21 May 1998 Edition
Sinn Fein carries message to US
SF Ard Chomhairle members Pat Treanor, Martin Ferris and Joe Cahill last week briefed members of the Irish Northern Aid Committee, Clan na Gael and other American support groups about the latest developments in the Irish peace negotiations. Christy Ward, Regina Costa and Dennis M. Prebensen report.
Pat Treanor's message was simple: Sinn Fein does not agree with all that is in the Good Friday Document, but, despite its shortcomings, it was a way forward to the united Ireland Republicans have been fighting to achieve.
While Joe Cahill and Martin Ferris were making stops along the east coast, Treanor was hop-scotching across the mid-West on his way to San Francisco.
His trip brought him to Cleveland, Ohio, on Monday 11 May where he met with nearly 100 key activists, some traveling from Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati, Akron and Youngstown.
He also had an interview with an editorial writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and met for more than an hour with the newspaper's foreign affairs reporter, Betsy Sullivan, who is currently in the north of Ireland covering developments for her paper.
From Cleveland, Treanor travelled to Detroit, Michigan, on Tuesday 12 May, St Louis on Wednesday and on Thursday he arrived in Kansas City, Missouri, where he met members of the AOH, Irish Northern Aid, Amnesty International and local activists joined by out-of-towners from Omaha, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
In Denver, Tom Burke of the Lawyers' Alliance met Treanor at the airport at 7.30am with a bagpiper. ``Pat urged us to stay informed, read, participate, and come to the north of Ireland to observe. He said, `Don't let the unionists keep getting away with telling America that same old stuff,' and asked us to continue helping Republican prisoners and their families in any way you can,'' Tom Burke said.
Alice Huppert, Congressional aide to Diana DeGette, Democrat, Colorado, and Joan Fitz-Gerald, vice chair of suburban Jefferson County's Democratic Party organization, were also at the airport to greet Treanor.
A crowd of over 100 long-time Noraid and SF supporters crammed into a meeting room at the United Irish Cultural Center in San Francisco to hear Pat Treanor.
Supporters, including some who traveled from the far corners of the state, peppered Treanor with questions about the intricacies of the document and the strategy being pursued by Sinn Fein.
``The key issue for us is where to take our strategy for moving the struggle forward,'' he said. ``There is no question but that Sinn Fein has shifted the struggle to a higher plane.''
Treanor pointed to the success the party has had with its political strategy. Previously Sinn Fein had 53 councillors. Now, they have over 70, and two MPs and a TD.
He said the primary short-term objective is to generate the strongest possible support in the June elections to the Six County assembly. This election could establish Sinn Fein as the leading voice for nationalists.
While in the San Francisco area, Treanor took time to meet with the H-Block 3 political prisoners held in the Federal Detention Center in Dublin, California.
According to Kevin Barry Artt, the briefing on the Good Friday Document went well and the three, Artt, Terry Kirby and Pol Brennan, were encouraged by the visit.
Ferris and Cahill head east
``We are the strongest we have been since 1921,'' Martin Ferris told the 300-plus people at Rory Dolan's Restaurant on Monday evening, 11 May.
``More than 200,000 people support Sinn Fein and peace, democracy, and negotiations,'' he said.
Ferris described the document as ``a transitional arrangement, which contains elements to achieve our goal'' of a united Ireland. He told the audience that the work for Sinn Fein has really just begun.
``We will fight on every issue,'' he said. ``We will fight to achieve the equality of all people. This document is a vehicle to bring real change, to help deliver our ultimate objective.''
Joe Cahill, with more than 60 years of activity in the Republican Movement, described the special Ard Fheis held in Dublin to consider the document as ``an incredible event. I was as happy as I have ever been at an Ard Fheis.''
The next evening, a large group of Mid-Hudson Valley residents heard Ferris in Fishkill, New York. He said 400 Republicans are still serving time in various jails in England, Ireland, and American and the issue of prisoners is paramount.
``We are addressing this issue every day,'' said Ferris. ``We want all our prisoners out as soon as possible. We want everyone home for Christmas.''
By Wednesday evening the roving discussions moved onto New Jersey, where the Lawyers' Alliance sponsored a forum on the peace process.
``I never thought I would be on a platform with Martin Ferris and actually agree with him,'' said one of the participants, Bill McGimpsey, a New York resident who supports Unionism.
Ferris said he was ``delighted'' to share the platform with McGimpsey, whom he called ``a courageous man.''
Martin Galvin, a former publicity director for Irish Northern Aid who left the organization several years ago, Jean Forrest, Richard Harvey, and John McDonagh also spoke as part of the panel. Galvin and, McDonagh, the host of Radio Free Eireann, opposed the document.
Ferris challenged the opposition to offer an alternative.
``We went to the negotiating table armed only with our election mandate,'' Ferris said. ``And we won substantial concessions from the British government on the basis of the force of our arguments. We never surrendered on a single issue.''
With only a small number of people opposing the document, Ferris and Harvey impressed on the more than 300 people packed into room at Grasshoppers Restaurant in Carlstadt, that ``the struggle is not over. Sinn Fein will never accept any British control in Ireland and will continue to oppose British rule by whatever means possible.''
On Thursday 14 May Joe Cahill made a special visit to Chicago. ``Think about unity,'' he said. ``We have not achieved all of our objectives, but those objectives have not changed in the least. We are continuing to work for a reunited Ireland and to get the British out of Ireland''.
The 78-year-old Cahill first met with Clan Na Gael and the Irish American Labor Coalition who were having their annual dinner dance.
Later in the evening, at the Abbey Pub, he met with Irish Northern Aid members, the Irish American Unity Conference, the Irish-American Students' Organization, Friends of Sinn Fein and others.
Davy Rasmussen, chairperson of the Northside Chicago INA, said, ``We had an impressive turnout of approximately 100 people. Joe received a lot of support especially since his connections here go back many years in Chicago, and his many friends and supporters welcomed the rare opportunity to hear him and speak with him.''
Councillor addresses Cleveland City Council
Monaghan Sinn Féin Urban District Councillor Owen Smyth returned recently from the United States where he addressed a number of Irish-Amercian activist meetings and was formally received by the Council of the City of Cleveland.
Councillor Smyth was witness to the passage by the City Council of a formal Resolution that wholeheartedly endorsed the Charter for Change (Cearta) as a democratic agenda that must be enacted to ensure that peace, justice, and full reconciliation be achieved in Ireland.
During his address the Monaghan councillor paid tribute to the supportive role played by Irish America and others of good will at all levels of the political administration in the United States, from city councils to Capitol Hill and the White House. He acknowledged that but for that support the cause of a just peace in Ireland would still be confined to our island's shores, and many more years away from realisation than today's enhanced prospect.