A Conversation with Gerry Adams

Thursday, September 21, 2006

MARTHA TEICHNER: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for coming. My name is Martha Teichner. I’m with CBS News, and with me is Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein, which I’m all—I’m sure all of you are aware of.

I thought to begin with what we might do is recap a little bit the events that have taken place since Mr. Adams was here the last time in March of 2005. At that time, things were not going too well. The—there had been the snag in the decommissioning process, the decommissioning of weapons in Northern Ireland, the IRA weapons; concerned with the Reverend Ian Paisley saying that there needed to be photographic evidence of the decommissioning and a roadblock occurred. Then, there was a bank robbery in Northern Ireland, and then the—there was the killing of Robert McCartney, which all led to a very uncomfortable spring for Mr. Adams when he was here last time and the non-invitation to the White House on St. Patrick’s Day.

Since then, a great deal has happened in the 18 months that have followed. In the spring last year, there was the London bombing that had nothing to do with the IRA, that had to do with the al Qaeda. And it changed the landscape for—at least it changed people’s approach and outlook on terrorism. And then in July last year, it was announced that the IRA would give up the armed struggle, and that was a momentous event for which one would—would have expected a significant dividend. Although that was a major event, the road to devolution, to furthering the peace process, to normalizing relations or the government in Northern Ireland according to the Good Friday Agreement, which was passed in 1998, has been nothing but roadblocks and fits and starts and difficulties. But there’s been progress.

When the actual assembly reconvened after being suspended since 2002 in May, the session lasted 14 minutes? Mr. Adams proposed that the Reverend Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party be the first minister, and whether he knew or not that this would be the result, Mr. Paisley said, “No.” And the assembly more or less shut down, but a committee arose after that called the Committee for the Preparation of—Committee for the Preparation for Government. And they met throughout the summer and subcommittees met.

Sinn Fein refused to take part in debates that did not relate to the devolution process, and there were accusations traded back and forth. The unionists made new demands. We got to a point where Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair set a deadline of November 24 th this year saying, “If we don’t come up with a plan that’s going to work for an assembly and a government, that’s it. We’re out of here because in a year we’ll be gone.” And no better time—there’s no better time than now. There won’t be another chance like this for many years to come, if ever. You’ve got to just get to it.

And there’s a summit meeting scheduled beginning the 11th of October, and there’s a sense of urgency and a countdown. The—Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair say that there is no going back on the deadline.

So with that in mind, here we are with the clock running out. What’s going to happen? Where are we? Can there be a deal? Can there be a truly power-sharing government in Northern Ireland that will work?

GERRY ADAMS: Well, I have to say, first of all, I’m exhausted listening to that torturous—(laughs, laughter)—year.

Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, speaks to Council members on the future of the Northern Ireland peace process.

TEICHNER: You’ve been busy.

ADAMS: But I’m very pleased to be back here, and I want to thank Richard Haass and the Council on Foreign Relations for the invite. And thank you for moderating this discussion.

The short answer to your question is a word which we’re trying to teach Ian Paisley, and it’s “yes.” There can be a power-sharing arrangement, and it can be in place by November the 24 th. I’m not saying it’s going to be, but I think that the objective which has been set—and we are good for a very long time for a deadline—is achievable.

And the question, really, is around when there will be a power-sharing arrangement in place. I don’t think there’s any question about whether, you know, if it will be in place. And I certainly think popular opinion increasingly, as the reality of some of the developments which you outlined—as that reality continues to seep into civic society, people will be more and more wanting to see locally elected representatives taking responsibility for matters which affect them and their daily lives.

TEICHNER: One of the major issues that comes up over and over and over again is the question of policing and the question of Sinn Fein accepting policing within this structure. Please explain it to people. And I get the idea that if you are in favor of a unified Ireland and would like eventually for Britain to be out of the picture, that if you accept policing, in a sense you’re accepting the British reality. But the Good Friday Agreement, in a sense, sets that in stone until such time as people vote for a unified Ireland, so what’s the problem?

ADAMS: Well, before coming directly to that question, let me just reverse a wee bit.

You know, the democratic issue for people—and I think it’s one of the pressing international issues of today—is that citizens should have democratic control over their own affairs. Therefore, from any perspective, the British government has no right to be in Ireland. And you know, for the benefit of the audience who may not be conscious of this, Ireland is partitioned. I consider that to be totally immoral, to be illegitimate and to being the root cause of all of the conflict and the problems that have visited our island.

