Irish Flag Flap Set Adams On Unification Quest

(from The Montréal Gazette, Monday, November 11, 2002)

By KATHERINE WILTON, The Gazette

During local elections in Belfast in 1964, Protestant police officers smashed up a Sinn Féin office and removed an Irish flag from the building, which under British law could not be displayed in public.

A short distance away, a 16–year–old Catholic student named Gerry Adams watched the event as well as the street disturbances that followed. Almost 40 years later, Adams—now the president of Sinn Féin—says it was that event that kickstarted his lifelong struggle for a united Ireland.

“I started reading and I found out why we were poor and why so many of the (Catholic) men around me were unemployed,” Adams told The Gazette yesterday.

“I discovered that I lived in an apartheid state and changes had to be made."

Adams was in Montréal yesterday at the end of a five–city fundraising tour of North America.

His Montréal visit was sponsored by the Friends of Sinn Féin Canada, a group set up last year to support the peace process in Northern Ireland and raise financial support for Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Party.

Adams, 53, received an enthusiastic reception last night from about 150 supporters who paid $75 to attend a wine–and–cheese party in his honour at a downtown hotel.

He worked the crowd like a seasoned politician, posing for photographs with babies, autographing copies of his books and enjoying the cult–like status he has acquired in many Irish communities across North America.

Although his opponents are leery of his murky past, his supporters say he was instrumental in bringing peace to Northern Ireland after 30 years of sectarian strife.

David Rabinovitch said his girlfriend gave him an early Hanukkah present by buying him a ticket to hear Adams speak.

“I have followed his career for years and it was overwhelming to meet him,” Rabinovitch said.

Although Drew Dorwiler said he was a supporter of Protestant leader David Trimble, he said he turned up last night because he thought it was important to “hear from the other side.”

Adams told his audience that for most people, life in Northern Ireland has improved greatly since the Good Friday peace agreement was signed in 1998.

He said there is greater self–confidence in the nationalist Catholic community, which no longer tolerates discrimination in jobs and housing.

And he said he believes that nationalists will one day achieve their goal uniting Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland in the south. “Hopefully, if God spares us, it will happen in our lifetime,” he said.

On his second visit to Montréal, Adams said he was perturbed by the latest crisis to hit the faltering peace process in Ulster.

The peace agreement, struck in 1998, created a power–sharing assembly between Northern Ireland’s Catholic minority and Protestant majority.

However, the British government suspended the assembly’s powers last month after the province’s largest Protestant party threatened to resign because, among other things, the IRA has refused to disarm.

But Adams has accused the unionists of creating obstacles to block the implementation of the peace agreement so they don’t have to introduce changes they oppose.

“Change is happening at a snail’s pace and it is begrudging,” he said.

Sinn Féin has also had to defend allegations that, despite its ceasefire, the IRA continues to engage in criminal activity.

Three IRA members are currently on trial in Columbia for training rebel guerrillas.

Although Adams had steadfastly denied being a member of the IRA, political observers and the police in Northern Ireland believe that he led the IRA in Belfast for several years.

He was interned and imprisoned in the 1970s and narrowly escaped assassination in 1984. Despite his differences with Trimble, who leads Northern Ireland’s largest Protestant party, Adams said their “working relationship” is an example of how far the troubled province has come after decades of violence.

“We haven’t yet had a beer together and he has yet to shake hands. But the fact that I can phone up David Trimble and ask to meet him is progress,” Adams said. “That wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago.”