Senator [George] Mitchell [D-Maine, who helped negotiate the 1998 peace agreement] stood before this Council extolling the virtues of the Good Friday agreement, and for a while, we heard stories about schools being set up that welcomed both Catholic and Protestant children. I wonder if you could tell us something about what Sinn Fein is doing to promote reconciliation very concretely.

ADAMS: Well, on the issue of schools, integrated schools, when Martin McGuinness was minister of education, he put more funding into integrated schools than anyone ever before. Now, lest we think the children are to blame, or lest we think that, you know, an integrated education system will resolve all of the difficulties, the children are not born racist. Children are not born bigots. Children have to learn that. Children have to learn to bigot or to despise or not to be friends or to be intolerant of other people.

So for a very, very long time, Sinn Fein have been trying to engage with adults, and we have a special subcommittee of our party that has a rather awkward title. It's called the Unionist Outreach Committee. And for a decade and a half, senior members of the party have engaged and continued to engage with those elements of unionism who are prepared to engage with us. And I think it has been, for those sessions that I myself have been at, it has been hugely educational, because part of dialogue—and you know, if I had a message out of this engagement this morning, it is about dialogue. Dialogue is the only way that you can get some sense of how to make a peace process work. And dialogue involves listening. It involves proactive listening.

So for me, who have a particular view of the British state in Ireland and who have a particular view of its agencies and its institutions, to sit with other people who have a totally opposite view, and to learn that and then to try and put myself in their position—and out of that experience has come a series of initiatives. I mean, different initiatives were not aimed at the British government; different initiatives from republicans were aimed at unionism. So I think that what goes on. And it's not secret work, but it is private work, and it is busy work. It's dealing with community organizations, with people in churches, with those politicians who will work with us.

Secondly, the executive, which was in place, even though it was for a very short term, was successful. For the first time—and you know, had I come here 15 years before and said that we would have cessations, we would have an agreement, we would have loyalists and nationalists and republicans and unionists sharing power together, we would have an all-Ireland infrastructure, people would have just pooh-poohed that. But we had that.

And you know, I said earlier that Ian Paisley refuses to talk to us, and that's right. But in the councils, because we forced them through legal reviews and other judicial avenues, the DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] do deal with Sinn Fein. In the old assembly in the Committee of Agriculture, which was chaired by Ian Paisley, he dealt with Sinn Fein, and dealt with Sinn Fein, I think, in a decent way. And the minutes show that—that he wasn't a bad chairperson, and he presided over those meetings in a proper manner.

So we will continue to support initiatives and continue to support the concept, for those parents who wish, of integrated education. But we will also engage and be proactive listeners to those unionists who we can engage with at all sorts of different levels in civic society and within the political institutions.

HOGE: Very good. Please?

QUESTIONER: George Schwab, National Committee on American Foreign Policy. Mr. Adams, you have eloquently spoken about how you hope to move forward, quote/unquote, the peace process in Northern Ireland. As you so well know, we have done a lot over here on this side of the ocean in the last 10-12 years. Do you have any concrete suggestions on how we should proceed from now on and over [inaudible] the peace process?

ADAMS: Well, if I may be impertinent enough to say it, the Irish peace process is one of the successes of U.S. foreign policy, and it is a policy which was started by Bill Clinton and then embraced by the Bush presidency. And I think that it needs to be a policy which is pursued, and I have no doubt that this administration will continue to support the peace process.

I'm meeting with [Mitchell] Reiss, who is President Bush's special envoy in Ireland, in a day or two. And I think the broad concepts of inclusivity, of dialogue, of encouraging a movement forward—and what I always like to say to U.S. citizens, "If it isn't good enough for you, if it isn't good enough for you—if you lived in Ireland, if you lived where I live, and if it isn't good enough for you, then it isn't good enough for me." And I think those sort of virtues or values should be brought to your engagement, so that that has as much encouragement of the basic concepts of democratic principles, of justice, and also, as an unashamed Irish republican, of the right of the people of Ireland to govern ourselves.

Why on earth do we need a British government to govern us? Have we not got the sense and the wit and the intellect, men and women in Ireland, to do it ourselves? Can we not make a better job of our economy, of our social structures, of our infrastructures, of our services ourselves? So support the peace process. I recognize the first invitation for me to come here came from your committee, and I recognize my very good friend [Mutual America Chairman] Bill Flynn, who is here today. And that was—when Bill Flynn invited me to come here, that was a risky thing to do. So take risks for peace. Continue to take risks for peace.

HOGE: Mort Zuckerman.

QUESTIONER: I must say the introduction by Warren Hoge of your skills considerably understated them after just listening to you for this particular period of time. So let me just ask you a hypothetical question. If somebody in your position was also a senior member of the IRA Military Council, what would be the advantages of holding both positions as you try and move towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict?