The Good Friday Agreement is a bridge out of that. And what we require, I think—those of us who want the peace process to get to its destination—is a continuous process of change, you know, a movement away from the status quo which caused the conflict towards a rights-based dispensation in which citizens can be treated equally and have equality of opportunity and parity of esteem.

Now, the partition of the island left a national minority, who are the unionists, in charge. And they run the state like an apartheid state, and the rest of us were created in a very shameful way. And they used the police as an arm of the state, so that the Special Power Act prevailed and internment without trial was used in the ‘20s, the ‘30s, the ‘40s, the ‘50s, the ‘60s, the ‘70s and right into the ‘80s. And the police force, which was heavily armed, and a local militia were used as a tool of repression.

In the last 30 years of conflict, as happens in conflict, they were the cutting edge, and they were involved in killing of citizens, they were indicted for torture of detainees, they were involved in running gangs which killed citizens. And for a police—sadly, for a police force to actually engage as a practice in killing citizens is obviously a huge scandal.

Now, when we come to dealing with the issue of policing, Sinn Fein wants policing. The community which I represent is a very, very peaceable community. I would defy anyone to give as an example of an area which doesn’t have what one would call, you know, orthodox policing, to have maintained the social fabric and its communal and law-abiding characteristics as the likes of West Belfast have.

So Sinn Fein wants policing, and we want a policing service which is transparent and under civic control. And the Patten Report, which was a consequence of the Good Friday Agreement, outlined a series of measures to bring this about. And there has been progress made. The PSNI—

TEICHNER: That’s the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

ADAMS:—the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which replaced the old RUC—has, one could say, moved considerably along the Good Friday agreement road to a new beginning of policing. Sinn Fein people also pay taxes. We pay writs. And we have the right to get a policing service commensurate with all of those rights.

At the moment what we have is an agreement between us and the British government that—and this has been there for a number of years—that the British government do a number of outstanding—complete a number of outstanding issues on policing, which it’s my view they will do, as well as transferring power from London to Belfast and to the power-sharing arrangement, that agreement on the nature of a justice and policing department, enactment of legislation to give reality to all of that, and an agreed time frame which will—by which that will occur. That’s the British government and the political parties side of the agreement.

For my part, I have agreed on (foot ?) of that to go to the leadership, to Ard Comhairle of Sinn Fein, to ask for a special conference, and ardfheis, of our party to receive a leadership motion which will allow us to embrace what would be an acceptable policing service.

TEICHNER: It’s a question of what has to come first. For the DUP, your signing on to policing comes first, and is a deal-breaker if it doesn’t. For you, getting the British and Irish governments to fulfill their promises about handing the government back to Northern Ireland seems to be a prerequisite.

ADAMS: With respect, that isn’t the case. The British government wants the devolved administration be back in place.

TEICHNER: But will have to come first? Who has to give—

ADAMS: Well, the only party which actually is against that at this time is the DUP. There’s no other party against it. The two governments are very, very clear on this. All of the parties—the Ulster Unionist Party, the SDLP, ourselves, the Alliance Party, the PUP, the small number of independents—all want the institutions back in place. There are urgent matters to do with health, education, public services. There are a number of punitive measures in terms of writs and water charges. There are serious issues which impact upon people in their daily lives, which need to be dealt with by local, accountable politicians, and local, accountable politicians want to be part of that.

The DUP, you know, we should explore, if I can for a moment, just, you know, the perspective on the DUP. I nominated Ian Paisley as first minister for two reasons, basically. One was to give republicans a shape of the future, because it’s a big thing for republicans or nationalists to accept that Ian Paisley would be the first minister. And what I was doing was trying to just not only say to people this is the shape of the future, but I’m prepared to nominate this man because he has a mandate.

The second thing was to send a very clear signal to Unionism that we were prepared to do that. But, of course, the price is that Martin McGuinness will be Ian Paisley’s Siamese twin.

TEICHNER: Martin, again, as being Sinn Fein.

ADAMS: The Sinn Fein chief negotiator and former minister of education.

So, it’s really whether or not the DUP are up to that challenge. The issue around policing in my view, is entirely just another line of excuses. We heard, as you recounted earlier on, a whole series, a litany of demands from the DUP. And what the Sinn Fein leadership did was to very proactively try and remove every reason for decent Unionism to feel threatened by a new dispensation, and to remove every excuse from those who are fundamentalists and who wouldn’t share power with a Catholic, never mind a member of Sinn Fein.

