Sinn Fein chief gears up for No. 10 Downing St. meeting Adams is upbeat on Blair despite office space woes

December 05, 1997|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams can't get an office in the British Parliament to which he's been elected, but he still has a Dec. 11 date with history to meet Prime Minister Tony Blair at No. 10 Downing St.

Adams, leader of the Irish Republican Army's political wing, and his chief strategist, Martin McGuinness, came to London yesterday to press their case for access to Parliament's facilities, even though they are barred from taking their seats because they refuse to swear an oath of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II.

"Can you imagine an American swearing allegiance to an English queen?" Adams said, uttering the non sequitur while sipping tea and eating sandwiches with a group of American reporters.

"Yes, you have your own own country," Adams said. "I'm from Ireland."

As a citizen of British-run Northern Ireland, Adams was entitled to run for and get elected to the British Parliament.

After he refused to take the oath of allegiance to the queen, his request for office space was turned down by Speaker Betty Boothroyd.

"Those who do not take up their democratic responsibilities cannot have access to the facilities at Westminster that are made available to assist members who do," she said.

Adams vows to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

But he continues to gear up for his meeting with Blair, when he will become the first Sinn Fein leader to cross the Downing Street threshold since Michael Collins in the 1920s.

The IRA once fired mortar shells at the prime ministerial home.

Brushing aside the symbolism, Adams said, "If I wanted I could get a photo at Downing Street now. It isn't an ego trip. It isn't about sightseeing. It is about having a meaningful engagement."

Previously, Adams, 49, and Blair, 44, met behind closed doors at Stormont Castle in Belfast, Northern Ireland, trying to revive the peace process.

"It was a good exchange," Adams said. "Very focused. He listened.

"You know when people are going through the motions."

Blair and Adams have so far agreed to disagree.

As prime minister, Blair upholds the British union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Adams, a staunch nationalist, seeks to oust British troops from Northern Ireland and unite with the southern republic.

"Blair is in a very unique position in being able to bring about peace in these islands," Adams said. "This is the most challenging task of his office. I think he is well disposed towards the peace process."

Adams said Blair indicated "he recognized" the current peace process in Northern Ireland as "an historic opportunity."

"He did say there needs to be change," Adams said. "But how much? We told him maximum. This is not just tinkering with the situation. It's time to bring about freedom of Ireland."

Peace talks chaired by former U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell are reaching a crucial stage with eight political parties and the British and Irish governments trying to hash out an agenda of contentious issues that must be resolved.

The talks are expected to accelerate early next year, with Blair declaring that an accord could be reached by May, ending decades of violent discord between the majority Protestants and minority Roman Catholics.

"We want to see Irish unity, an end to British jurisdiction," Adams said. "If it doesn't go as far as it can, we can't give up."

Can a deal be done by May?

"At times, I think, definitely, yes," Adams said.

"At other times, I think we'll never make it. If we don't make it by May, we still need to make it by June."

Pub Date: 12/05/97

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