ADAMS: None whatsoever. And I'm told by those who do not know an awful lot about the situation, there's some advantage to Sinn Fein having a private army. But I'd like to know what they are.

HOGE: Yes, I'm sorry. I did promise—and then you'll be next.

QUESTIONER: Stanley Arkin. Mr. Adams, you said in your opening remarks that the IRA was an isolated terrorist group. Isolated from whom?

ADAMS: No, I didn't say, with respect. I said if we accepted Warren's—Warren suggested that people voted for Sinn Fein because they supported the IRA. And I said, well, that then stands on its head this the notion of the IRA as—

HOGE: In fairness, I didn't say that. I said they voted for Sinn Fein because they thought you could control and one day shut down the IRA.

ADAMS: OK, fair enough.

HOGE: And they were disappointed that you haven't done so, so far.

ADAMS: Well, you see, the thing about that is this: there is an election in May, and the people will have their chance to give their verdict on that, and the people will have a choice, a wide choice, of who they want to give their imprimatur to. And I never take the voters for granted. But I think that if we are to be democrats, we have to accept that thus far, the people in the north of Ireland particularly, but throughout the island, are voting in increasing numbers for our party.

Now, dealing with the issue of the IRA, it's always been a matter of considerable fascination to me that everybody knows the IRA. Very few people know the UDA [Ulster Defense Association], the UVF [Ulster Volunteer Force], the LVF [Loyalist Volunteer Force]. Very few people know the British Army regiments. But everybody knows, for whatever reason—I mean, it is a matter of fascination for me, that this—Irish Republican Army.

Now, in the speech which Warren spoke of earlier, I outlined my view that the IRA is a consequence of British rule in Ireland. In its contemporary sense, it's a consequence, since the partition of Ireland, of the abandonment of nationalists in the British state. So there was no—for those who were republican or nationalist, it was a one-party state. To be a Catholic was to be discriminated against. So little surprise—because the same thing would happen here in this country—little surprise, then, that some citizens felt there was no alternative, when they were being attacked, but to defend themselves. And little surprise, when the civil rights struggle in the 1960s led to a backlash by the state, that the situation slipped into conflict.

Now, if the IRA is a consequence of British rule in Ireland and a consequence of injustice, what we now have is—as I've said a number of times—is an alternative. That's one. We have IRA cessations. The IRA have been on cessations for 10 years. The IRA, which was actively involved in armed actions, is now not involved in armed actions. The IRA has taken three major initiatives, acknowledged by unionists, to put arms beyond use in an unprecedented way. I mean, what is an army without arms? So I think they are all positives. I think if there was a tendency away from that, it would be a hugely negative step back.

Now, you asked—and maybe I misunderstood what Warren said or misrepresented what Warren said, and I didn't mean to do that. But you ask, you know, where does the IRA get its support from? I find when we were on the cusp of last December that there was a huge, an emotional backlash against what we were trying to do, and not so much from what you would call IRA people—who seemed to be fairly, I suppose, philosophical that they, their leadership was going to move into this new phase and that they would go with it—but others who in some way maybe felt that the IRA represented them against the British, against British aggression, against the British Army occupation and so on.

So the IRA is bigger in the minds of people, at least of nationalist and republican people, than perhaps it is in the reality. If you just again reverse 30 years, when I was just in my late teens, early 20s, on the Falls Road [in Balfast], we had the burning out of streets of citizens in the pogroms of 1969, led and incited by none other than Ian Paisley, when he was a much younger or more fiery man than he appears to be at the moment. And the IRA was blamed for that, because the IRA wasn't around. The IRA had ceased to be, except in a skeletal form.

So you'll find, depending on who you talk to, that while, in my view, no one wants the IRA to go back to war and, in my view, people want to see the IRA leaving the stage—and I think the best way for the IRA to leave the stage is in a dignified way that prevents any reoccurrence of another IRA growing up alongside, where the old one has been moved into a new dispensation.

HOGE: Please, sir.

QUESTIONER: I'm Joe Bartlett, Fish & Richardson. Whether or not, sir—well, the new movement in this country, as you know, is transparency and "follow the money." Perhaps you do this already, but let me ask you whether or not you would agree to an independent and objective accounting of the finances of Sinn Fein, current and, say, for the last five to 10 years.

ADAMS: We do all of that. In fact, Larry Downes, who's the president of Friends of Sinn Fein here in the U.S.A., has—all the books are with the Justice Department. You can go now and check it out. Our director of finance opened our books up. Other parties don't do it, by the way, in Ireland. But we have opened our books up and have invited not just our opponents but invited journalists in to survey all of that. So we have nothing to hide in terms of all of that.

