Gerry Adams, president of the political affiliate of the Irish Republican Army, is scheduled to talk to several House members, meet with the national news media and attend the annual Ireland Fund gala during his visit to Washington. But his traditional St. Patrick's Day pilgrimage to the nation's capital will not include two stops that he has grown accustomed to in recent years: an audience at the White House and a meeting with longtime supporter Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
While Adams met yesterday at the State Department with Mitchell B. Reiss, the U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland, President Bush and Kennedy are snubbing the Sinn Fein leader to protest the continued criminal behavior they say is threatening to undermine the once-promising Northern Ireland peace process. The IRA is suspected in a $50 million bank robbery in December and of protecting the killers of Robert McCartney, 33, a Roman Catholic who was stabbed by reputed IRA members in January after a barroom confrontation in Belfast.
Initially, the IRA called for witnesses to come forward but indicated that they should not make direct statements to the police. Then it announced that it had expelled those responsible for the killing. Finally, the IRA offered to shoot the killers, an overture that was refused by McCartney's five sisters, who have pressed for the suspects to be tried in court.
The slaying and the bank robbery have prompted Bush, Kennedy and others to demand that Adams use his considerable influence to disband the IRA. Speaking at a news conference yesterday, Bush said: "It's very important that people understand that the parties must renounce violence."
To demonstrate their displeasure with the situation in Northern Ireland, White House officials chose not to invite Adams to the president's St. Patrick's Day celebrations. Instead, Bush will host McCartney's five sisters. Yesterday, the women were on Capitol Hill, where they met with lawmakers, including Kennedy. "The IRA's criminality is undermining the peace process, and it's time for Sinn Fein and the IRA to hear this message clearly from the United States," Kennedy said.
It is a message that at times has been echoed by Adams, who mostly has been hailed as a constructive force by U.S. officials for his role in helping to bring about the 1998 Good Friday agreement, which ended decades of open warfare in Northern Ireland. But some longtime Adams supporters say he must now unambiguously call for the IRA to disarm if the differences that have stalled the implementation of the power-sharing agreement between Catholics and Protestants are to be resolved.
"The bank robbery and the McCartney murder stand out as a metaphor for what happens when you have a paramilitary force in a democratic society," said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), who plans to join several colleagues in a meeting with the Sinn Fein leader today. "For him to continue to bring about progress, he has to call for the disbanding of the IRA. It can't be put off any longer."
In remarks this week to the Council on Foreign Relations, Adams said, "No one wants the IRA to go back to war, and in my view, people want to see the IRA leaving the stage -- and I think the best way for the IRA to leave the stage is in a dignified way that prevents any reoccurrence of another IRA growing up alongside."
Adams was philosophical about being shunned by officials during his trip. "Do I interpret that as a movement by this administration away from the peace process? No, I don't," he said. "This will not be worked out in the White House. . . . This will not be worked out anywhere except back on the island of Ireland."
Richard N. Haass, council president and a former U.S. envoy to Northern Ireland, said Adams's actions over the past decade indicate that he understands the need to end the IRA's paramilitary role. "He clearly wants to do this, but he doesn't want to lose control," Haass said, adding that the situation in Northern Ireland has reached a point at which the Republican movement cannot embrace the ideals of a power-sharing agreement with Protestants while condoning criminal work by the IRA.