And I think we have achieved that the act of the IRA formally calling an end to its armed campaign and putting its weapons beyond use is unprecedented in Irish history and 200 years of armed resistance to British rule.

And so—

TEICHNER: But it didn’t disband, and that’s one of the demands from the other side—total disbanding of the IRA.

ADAMS: Well, again, this is, you know, there—the only armed organization to do what the IRA have done is the IRA. The unionist organizations, the paramilitary organizations, remain both intact and armed and active. Some of them are not on cease-fires.

You know, the world is understandably fixated on these big conflicts and other issues internationally, but a number of people have been killed in Ireland since, including young boys of—15-year-olds have been—a number of them have been killed in the last 18 months, as a result of sectarian violence.

So you know, all of us could find some excuse—and I want to be very fair with this. There are people who have been hurt in the conflict by republicans, and some of those people do genuinely fear the future and do have genuine concerns. And part of our job in the leadership is to try and reach out to those people and listen to them and try and take on board their concerns. And if we can deal with them, then that’s our responsibility to do that.

But see, this is a democracy, this republic of the United States of America. We had an election in Ireland. I stood in the election. The party that I represent stood in the election. Human beings voted for us. They had a choice. They could have voted for a whole lot of other parties. They voted for our party. That has to be worth something.

And Americans understand that, I think, given the history and the tradition of society here.

So we can only go forward on the basis of people’s democratic mandates and respecting that.

TEICHNER: Can you sit in a government with the DUP? And do you think they can sit in the government with you? You said that Ian Paisley has to learn how to say yes.

ADAMS: Well, part of the reason why I’m so sure about it’s only a matter of if—and I’d take a second or two to recount this. When Sinn Fein first took up positions—elected positions on local councils, on local municipal authorities, the DUP refused to accept this.

TEICHNER: This was reducing the number of councils from 26 --

ADAMS: No, no, no, this is just us being elected as councilors.


ADAMS: And the DUP in Belfast City actually collapsed the entire system of committees and the entire local municipal structure so that Sinn Fein couldn’t have committee chairs or positions on any of those subcommittees.

And when Sinn Fein people rose to speak in the council chamber, they sprayed deodorant over the representatives, they played live music, they blew (rape ?) whistles and generally speaking caused commotion.

A number of councilors’ families were attacked, and some were killed. Some family members were killed. And the Sinn Fein office in Belfast City Hall was bombed.

Now, we decided that we would respond to all of that very patiently, and through a whole system of legal and other redress, we brought about a situation where the DUP had a choice: the Belfast City Council was going to close down and be replaced by a commission, or it had to be run in terms of a normal local authority.

The DUP, faced by that choice, took their positions and allowed us to take our positions.

Now Belfast City Council runs Belfast City. There have been Sinn Fein mayors, Sinn Fein deputy mayors. The DUP chaired committees which we were a part of. We chair committees which they’re a part of. We take decisions on all the issues that are related and relevant to that council.

So where they have to, they take pragmatic decisions.

In another council, Ballymena, they won’t share power. In Lisburn they won’t share power. In Derry they do share power. In Dungannon they do share power.

So where they can get away with it, they don’t become involved in partnership. Where they can’t get away with it, then they do. And in fairness to them, they do a good enough job by their own lights and also in terms of the particular civic responsibilities that the council may have.

TEICHNER: Between now and November 24 th, there has to be movement or the deadline’s going to come and go. You have Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern and Peter Hain, who’s the Northern Ireland—secretary of State for Northern Ireland from Britain, pleading with the parties to just do it, because—

ADAMS: Well, with respect to them, they’re players, you know. I think we need to be very, very clear about this. They are not there as pleaders, you know. They have a responsibility in the situation.

My belief is that people respond to the political conditions in which they live. And how you change people is you change the political conditions. So for a very long time, the DUP—and even before the DUP—the unions were able to behave in a certain way. And it’s only when those things changed—you know, I go occasionally to South Africa, and it’s quite interesting. I can’t find anybody in South Africa who will now admit to having supported apartheid, but yet it existed for all of those decades. And I know lots of Unionists, and we are engaged in a hugely detailed outreach to civic unionism, to the churches, to community groups and to those politicians who will talk to us. And a lot of Unionists have been liberated to face up to the reality of living with their neighbors and, within just ordinary civic manners, having political disagreements but being able to get on with their lives.

