Adams: Confident in Irish-American efforts for united Ireland
Tells Sinn Fein conference: 'This generation can make it real'
When Gerry Adams visited the U.S. in 1994, his visa lasted for 48 hours. It banned him from traveling more than 25 miles outside New York, and it forbade him to raise funds.
Now 15 years later, things couldn’t be more different.
Adams convened a conference on Irish unity in New York’s Hilton hotel on Saturday as part of what he described as “the start of an engagement with the Irish diaspora.” The second conference takes place thousands of miles beyond that 25-mile boundary, in San Francisco.
Hundreds of Irish Americans came to the Hilton, and writers and academics joined Adams on the podium.
“Irish Americans have always been supportive of the different phases and modes of struggle back in Ireland,” Adams said. “Irish America is the most advanced dimension of the diaspora and that’s what this conference is about today – what role people in the U.S. can play, how can they be active, how can they shorten the journey.”
The conference is part of a wider movement towards unity which Sinn Fein launched earlier this year. Adams is sure this can be achieved. “From my perspective, the question is what Irish America can do to help,” Adams said. “It’s not a question of if, it’s how and when.”
Unification would bring economic benefits to the North, Adams argued, saying, “It doesn’t make sense on an island as small as ours not to have a single-island economy.”
Speakers included Brian Keenan, the author and former Lebanon hostage, who talked about growing up in the Protestant community and Brendan O’Leary, the respected political scientist, who has advised the United Nations, and the Iraqi government. O’Leary posed the idea of a federal Ireland made up of two parts to calm the “legitimate concerns of those who fear they’d lose 20 percent of their living standards without British subvention.”
Unification would require big compromises, O’Leary added. “People are woried Ireland would be destabilized and there are fears of costs, of U.K. debt and of replacing U.K. public expenditure.”
Despite these specific questions, the conference was less about practicalities than about dialogue. “We decided very consciously that we wouldn’t come here and tell people what to do,” Adams explained. “We would come here and say, now what do you think you can do.”
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