A Hero’s Welcome For A Man Of Peace

(by Desmond Devoy of the Clare Champion)

Desmond Devoy reports from Toronto where Irish Canadians turned out in force to greet Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams.

A large crowd of Irish Canadians from across the country, including a local celebrity from Clare, were on hand to give Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams a hero’s welcome in Toronto, the nation’s largest city.

Mr. Adams, the MP for West Belfast, was in Canada for the launching of the Friends of Sinn Féin (Canada), an information, fundraising and support group modelled on similar groups in Australia and the United States.

His visit came on the heels of the historic announcement by the Irish Republican Army that it had begun to put its weapons beyond use.

Speaking to a packed house at the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel on Toronto’s waterfront, Mr. Adams said, “This is a very important night for the Irish in Canada and for the Irish republican constituency right across Canada. This is about Irish Canadians rising to the challenge of a united Ireland.”

The Sinn Féin President said Canadians and Irish people in Canada had a part in the international contribution to building peace and justice in Ireland.

Mr. Adams move quickly to assure his Canadian supporters that this was not a surrender but a strategic move. “I know there are people here tonight that feel very pained by that. It was a very, very remarkable experience. I understand how hurt republicans were.”

Mr. Adams explained that the move was made “to stop the process from collapsing and sliding back.” He did concede that the tragedy and the atrocity in the USA did encourage people to make this move.

In a tip of the hat to Irish Canadians’ influence on Canadian and Irish history, Mr. Adams noted that one of the IRA’s first actions during the nineteenth century involved an attempted “invasion” of Canada by Fenian rebels at Fort Erie on the border with the United States, near Niagara Falls.

The Fenians planned to hold what was then the British colony of Upper Canada for ransom until Britain gave Ireland her freedom. The Sinn Féin leader also made reference to the famous island, Grosse Isle, in the Saint Lawrence River in Québec, where many of the famine ships leaving Ireland ended up and where many Irish bodies are buried.

After that, he said, Irish Canada came alive. “The Irish people here stood up for the rights of the people who died in the famine.”

Mr. Adams ended his remarks by quoting 1981 hunger striker, Bobby Sands, who had been profiled in a short film earlier in the evening, “Let our revenge be the laughter of our children.”

“I feel very proud,” said Eamonn O’Loghlin, a native of Ennistymon and the host of Ceol Agus Craicon Fairchild Radio in Toronto, of the speech. “Gerry Adams has managed to do something no other Irish man could have done. We’re all for peace, forever.”

Radio colleague, Frankie Benson, host of “the biggest Irish radio show in North America”, Radio Erin, on Toronto’s AM 740, agreed. “I’ve been following Gerry’s career for a long time. There’s only one way to peace and Mr. Adams has the answer,” said the Belfast man. “I have no qualms with Gerry Adams. I think he’s a very brave man. I’d love to have Gerry on my show.”

The evening was a repeat performance for former hurler Paddy Fagan. “I saw him in New York City on St. Patrick’s Day,” said the Westmeath native. But he showed up again to hear Adams speak because “I want the peace thing to keep moving. We’ve gone beyond guns.”

Responding to a question from The Clare Champion during an afternoon press conference earlier in the day, Mr. Adams said his party would be willing to form a coalition government with either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael following the next election if it won enough seats.

“I don’t think we’re going to match our potential,” Mr. Adams said of his party’s chances in the Republic when national elections are next called. “We’ll do very well but they would have to be prepared to take on board policies to eradicate poverty.” He added that actively pursuing a united Ireland would also be necessary to secure the party’s support.

Mr. Adams added that if and when Taoiseach Bertie Ahern does call an election, expected in the coming months, he will not be seeking a seat in the Dáil.

Speaking to The Champion after the press conference, he was asked if he had anything to say to the people of Clare. Mr. Adams, an avid GAA supporter, responded, “just get the hurling sorted out and up the Banner!”