HOGE: Rose Styron.

QUESTIONER: [Inaudible] I'm just not clear about what—

HOGE: Wait for the microphone.

QUESTIONER: I'm sorry. Rose Styron. I'm with PEN. I'm not clear about what actually went wrong in December when you thought the process of disarmament and peace was going ahead. I heard that part of it was that Tony Blair demanded photographing the disarmament and that that displeased the IRA, but I'm still not clear on why it was derailed.

ADAMS: OK. Well, it was derailed on the issue of the photograph, and it was derailed on the issue of photograph because Ian Paisley presented the photograph as an act of humiliation and called upon people to wear sackcloth and ashes. And you see, under the terms of the Good Friday agreement, there is a commission. It's generally called the de Chastelain commission, but it's the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.

And I think that was a very clever and transparent part of the Good Friday agreement, because what it did was, it took the armed groups out of politics and it put the politicians into politics. And it said: "We've set up this commission. It will involve generals and others who have the know-how, and the armed groups can work a way with them, in parallel with the politicians working on building politics. And there was to be no precondition either way."

Now the flaw in the process at that point was introduced by Mr. Blair, because Mr. Blair, in response to the crisis within unionism, gave [Ulster Unionist leader] David Trimble a letter which appeared to give him assurances. It was actually a meaningless letter. I can tell you I have lots of them at home, and I never bother with them very much. But it was a letter which was meant to encourage unionism to move forward. And that flaw—because it was outside the terms of the agreement—then encouraged unionism to beat up upon this issue of arms.

Now if you follow the fault line from that flaw, if you accept my analysis, then you come to December, where what the unionists should have done was allowed the commission to get on with its work, but they wouldn't. They said, "We want verification independently of the commission." In other words, it wasn't [that] they didn't trust the IRA; they didn't trust the commission.

So the IRA said: "OK, we will bring in two independent observers. On top of the commission, we bring in somebody symbolically who represents the two main Christian denominations on the island of Ireland, and they can vouch for that." And Ian Paisley said: "No, we want a photograph." And he was supported in that by both the Irish and the British government, and that's what was a big swallow for us, a big lift. We could not persuade people of the value of that, particularly—not so much because Ian Paisley had asked for it, but particularly because the two governments had supported him, that the two governments in fact were in breach of the agreement. Ian Paisley didn't even have to negotiate on that issue.

And then we had this bizarre situation where, just before Christmas, Ian Paisley said he got some information to suggest that the IRA were going to put their weapons beyond use anyway, that the IRA were going to go ahead, and he said: "Hold on. That's not good enough. If you put your weapons beyond use, that still will not be good enough for us, because we would want that to be photographed."

Now I believe—and this is my very firm view—that the issue of arms is a complete red herring. That's my strong view. In theory, the IRA could get rid of all of its weapons tomorrow and go out the next day and buy new ones. It isn't—that isn't the issue now. I'm totally for the weapons being put beyond use. I'm totally for it being done under the terms of the Good Friday agreement, and I will use my influence to bring that about. And last year it was my view—and I said this—actually made a mistake—I said this publicly, and I caused some difficulties within republicanism. It's my view that the IRA has been used as an excuse by those who don't want to see the change. I know others may have understandable fears about the IRA and so on, but it's my view it's been used as an excuse. And my strong view—and I said this—was that republicans should remove that excuse from them.

HOGE: That—if I can just comment on that, I think people would not expect the IRA to replace the weapons that they had put off on the side if they weren't out actively raising money, to use a polite phrase, and actively recruiting members. I think the fear of the IRA and its ability to replace any operation it might put under scrutiny is just that. Why are they actively recruiting people? What is the purpose, what is the need for an IRA to have money, to have new members?

ADAMS: Well, you see, that—I think that's a valid point. But where is the proof that they're doing any of these things? The proof is coming from—no, with respect, the truth is coming from their enemies. The truth is coming—or the allegation is coming from British military intelligence. Now you see, if –

HOGE: And the Irish police. I mean, the garda are finding lots of money.

ADAMS: Well, the garda may be finding lots of money, and fair play to them. But there's no connection back between that money thus far—thus far. Now we could wake up tomorrow morning and there could be the evidence. But thus far there is none.

Now let's get back to the key issue, and again, this is this fascination with the IRA. We are trying to get this process moving forward, and the pretense by our opponents that there's only one issue actually makes the job of moving it forward more and more difficult, because there isn't only one issue; there are lots of issues. But if we deal with the issue of armed groups, the IRA isn't the only armed group. Loyalist/unionist paramilitaries remain active. No unionist paramilitary organization has ever put weapons beyond use in the substantive way that the IRA has done it.

