The Adams Visit

March 19, 1995

In return for respectability in the United States, including fund-raising for Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams allowed himself to be brow-beaten.

First, Irish Prime Minister John Bruton and then President Clinton admonished the IRA to turn in its arms caches. They were echoing what Prime Minister John Major of Britain had been demanding before Mr. Adams was invited to the White House -- all in an attempt to show they were not undermining the British effort.

Sinn Fein leader Adams just shrugged it off on the ground that he has no authority over IRA weapons. Enduring the advice was a small price to pay. He got to raise funds as though Sinn Fein (the political wing of the movement of which the IRA is the military side) is a normal political party, which everyone hopes it will in time be.

The funniest statement of the visit came from National Security Adviser Anthony Lake. Responding to fears of unorthodox use of funds that Sinn Fein raises here, Mr. Lake insisted that the Clinton administration expects a full accounting of how the money is spent. (Foreign political parties do not open their books, if any, to White House scrutiny.)

Actually, there are three activities of the IRA and mirror-image Loyalist paramilitary groups that impede the return of normal life in many parts of Northern Ireland. Maintaining arms caches is one. A second is fund-raising by crime, particularly armed robbery in and outside Northern Ireland and extortion there. As in Russia, such criminality deters both foreign investment and local entrepreneurship.

A third is arbitrary exercise of violent authority over people's lives. This includes knee-cappings, orders to leave Ireland and execution for supposed crimes, without benefit of legal process. American supporters of Sinn Fein as a legitimate political party might wish its military wing to desist activities that stop politics dead.

Mr. Adams was a great success in this country. He is articulate and able, and avoids the Third World Socialist line he imposed on Sinn Fein in the 1980s if no one brings it up. He faces more critical audiences, or their absence, in Ireland as well as Britain.

Unfortunately or otherwise, St. Patrick's Day comes but once a year, even in America.

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