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19 March 1998 Edition

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SF encouraged by Clinton meeting

US journalists have remarked on the difference between President Clinton's meetings with Sinn Féin and the Ulster Unionists in the White House on Monday.

Sinn Féin expressed themselves ``encouraged'' by Clinton's approach to the peace process. Gerry Adams told reporters that he had been very impressed by Clinton's grasp of the issues. The 50 minute meeting (it was scheduled to last 20 minutes) had shown that Clinton remains personally committed to seeing the peace process work. He talked at length about a possible agreement and he emphasised that it was still high on his agenda.

By contrast, Trimble was described as ``uneasy'' following his meeting with Clinton. It was notable that in Clinton's St Patrick's Day speech he emphasised the need for all parties to engage fully in thew process. There is puzzlement in US political circles that the Unionists are continuing to refuse to talk with Sinn Féin and Trimble was put under a lot of pressure in Washington on the issue.

``Mr Trimble needs to stop talking at Sinn Féin and start talking to Sinn Féin,'' Gerry Adams said. ``The people we represent are first-class citizens, they are no better than anyone else in the island of Ireland and they are no worse. I would implore David Trimble to get real about this situation. His own people, who are my people also, will applaud courage from the Unionist leadership.

``I would implore Mr Trimble - not necessarily to trust me at this point because that's maybe something which we have to find a bridge to develop the type of relationship which is required - but to trust himself as a leader, that he can sit down, argue, debate, negotiate and listen. I am quite prepared to do that, and I have lots of reasons and lots of people give me lots of reasons not to talk to Mr Trimble, but i think it's my duty to do so.''

 

Putting the case in the US



By Dennis M. Prebensen in New York

``I'm knackered,'' sighed Gerry Adams to the overflow crowd at the Tower View Ballroom in Queens, New York. ``I'm really knackered,'' he repeated. ``I'm not pissed off - I'm just knackered.''

It was Friday night 13 March, and he hadn't had much sleep. On Thursday he met Tony Blair in London at nine in the morning, then jumped a plane to New York and then a helicopter to Seton Hall in New Jersey. He was quick becoming the Celtic energizer bunny.

Martin McGuinness, a bit fresher, put the clear message out to the 1,000 plus supporters: ``We have every confidence in our case. We won't give up. The struggle for freedom, justice, and peace will continue.''

Adams and McGuinness were accompanied by Rita O'Hare, the Sinn Fein Director of Publicity.

Closely following the very successful campaign to free Roisin McAliskey, imprisoned by the British without charge since November 1996, and at the end of Sinn Fein's exclusion from the Stormont negotiations, the three were in the US to open a week long, intensive diplomatic effort designed to brief key American politicians and supporters on the status of the talks.

Accompanied into the hall and onto the stage by US Congressmen Peter King and Tom Manton, the Sinn Fein delegation praised the decision to release McAliskey.

McGuinness, in this country for the first time since September of last year, praised the efforts of the American supporters, but warned the audience that the talks are not the end of the struggle.

McGuinness told the crowd which spilled back into the foyer, ``No matter how long it takes, we are going to get equality and justice. And, we are going to be free.''

Adams praised the work of Irish Republicans in America and the Irish American community in general.

``You have kept the faith,'' he said. ``You, the ordinary people, are the great catalyst, the touchstone of the struggle. We are strengthened by your bedrock of support.''

Adams said he tried to explain to Tony Blair a simple fact that may not have occurred to the British government.

``You might do a better job of running France than the French, but the French won't let you. We are Irish and we don't need any British ministers or anyone from Britain to tell us how to run our country. We want to see you as the last British Prime Minister dealing in Ireland,'' he said.

``If you value the Union,'' Adams told Blair, ``then you value Unionism and all its sectarianism.'' He called on the British Prime Minister to take ``a leap of imagination,'' and envision what he and Britain can do for the future of the island of Ireland and Britain as equals. The Prime Minister has to be a part of the future of Ireland, but not the future of a British Ireland,'' Adams said.

He also picked up on McGuinness's theme of continuing the struggle.

He told Blair, ``the people of Ireland have a right to live in peace and dignity. Suffering for all these years has not diminished that right. The Irish have a yearning to be free.''

Asked if he expected a settlement by May, Adams said Sinn Fein wants to see an agreement. ``But Sinn Fein will not be involved in a settlement that does not address the release of the prisoners, that does not address the members of the RUC being given their redundancy notices, and that does not address the fundamental principles of equality and parity.''

``If we cannot have United Ireland by May,'' he told Tony Blair, ``then we cannot have a United Kingdom either.''

Answering a question from the audience about what he would say to David Trimble to alleviate his fears about a united Ireland, if and when he finally gets an opportunity to speak directly to him, Gerry Adams said, ``There has to be change, so that progress can be brought about by management, which you, David Trimble, must help to bring about. The unionist people of Ireland, as well as the nationalists and republicans need to be part of that change. But, change is coming about anyway, David.''

``This is about people being empowered,'' Adams said. ``This is about your ownership of the process of peace. The Brits will move slowly, the Unionists will try to prevent the advancement of the process, but there remains one, simple key to our efforts,'' he said. ``We are right''.

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