The Adams Visa: Then and Now

The Irish Voice, 1 February 1995

Exactly 12 month ago, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams finally won a visa to come to America after a 25 year policy of visa denial by the U.S. government.

The visa to America smashed a 25 year international wall of silence around the Sinn Fein movement. Within month, Adams could travel freely to Britain also, and speak on British television and radio. His every appearance in America was treated as a major media event, particularly on ‘Larry King Live’, which won him worldwide audiences.

In that respect the decision to grant him a visa was a watershed in the peace process, a move credited by Adams himself with having a powerful impact both internationally and internally on the burgeoning peace process.

He won a visa over the strenuous objections of the British government, the U.S. State Department, the FBI, CIA and the INA. On his side were the Irish/American lobby, the National Security Agency and eventually the President himself.

The opponents of the visa argued that giving Adams access to the U.S. would fracture the U.S./British special relationship, which had been severely tested anyway by the John Major-led Tory government decision to openly back George Bush in the presidential election campaign.

In addition, they argued that Adams would use the occasion to further the aims of the IRA and that he was not serious about the peace process. On this point they could have not been proven more wrong.

When in New York, Adams promised that his major objective was to take the gun out of Irish politics. Within six months of his return, that is exactly the process he and the Republican movement began when calling a ceasefire followed shortly by an equally courageous cessation called by the Loyalist paramilitaries.

One year later, Adams is still fighting elements in the U.S. government who, at the behest of the British, now wish to prevent him fundraising while in the U.S. Many of the same arguments that were used during the original visa application are being trotted out again.

All are equally spurious. Adams can and has fundraised in Britain for Sinn Fein, for instance. The British government would thus have the U.S. apply a stricter standard on this issue than they do themselves.

More importantly, it is vital that Sinn Fein continue on the path to full political acceptance in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. By placing conditions on the party leader, even five months after the cease-fire, the administration is sending a cleat signal that it sides with the British government on this–and that we are potentially back to the Reagan/Bush era when Margaret Thatcher's every wish was their command.

That may be too dramatic a spin to put on it, but the real need is for the Clinton administration to remember how astutely they handled the original visa issue and were proven right in no uncertain terms. It is time for them to overrule the British advice on this issue and allow the Sinn Fein president same unfettered access to the U.S. that all other major parties in Ireland and Britain enjoy. Anything less would be a blow to the peace process which all parties could do without.