So the DUP will continue, as I’ve said, to behave where they behave in a negative way because the governments have let them away with it. And it’s only when the governments are making it very, very clear that Ian Paisley can be the first minister, as he’s entitled to be, or he can be the unionist leader who—back into the unionist constituency and explains how he got rid of local, devolved government for the North of Ireland.

If the DUP—which they do, and I agree with them—object to British ministers not handling local affairs properly, then the question for them is—and some British ministers quite readily have said this to them—why don’t they manage it? If they have problems with education—and there are problems with education—well, then, why doesn’t the DUP take that up, or health—I’m sorry—or hospital closures? If there isn’t proper attention to the needs of our elderly, if there’s still poverty—which there is—if there’s a lack of employment—which there is—well, why don’t the DUP take up responsibility for those matters—

TEICHNER: In other words, if you want the British out and to have a hand in it yourself, you’ve got to agree to this.

ADAMS: Well, one thing is for certain, that Ian Paisley will do a far better job than any British minister because he at least will be representing the interests of those people who vote for him. Peter Hain doesn’t represent the interests of anybody in Ireland, has no mandate whatsoever, and can’t be expected—you know, even a benign British government cannot be expected to deliver in terms of the constituency that is the North of Ireland and is part of the island of Ireland. They are answerable to the British exchequer, to the British cabinet or to the British parliament, not to the people who live in the North of Ireland.

TEICHNER: So November 24 th comes and goes and an agreement hasn’t been reached. What happens? Do you go back to sectarian violence? Is that way under the bridge? Or do you lose—and do you lose a tremendous opportunity that won’t be repeated for who knows how long?

ADAMS: Well, I refuse to contemplate at this point that we won’t get the political institutions back in place. The process of change—and what is required is a continuum of change on social, economic, political, cultural matters and all of those issues which pressed down on people and guarantees of human rights and equality and so on—the only veto which can be exercised and not process a change is whether or not the political institutions are put back in place, and whether the DUP will participate.

That’s the only veto that they can have. And that’s a remarkable change, because the twin evils that beset both the people of Ireland and the relationship between the people in Ireland and Britain, was British policy towards Ireland, and as part of that, the veto which Unionists have. Unionists no longer have that veto. The only thing that Ian Paisley can do is to refuse to take up his rightful position and local governance within the terms of the Good Friday agreement. All the other changes are going to come anyway.

TEICHNER: Ian Paisley has said publicly that he doesn’t think an agreement can be reached by November 24 th.

ADAMS: Well, fair enough. But let us try to get him to change his mind. And we didn’t get where we are in terms of our peace process and—the more I listen and watch and observe and learn from other conflict situations, the more I think we’ve been specially blessed to have come so far in terms of the Irish peace process. We wouldn’t have got this far—you know, it isn’t that long ago when people were being killed on a daily basis. It isn’t that long ago when I wasn’t allowed to come to the United States, or my voice couldn’t have been heard on British television, when Sinn Fein was censored, when the party was banned. You know, we’ve come a huge distance because we had a conviction that war wasn’t the only option, that there was an alternative way to bring about political change, and that dialogue was the tool to facilitate that.

So, you know, no one knows whether Ian Paisley will do the business by November the 24 th. Arguably—and I don’t mean this is any derogatory way—arguably, Ian Paisley mightn’t even know. Did David Trimble know on Holy Thursday that he was going to do a deal on Good Friday, you know? That has to be the objective. If we decided that Ian Paisley’s not going to do a deal, then I go and get a life and come back in four or five years’ time when Unionism’s prepared to do a deal. But we can’t afford that, we can’t afford the situation to slip backwards. We have to go forward on the basis that we can change each other’s minds on these issues.

TEICHNER: What are you prepared to give to make that happen?

ADAMS: Well, it’s a bit difficult at the moment to figure out what we can give when we’re not being asked because Ian Paisley won’t talk to us. But I think as republicans, we are the people who have a vision of a united Ireland, who are the people who know that Protestantism and its radical and democratic tradition is the rock on which Irish republicanism was formed. You know, the founding fathers and mothers of modern Irish republicanism came from that mostly Presbyterian Church of Ireland tradition. And we have the vision that orange and green can be brought together and can live in harmony and peace and work out our own affairs.

So we are the people who have to be prepared to continuously reach out, to take strategic decisions, to engage in strategic compromises in order to get to the point where we—we’re only 5 million people on a very small island—can govern ourselves and can look after and create a society in which everyone has ownership, and in which people are cherished, and in which these sort of very artificial religious differences can be set entirely to one side.

