PM Meets With Sinn Féin Leader

Urges Adams to push Northern Ireland’s peace process forward

(from The Toronto Star, November 5, 2001)

OTTAWA (CP) - Prime Minister Jean Chretien welcomed Gerry Adams, leader of Northern Ireland’s Sinn Féin party, to Canada today, saying he’s urging Adams to continue to promote the unfolding Irish peace process. The prime minister and the Irish leader, whose party is linked to the Irish Republican Army, met privately for about half an hour to discuss progress toward peace.

“I’m going to encourage him to continue on the path he has taken lately, when he was an instrument to persuade people to give up their arms,” Chretien said beforehand.

Afterward, Adams said he thanked Chretien for his support of the peace process.

“We discussed a range of issues,” he said.

“It was a good meeting.”

Adams called Chretien “a very good friend of peace in Ireland.”

The IRA, in what Adams called an unprecedented step, recently put some of its arsenal out of reach, an act confirmed by John de Chastelain, the retired Canadian general charged with overseeing the organization’s disarmament.

“The prime minister commented that some positive moves have been made recently,” Adams said.

Adams was in Canada to oversee the opening of Friends of Sinn Féin, a group that will raise money for the political party.

Alan McConnell, the organization’s head, said he isn’t worried that Sinn Féin will be branded a terrorist front group once new legislation on terror is passed.

“It’s not a worry for us,” he said. “It’s not something we’re terribly focused on.”

He said the group wants to win Canadian support for Sinn Féin and the peace process.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service describes the IRA as a terrorist group on its Web site, although there is, as yet, no index of banned groups.

Adams told reporters before meeting Chretien that he doesn’t consider the IRA a terrorist group.

“Those who are against Irish republicanism, obviously those who are interested only in filling column inches, obviously those who don’t go under the skin of the issue, will continue with the same sort of language which was used 10, 11 or 12 years ago,” he said. “But consider what has changed in the last 10 or 11 years. There is a peace process, things have happened that were never imagined.”

The IRA has observed a ceasefire for eight years, he said. There is a coalition government in Northern Ireland. The Irish and British governments are devolving powers to the northern assembly and the British army is slowly reducing its presence in the province.

Adams admitted that the IRA fought a long war against the British army and its allies, including Loyalist and Unionist groups.

“And in any war, terrible things were done. Let no one think for a moment that war is glamorous or that war is glorious,” he said. “I can’t be any straighter ... the IRA is not a terrorist organization.

“The IRA has never deliberately targeted civilians.”

Adams said it’s an important part of the peace process to stop demonizing others.

He said he thinks Canadians will support Friends of Sinn Féin, because there are many close links between the two countries.