Irish Politician Brings Republicanism to Florian Hall

In the pantheon of "I came among you and you took me in" moments, it wasn't quite on a par with "Ich bin ein Berliner," President John F. Kennedy's words of camaraderie to a receptive West Berlin crowd in 1963.

But when Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams donned a Red Sox cap handed him by state Senator Steve Tolman (D-Brighton) the Florian Hall crowd - both Irish and Irish-American - cheered the Republican leader in a rousing welcome.

Adams, making what he called "one of these quick, 36-hour trips," made his visit to the Dorchester union hall in the midst of a Boston visit that included a meeting with Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a $250-a-plate dinner at the Long Wharf Marriott, and Tuesday's Irish-American Partnership luncheon at the Boston Harbor Hotel, raising funds for Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.

"I always find it invigorating to come to the States," said Adams, citing the heavy contingent of native Irish on American shores. Adams said he explains to Americans who "have a hard time wrapping their heads around these issues" that Irish nationalists "want what you have."

Adams criticized British Prime Minister Tony Blair's May decision to postpone elections for the Northern Ireland power-sharing government, which had been scheduled for May 29.

Adams accused Blair, who said he was postponing the vote because the IRA had not sufficiently slowed its paramilitary operations, of interceding in Northern Ireland elections because conventional wisdom held that Sinn Fein, now the largest nationalist party on the island, would gain seats.

Unionist and British concerns about the growth of Sinn Fein was "the main crux reason" behind the decision to delay elections, according to Adams.

"Elections are about people having the right to vote," he said. "It's a matter of political principle. It's not a matter of political expediency."

Adams credited Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern with pressuring the British government to allow the election to proceed, and said he was not worried that the alliance between Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush in Iraq would preempt American criticism of Blair's stance.

"I think the administration here knows that not to hold elections is just nonsense," Adams said.

Adams said he was pleased with his reception in Boston, and always glad to visit the United States.

"You see all the memorials and it sort of reminds you what we want in Ireland was started in America here in Boston," Adams said.

"There's a lot of things wrong with America. But one of the things that's right with it is the sense of people, the sovereignty of the people."

Adams was introduced by Tolman, the son of Irish immigrants, who called Blair's decision "a throwback to the era of selective democracy in Ireland."

"The British government needs to realize that democracy delayed is democracy denied," Tolman said.

Earlier, Adams met with Kennedy in Kennedy's 24th floor office in the JFK Federal Building downtown. Adams said he would provide the Democratic senator with an update of the electoral situation in Northern Ireland, and Kennedy hailed Adams as a key figure in "the building of democratic institutions."

Kennedy said he had spoken with Blair on the British prime minister's most recent visits to the United States and "urged him to move forward."

"I still felt the election could go forward," Kennedy said, "but the British government made the judgment decision to postpone it."

Kennedy questioned Blair's priorities, and alleged that Blair was placing greater importance on the implementation of democracy in Iraq than in Northern Ireland, echoing almost verbatim a similar quote Adams had delivered at a May protest at Stormont Castle, seat of the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.

Adams said of Kennedy, "He and his family have been champions for a long, long time in terms of peace and justice in Northern Ireland." Kennedy was a key player in lobbying then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to open dialogue with Irish Republicans with other members of the Four Horsemen, prominent Irish-American politicians Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, New York Governor Hugh Carey, and New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Kennedy also leaned on President Bill Clinton in 1994 to grant Adams a visa, which Clinton did, a marked step in the peace process.

The pair did not discuss Bush's announcement that he would appoint James Kenny as the new Ireland ambassador, Adams told the Reporter.