TEICHNER: That’s a vast difference from probably how you were thinking 20 years ago. I mean, to sit here and say that Ian Paisley could do a better job running aspects of the government in Northern Ireland than the British could—how far have you come? How have you evolved to be able to say that, and to suggest that he be the first minister?

ADAMS: Well, first of all, I haven’t—whatever way I have changed, and obviously I have changed, I haven’t changed in those issues.

Padraig Pearse, who was one of the signatories of the 1916 proclamation which founded the 32-county Irish Republic, once famously said that the Orangemen would be far better in governance with the rest of us because they at least would govern in the interest the Orangemen along with the rest of us.

So I’ve always had a view—I come from a political household. We were always encouraged to be anti-sectarian. I remember in the ‘60s that I—(I’ve got ?) a huge interest in roots music and folk music and all of that, that I had Orange songs and collections of Orange ballads and so on. And I have always had this notional, perhaps romantic view that Orange and Green can come together. And I think that it’s doable. It’s a matter of how we get to that point and when we get to that point.

Where I have changed—to try and answer your question, the older I get, the more I’m against fundamentalism of any kind. The older I get, the more I have faith in people. And the older I get, the more I think that the responsibility of leaders—in civic, political life, in the media, wherever they happen to be present—do have a responsibility to change the political conditions.

And the cornerstone of the Irish peace process is that we developed an alternative to armed struggle. And what the IRA did in its service to the process is, when they were given that alternative, they accepted it. They didn’t have to; they could have continued to fight. But they decided, as I think most sane people would, that given some sort of realistic alternative to go forward in which people aren’t being killed or killing, most sane people would take up that alternative. And that’s been the achievement.

We don’t have the settlement yet. We don’t have the republic in terms of a national republic yet. The British are still in the island of Ireland. (Off mike)—partitioned. But we have a route and a strategy and increasing support, and republicanism is more vibrant and popular on the island of Ireland now than it has been in my lifetime.

TEICHNER: You mentioned that the IRA took the appropriate decision. Then why not go that extra step, which Ian Paisley would like you to take, would like the IRA to take, and disband. Why is there any need for an IRA anymore if the armed struggle is over? He talks about criminality and the idea that there are those who believe that the IRA is the “rafia” instead of a political organization; that it’s a criminal syndicate; and that for any number of reasons, it should be disbanded totally, since in some ways it shouldn’t be necessary anymore.

ADAMS: Well, none of those accusations are true. I remember one very senior unionist, we were in Stormont one day, saying to me that if the IRA paraded naked on the lawn of Stormont, destroyed all their weapons and committed suicide and mass hari-kari, that it would not be acceptable to the DUP, that something else would be required. (Laughter.) And that was a unionist who was saying that.

There are a number of quite small, almost micro-organizations on the fringes of republicanism. They were responsible, for example, for the Omagh bomb, at a time when no one expected such an atrocity.

TEICHNER: How dangerous are they—(inaudible)?

ADAMS: Well, let me deal with this issue of disbandment of the IRA and so on.

How we have been able to counter those groups is by, in the republican heartlands, debating in a very open way with republican people. And overwhelmingly, republican people accept and support the strategy of the Sinn Fein leadership—which is not to say that that strategy doesn’t have its detractors. And indeed, one of the things that we have been able to do is to validate. I mean, I all the time say to people, to activists, you don’t have to agree with us. Your view is just as valid as my view. But what is required is that there isn’t a vacuum on the republican side, which would then allow these micro-groups, particularly with young people, to win support for their own situation. I mean, it is said—and I can understand this, you know—the IRA gave up its armed campaign, the IRA put its weapon beyond use, and Ian Paisley’s still making demands of you. So what did you achieve?

And that argument, if you’re living in a neighborhood which is still deprived, if there is no equality agenda, if there are still difficulties—that argument can find support even of a passive kind.

TEICHNER: I guess I don’t understand the answer, in the sense that if you—that the reason you don’t disband the IRA is because you need to have a counter to the fringe groups?

ADAMS: Well, it isn’t within my ability to disband the IRA. What decades of British military might couldn’t do—I think it’s been quite an achievement that we have played some role in bringing the IRA to the point that it is at the moment.

But I think that one of the best guarantors—if I can put it in a way which maybe you can understand, one of the best guarantors of the process, from the republican side, is the good will of the IRA and the influence of the IRA.

