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Irish leader Adams addresses campus

Sheila Flynn | Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams lauded the role of Irish America in the Northern Ireland peace process but stressed the need for more accelerated progress when he addressed a packed and enthusiastic audience in Washington Hall Tuesday night.”That’s what it’s about – it’s accelerating the process of change,” Adams said.After an introduction by Christopher Fox, the director of Notre Dame’s Keough Institute for Irish Studies, Adams briefly outlined the political situation in the North and the role of Sinn Fein, the political party seeking the reunification of Ireland. Under his leadership, the party has entered fruitful peace negotiations with the British and has achieved increased electoral success. But Adams insisted the electoral element is not the most important aspect of Sinn Fein’s role in the North.”It’s about what changes we bring about,” he said. “Because other parties have been in power but haven’t done a lot.”In the last two decades, Adams and Sinn Fein certainly have done a lot. Adams was instrumental in negotiating the 1994 cease-fire and 1998 Good Friday Agreement – but it was the involvement of the United States and the international community, Adams said, which really jumpstarted successful talks with the British.”Let there be no doubt that the role of Irish America was central,” he said.Under the Bill Clinton administration, Adams was granted a visa to visit the United States and meet with politicians for the first time, bringing international attention both to the Northern Ireland situation and to his position as a legitimate political figure.”I was depicted as a terrorist, and people like me were depicted as nothing short of the devil incarnate,” Adams said of previous coverage in the United Kingdom, adding that, before his U.S. visit, his voice could not be broadcast by British media.”When the media here [in the United States] came to learn of this, they were so bewildered – so shocked – that in a short time that was changed,” Adams said.And other changes started too, he said. People in the North began to have more confidence that peace could happen, and talks eventually began with British leaders. While Adams said the peace process ultimately would have occurred, with or without U.S. involvement, “We wouldn’t have got a peace process when we got it.” Despite such impressive gains, however, Adams said a lot of work still needs to be done. He said the cease-fire, discussions and agreements were positive steps, but “the hard bit has been implementing it.”Peace is not simply the absence of war, he said; it is “the presence of justice.”Adams said that policing is “still not to the point where republicans and nationalists can be part of it,” there is not yet a bill of rights and there is still a “huge presence” of British soldiers in Northern Ireland.”There are still people within the British establishment who think they still have an empire,” Adams said. “And we are that empire.”However, he said, he believes the goals of peace, equality and reunification will be achieved.”If there’s a political will to sort matters out, matters will be sorted out,” Adams said.He encouraged the audience, especially young people, to research the situation for themselves and to contact their representatives.”One person can make a difference,” Adams said. “There is such a thing as the power of one.”The lecture ended with a question-and-answer session, and, before Adams left, Fox presented him with a Notre Dame varsity jacket. And at the beginning of his lecture, Adams had addressed Notre Dame itself, saying that the University changed attitudes toward the Irish at a time in history when they were “vilified as being lazy, incompetent, drunk, always squabbling, always fighting.””I think … what happened here was to actually turn that caricature back,” Adams said, adding that the University is “now universally known as a top-level academic institution.”