Gerry Adams has been coming to America since February 1994, since the Clinton administration handed him a visa and unlocked a critical part of the peace process.
In his hotel meeting room in midtown Manhattan on Wednesday the Sinn Fein leader, 65, looks surprisingly rested given the hectic election just concluded.
Sinn Fein’s historic victories North and South no doubt have energized him and his party. Before our interview, long-time supporters from the US have gathered to welcome him.
There is a quiet air of satisfaction; the sense of a job well done, the agenda progressed. Sinn Fein American supporters are a stoic lot, well used to setbacks. The highs are taken in stride too.
His visit to New York en route to Washington this time lacked the drama and frenzy of that first visa, but it unveiled a different Adams, a person who, laughable as it was twenty years ago, may some day be an Irish Prime Minister or Taoiseach.
Here is the scenario. There are enough Sinn Fein TDs, Labor Party holdovers, Greens and independents to form a huge chunk of the next government.
In the European elections just concluded the traditional two main parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, have a combined 45 percent or so.
Sinn Fein plus all others, all left of center, is 55 percent of the total. Even without Labor, Sinn Fein and all others would be within a whisker of the 50 percent mark if the voting pattern of last week were repeated in the next general election, slated for 2016 but quite possibly earlier than that.
In that scenario – and not ignoring the variables of Ireland’s complicated election procedures – Adams could conceivably lead his party to power.
That would have the chattering class chattering furiously and greatly alarm the anti-Adams chorus who make a weekly living attacking him.
Given that former Irish leader John Bruton of Fine Gael this week warned of another ten years of austerity, the political atmosphere will remain highly volatile it seems.
Speaking to IrishCentral, Adams does not rule out Sinn Fein in government in two years or less, not at all. He sees Fine Gael and Labor, the main political parties now forming the coalition, as dangerously inside a bubble, having lost contact with the electorate.
In the recent election Adams sees a Sinn Fein tide, not a protest vote, providing a real alternative, sparked in part by the performance of key members in the Dail (Irish parliament) in holding the government to account.
He remarks with a sense of wonder on the areas of Dublin that just elected Sinn Fein councilors, leafy suburbs such as Malahide, Clontarf, Dun Laoghaire, even, where years ago the party was anathema.
The Irish media has perhaps missed that aspect, the explosion of Sinn Fein support among a middle class disgruntled by the austerity policies and the same old faces.
He laments that they simply did not have enough candidates to run to absorb all the seats they could have had. The party has doubled in size overnight in the Irish Republic.
The party had a breakout election, but Adams deflects any personal credit, instead focusing on his mantra of being a team player.
He is in America to try and sort out the contentious issues in Northern Ireland about the past, flags and emblems and parades.
It is a well worn but successful route. At its height, the peace process was moved forward by a combination of Irish government, British government, and importantly, American pressure.
As recent events show clearly when those groups disengage the lack of progress suddenly becomes critical. In Washington Adams is set to try and get the American drive restarted.
Being Gerry Adams is complicated. Just a few weeks back he was in prison being questioned about the 1972 murder of Jean McConville. Now he is head of the fastest growing political party in both parts of Ireland visiting the seat of power in Washington.
And for those who say no alleged man of violence should ever run the country, the names of IRA fighters Eamon de Valera, W.T Cosgrave and, more recently, Sean Lemass, a member of Michael Collins’s guerilla gang, spring to mind.
Adams takes it all in stride. It is a journey as far as he is concerned and some important steps were just taken.
Where the journey ends is now anybody’s guess.