You know, I noted you mentioned al Qaeda earlier on. The IRA could not have survived and retired as an undefeated army if it didn’t have the active support of an awful lot of people, particularly in the north of Ireland. So many young people—and this is, you know, the anniversary of the hunger strikes of 1981, which we were discussing earlier, you covered from Ireland. Many young people and people of my generation, we see those individuals, those IRA volunteers, as heroes and heroines. And we see them as role models.

And that’s a very positive influence in terms of winning the argument for hearts and minds within our own constituency, because repeatedly it has to be understood that the most tough negotiation is with your own side.

So you know, Ian Paisley needs, if you like, to put his own house in order.

And I don’t even want to be saying things here which can be picked up by the media as if I’m beating up on the DUP. That’s not my intention. I want to share power with the DUP. They have the mandate. I respect their mandate. So I don’t want to be saying anything at all which would muddy the waters or cut across what we are trying to do.

And that’s why I make the point that the governments need to continue to roll out the change. And then, as politicians sometimes do, when they figure out where the people are going, they dash ahead to try and be in the leadership of where the people are going. I have no doubt if there was some sort of a—well, the DUP, for example, are doing a consultation process within their own constituency. I have no doubt, if that’s properly conducted, that the majority of people there will appreciate the changes that have occurred and will be positive about the need to continue to develop those changes in a way that gives people control and ownership over their own affairs.

TEICHNER: I think we need to open up for questions now. And before I call on anyone, I must say this is on the record, the press are here, and just remember that in terms of the questions and answers.


QUESTIONER: Thank you. George Schwab, National Committee on American Foreign Policy. It’s always good to see you.

I have a question about the DUP. We recently hosted Robinson, as you know. And he spoke in terms very similar to yours and of course blamed Sinn Fein for some of the problems, why it’s not moving forward.

But nevertheless I got away with a feeling that one can talk business with him. Is there any friction between him and Paisley? Paisley appears to me to be the hard-liner, whereas Robinson is much more of a soft-liner. Is there friction?

ADAMS: Well, even if I knew the answer to that, I wouldn’t comment on it. (Soft laughter.)

QUESTIONER: I didn’t hear—

ADAMS: Even I knew the answer to that, it wouldn’t be fair of me to comment on it.

Ian Paisley is undisputedly the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, and my view is that the Paisley deal remains the best deal. If we can get a deal with Ian Paisley, that’s the best deal. Clearly, clearly there must be a process within the DUP if they’re dealing, which they do, with their own constituents, which has to look at the possibilities of being in government as quickly as possible because of the very imperfect way that British direct rule interferes in our lives.

But it would not be good for me to comment on—if you want to talk to me afterwards, George. (Laughter.)

TEICHNER: In the back in the corner.

QUESTIONER: My name is Jim Dingeman. I’m from the INN Word Report. Since the Good Friday agreement in 1998, many have extolled the model of what has happened in terms of how a national liberation struggle can (be ?) and sort of decommission itself militarily and struggle. And you have recently gone to the Middle East. Martin McGuinness went to Sri Lanka. You, yourself, went to Spain after the ETA announced their cease-fire.

But yet, Martha Teichner mentioned earlier, the last time you were here in New York it was right in the aftermath of the political fallout from the bank robbery in Belfast, in the Northern Bank, and the killing of Robert McCartney. And I was wondering if you could share with us the kind of problems that you’re contemplating when you think about these other struggles and how they might have a peace process come into play, and the problems that existed in your own, you know, peace process since ‘98, how you’ve interacted with those two phenomena.

ADAMS: Well, it is true that we have—on invitation, we have been asked on a number of occasions, and Martin, as you have said, has been in Sri Lanka. He’s met with the Tamils, he’s met with the president and with the government. And we’re trying in a small way to assist that process. We did the same, and continue to do the same in terms of the Basque and the Spanish state conflict, and I think there have been positive moves in that situation.

And I went to the Middle East last—about 10 days ago. Interestingly, the media focus on that visit was about me meeting with Hamas. What I did was I met with representatives of the Palestinian Assembly, which included a Hamas legislator. But the media focus was on that. And I went on invitation, again. And I said there—and I said it to everybody I met, people on the Israeli side and people on the Palestinian side, that dialogue is the way forward, that war is not the only option; that people need to respect each other’s mandates, and that politicians need to understand—and particularly in regions as interlocked—that, if you like, the rights, and the security, and the strategic interests, and the prosperity, and freedom of the people of Israel is interlocked into the Israeli government underpinning the rights, security, prosperity, and freedom of people in the Palestinian territories. It’s interlocked.