There's a wonderful story which even the most investigative journalists appear not to have tripped over, which is that Ian Paisley formed an organization called Ulster Resistance. It's there, in its photographic glory. It was televised. He was wearing a red beret. They paraded. Within a very short time of that, Ulster Resistance and other loyalist or unionist paramilitaries did a bank robbery in Portadown; used the money from the bank robbery to bring in weapons from South Africa, from the old apartheid regime in South Africa, aided and abetted by British military intelligence, through an agent called Brian Nelson. And those weapons—some of you will have a recollection, for example, of the killings in the cemetery in Belfast. You saw it on television. South African weapons. The grenade thrown at my home: a South African grenade. Not a word of it, not one word of it.

So picture, if you will, people like myself, who are very, very, very, very clear—we're very, very clear of where we want republicanism to go. Our job is to make republicanism relevant to modern Ireland. Our responsibility is to move republicanism forward, so that more and more and more people can be uplifted and, I suppose, empowered by what we see as modern republicanism.

Now to get, then, the armed group to leave the stage when all the other armed groups are on the stage and while there's a singular focus not on all the weapons—see, I say to Ian Paisley: "If you want all the weapons taken out of Irish politics, including the ones which your group, Ulster Resistance brought into Irish politics"—I say to Mr. Blair: "Brian Nelson was the person responsible for the [1989] killing of Pat Finucane."

Pat Finucane was a human rights lawyer. You may know of his name. It's a very celebrated case. Hundreds of Irish citizens were killed as part of an act of policy by the British government to recruit and organize unionist armed groups to kill citizens. Now that's a fact. That's what always happens. There's no such thing as a "clean" war. I don't glorify war. All wars are dirty. And in all wars, the establishment or the government recruits indigenous forces to do the killing for them, and that's what happened in our situation. Those weapons are still out there, those groups are still out there, that policy still remains in place.

Now, I say all of that because that's one of the issues which we have to deal with in terms of trying to get one of the groups. And if there's only a focus all the time on the IRA and the general pretense that this is the only problem, then, as I've said earlier, that makes the problem more difficult to resolve.

HOGE: Last question. [Inaudible] Wait for the microphone, please.

QUESTIONER: I'm sorry. Martha Teichner from CBS News, and a [Council] member, so [laughter]. On the McCartney matter, recognizing the distinction that you've made between Sinn Fein and the rogue elements who potentially carried out or allegedly carried out the killings, you, nevertheless, have been the recipient of the snub that has been delivered by important figures in the support system, political-support system within the United States traditionally for Sinn Fein. What do you read from that snub? What lesson do you take away? And will it have any kind of result on the ground in Northern Ireland when it gets back there?

ADAMS: Well, first of all, do I—you're talking, of course, about the refusal or the change by the White House in the invitation to parties. So the White House has decided not to invite the Irish parties to the White House. That would be a disappointment because symbolically, even though both [inaudible] symbolically, the importance of Irish people being there and their political leaders being there should not [inaudible]. But do I interpret that as a movement by this administration away from the peace process? No, I don't. I don't. And if I did, I would be very, very perturbed.

This will not be worked out in the White House. This will be not worked out here in the Foreign Relations Committee. This will be not worked out anywhere else except back on the island of Ireland. And I think it's very, very important that those of us who want peace, who will take real risks, and who do take real risks for peace, that we have the broad support of people here. They don't have to accept everything that I say, and we don't think we have the answers to all of the issues, but I think our record speaks for itself. There was conflict. There is no longer conflict. It isn't in perfect peace, but it is a peace process. Will it be brought to a conclusion? Will they be successful in getting peace and justice in the end in Ireland? Yes, we will, and we will because, one, it is the popular view; and, two, there is no other way forward, and we're not going back. We're not going back into conflict; we're not allowing anyone else to hoist the situation back into conflict. And people in Ireland, in my opinion, know that.

HOGE: I'm going to close it out by just noting, you mentioned South Africa a moment ago. When I arrived in Northern Ireland in 1996, a group of you—I'm not sure you, yourself, were included, but I think Martin McGuinness was—went to South Africa to talk to the people there about how they had done it. And five years later, I went to a meeting in Britain where Israelis and Palestinians came to talk to you people, both Protestants and Catholics, all sides of this, to try to figure out how you had done it.

So I'd like to close it by saying on those words you mentioned at the very end, and also, I think no matter what our attitude is about what you have said and what your motivation may be and what your sincerity is, I'm sure that all of us wish you well in that stated desire to—I should say that American reporters are often accused these days of operating with biases, and I will confess to one bias as a foreign correspondent, and that's always a bias in representative democratic government. I'm just always drawn to that as a reporter. And to the extent that you are participating in a process right now which will bring that to a very conflicted land, we wish you well. Thank you very much.

ADAMS: Thank you. [Applause]







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