Similarly, those of us who live in the West have to understand what’s happening in other parts of the world.

So, when the capacity of the media—and I’m not a media basher—but the capacity of the media to take some of those issues that besat our process—you know, at the risk of starting another controversy, there hasn’t been one comma of evidence produced around any of those allegations which were hung around the necks of republicans in the spring of last year, not one.

So, there are huge difficulties in trying to advance a peace process when there are powerful elements—and I’m not referring to the media here—there are powerful elements in the establishment which don’t want the peace process to develop, if it’s required to take up changes in the status quo, which peace demands. And that’s what you have to counter, you have to counter that all the time.

And I’m not suggesting that there are elements in the British establishment who would want the war back on, but there actually are certainties about war which there are not about peace.

In war, you simply dehumanize your opponents and try to kill them. You don’t have to understand them, just kill them, bomb them, drop thousand pounders, you know, ravage entire (territories ?), whatever site. That’s easy. In peacemaking, you have to actually put yourself in the other person’s shoes. You actually have to be humble enough to think strategically about what may suit your opponent, because in the process, that may also suit you or at least the people who you represent.

You have to—it’s an interesting thing which I tried to articulate it in this way. Most of us go into conversations to convince the other person of our point of view—most of us. We go into a debate or an argument, we want to try and convince the other person that we are right. What you really have to do is to go into a conversation, to go into dialogue proactively listen with part of your mind being prepared to be changed by what the other person says.

So if you reduce that back into our process, why do I want to listen to Ian Paisley? Because he has a view of the world, which from a distance I disagree with because I’ve never had the benefit of sitting down and having dinner with him or talking with him or talking back and forth. I may disagree with him anyway as a result of a conversation, but I have a duty to try and understand what he’s talking about.

You take that down and put into Sri Lanka or put into the Middle East or put into the world, then I think we all have a duty to try and understand where the other person’s coming from, not to think that we are the world, not to think that our God is the only God, this nonsense about a clash of civilizations and so on. That there are other people out there who have cultures, who have traditions, who have history, who have a view of the world which is equally valid as ours, and the world’s big enough for us all.

So without being too preachy about it, in a very, very small way I think that there are broad principles which have got to do with dialogue, which have got to do with respecting other people’s rights, and which have got to do with trying to find accommodation. But the other way’s easier.

TEICHNER: A gentleman there.

QUESTIONER: Decklan Bredin, I’m a journalist with the Irish Times. I’m here to cover the U.N. General Assembly, but I came over here because—out of interest. I was trying to get a straight answer out of Mr. Ahmadinejad earlier on but failed dismally. So it’s a comfort to know that I’m with a politician who’s going to give me a straight answer. (Laughter.)

TEICHNER: So what’s the question that requires a straight answer?

QUESTIONER: You can’t not—you can’t not after that intro. Gerry, what’s the situation vis-a-vis fundraising for Sinn Fein in the U.S.? Are you allowed to do it? Are you here on a fundraising visa this time? Or can you update us and give us some background?

Thank you.

ADAMS: The Friends of Sinn Fein are permitted to fundraise in the U.S.

QUESTIONER: Now that’s an American group right?

ADAMS: Yeah here. It’s our support organization here, and Larry Downes, who is the president of the Friends of Sinn Fein—and if there’s any money you want to give to him, you can see him afterwards. (Laughter.)

I’m not allowed to fundraise.

TEICHNER: How do you respond to that? How do you feel about being banned from doing that?

ADAMS: Well, first of all, I don’t think I have any special entitlements when I come here. I come as a guest. So you know, the government clearly can decide on all of these matters. I do think it’s a wee bit bizarre because I can fundraise in London, and—(laughter)—and in fact, Sinn Fein gets about 50 percent of its fundraising as a result of our elected representation in both the North and the South of Ireland, from both the Irish and the British governments. So you know, we’re actually taking public funds, as all the parties are, out of the British Exchequer.

I think it’s a wee bit—I think it’s a wee bit—I worry that it could be, unless it’s dealt with, perhaps another excuse for those who don’t want progress in the time ahead.

TEICHNER: The ban was imposed by the Bush administration, am I correct?


TEICHNER: Now, what does that say about the American role or the American attitude or the American political attitude, Irish America’s attitude toward this runout to the deadline of November 24 th? Where does Irish America, where does political America stand? And is there even a role at the moment?

ADAMS: Yes, there is a role. Irish America remains very, very supportive of our process and hugely supportive of Sinn Fein because a lot of Irish Americans, above and beyond the necessity of a peace process, do want to see a free Ireland. You know, most Irish Americans would share that objective with us, and they probably would have a view that we are the party which is best able to achieve that.

And they have been the core of all of our efforts here. President Clinton obviously—and Nancy Soderberg’s here today—and, you know, they did groundbreaking work—you know, looking back on it, it was quite simple and, you know, you could say modest in terms of what occurred. But I mean, it caused such a furore that it became hugely important. And I have to say that President Bush remains supportive of our process—and I spoke to him on last St. Patrick’s Day on these matters, and I think he genuinely appreciates what has happened in Ireland and wants to play and, I think, will continue to try and play a positive role.


ADAMS: But the success of the Irish peace process and the awful, depressing global situation has understandably meant that there are other matters pressing down on—

TEICHNER: But banning you from fundraising—that’s still a slap of a sort.

ADAMS: Well, interestingly enough, the last fundraiser we had, which was in November of last year—because I thought that it wasn’t a fair position—I didn’t come, and our fundraising increased, so—(laughter)—there may be a relationship between that. It’s—I don’t want to say anything which would be undiplomatic, but I would like to think that the administration would not get me the right to fund-raise, but give American citizens who wish to invite me—their rights as American citizens to invite whoever they want to come. It isn’t that I was refused a visa. I could have come. But I couldn’t have run down to the Sheraton Tower Hotel. I would have to stand outside.

So it just strikes me that American citizens—not my rights, not my entitlements, but American citizens have rights here, and if they choose to invite me, well, then, I would like to think that the administration would allow them that entitlement.

TEICHNER: One more question. The lady here beat everybody else. You, moving around backward—right.

QUESTIONER: Yes. Laurie Garrett from the council. Quick question. In the 30 years of the troubles in Northern Ireland, southern Ireland or—the nation of Ireland has become the fastest-growing GDP in Europe, and the hopes and dreams of children growing up in Belfast versus Dublin have come to be like the difference between the third world and the first world. To what degree in Ireland does—in Northern Ireland does this comparative wealth and this dramatic shift in the possibility for children, of their futures and their hopes, affected a sort of sense that it’s time to give up on violence and it’s time to find a way to solve this problem? Everything you’ve talked about has been about the U.K. and about sort of internally in Northern Ireland, but to what effect is looking to the south affecting popular opinion in the north?

ADAMS: Well, there was a time when unionists could have said that the south was steeped in poverty; that it was, you know, controlled by the Catholic Church; and they could have pointed it up as a place they didn’t want to be a part of. Increasingly unionists started looking at the economic boom in the south, are looking at Ireland as a single economic unit, are looking at the business class and the commercial class to hitch their wagon to that boosting, energizing wealth that’s there. So it’s certainly affecting middle-class opinion. It’s certainly affecting unionist opinion in a very positive way.

You know, there are a range of things which are, you know, totally unconnected but which coincide with the peace process. And you may be surprised, for example, that—you know, “Riverdance” had a hugely popular effect. You know, there are all sorts of—you know, people are, you know, getting some sense of their Irishness or, if not quite that sense, at least some sense of being part of the island of Ireland. So all of that is very positive.

There are still children going to bed hungry in Dublin. Next to the United States of America, the republic has the biggest gap between rich and poor. This is the only other place that has such a gap.

So while the prosperity is welcome, and you know, the very strategic and sensible planning that took place a decade and a half ago to allow this to happen is to be both praised and commended, one of the debates that’s taking place in Ireland at the moment is how that wealth can be used not just for the peace process in the north but for public services in the south, for the disabled, for the elderly, for the disadvantaged, for the inner-city Dublin areas, as much as the inner-city Belfast areas.

But it’s a good thing, and it’s a positive thing. And I believe that it is going to one of the engines and one of the imperatives. And we have argued with both governments the need for an economic dividend. And it’s actually a point that ourselves and the DUP agree on. There needs to be an economic dividend coming from both governments to go into those areas, both unionist and republican, which were most affected by the conflict, so that people have an economic dividend, that people will have jobs and meaningful employment and so on.

So all of that’s positive.

TEICHNER: I think that’s about all the time we have. And I thank you all very much. (Applause.) And I thank you.

ADAMS: Thank you, Martha.








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