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5 October 2006 Edition

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US visit - Sinn féin Féin President addresses Council on Foreign Relations

Adams says republicans and unionists need to "reach out to each other"

Last week Gerry Adams visited the United States. Here, RICHARD McAULEY, who travelled with the Sinn Féin President, gives a flavour of that visit.

Over 1,000 political and business leaders, aid workers, NGO representatives, conflict mediators, philanthropists and others came together for three days last week for the second Clinton Global Initiative, organised by the Clinton Foundation. The event brings together all of these people to talk about the big issues facing the world today: poverty, global health, the environment and conflict resolution. Organisers promote the conference as a way of seeking solutions to global and local problems and finding money to make it happen.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams was invited to attend again this year. There were contributors from all around the world on a wide range of issues. The opening day saw sustained applause for President Musharraf of Pakistan who, when speaking about the conflict in Afghanistan and the wider issue of tension between the West and the Muslim world, said that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is at the heart of much of this and that this issue needs to be resolved.

While for many of the participants the Irish peace process is no longer the priority it once was, there is still widespread interest in developments here. The conference provided an opportunity to talk to former President Clinton as well as others, including Senator Hillary Clinton, about the current situation.

On Thursday, the Sinn Féin leader was the guest speaker at the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential foreign policy think tank. The Sinn Féin group, which included Rita O'Hare, the party's representative in the US, arrived as President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan was leaving. Immediately after the Sinn Féin discussion, the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was due to arrive to speak to the Council.

Saturday saw the delegation travel to Philadelphia, where Gerry Adams addressed an invited audience at Eastern University. The event was jointly organised by Eastern and Northwest Universities, both of which are Christian universities linked to evangelical churches in the USA. It was Gerry Adams's first such engagement with the evangelical community in the US, who have long had links to the Protestant churches in the North of Ireland.

Adams spoke of the need for republicans and unionists to reach out to each other and to face the future together. He told his audience that he didn't know whether the DUP was prepared to do a deal with Sinn Féin next month but that, whatever happens, the onus is on the Irish and British Governments to continue with the process of change.

Adams said that Sinn Féin has a "vision for the future of Ireland. Others, especially Ian Paisley and his DUP party, have a different vision. That's fine. Let's agree to disagree while seeking in a spirit of humility and co-operation to persuade each other of the merits of our respective positions. And notwithstanding these differences, let us agree about how we manage and plan the day-to-day matters which impact on people in terms of jobs, the environment, health, education and much more.

"Our task, therefore, as citizens and as political leaders, is to change what needs to be changed, to empower people to take ownership of their lives and to build equality into the fabric of society. The two key words - concepts - of our republican future are 'change' and 'equality'.

"Some unionists are still fearful of their nationalist neighbours. They believe that we wish to coerce them into a United Ireland in which they will face the same inequalities which we face in the North. Irish republicans have no desire to follow that path. We are for equality. Equality is for everyone. We want a different future. A future together - a shared future. How do we achieve that?

"We need to reach out to each other. We need to listen to what each other has to say. Not in a patronising way. There must be genuine enlightened dialogue between all of us who share this island. The big question for unionist leaders is the one provided by the example of the Good Samaritan. 'Who will have the courage to cross to the other side?' For too long we have each kept a distrustful distance from each other. For too long we have passed by on the other side. Now we need to cross the road and address one another's injuries and pain. Now we need to comfort and restore one another.

"Irrespective of what happens in the next few months, I believe we can achieve this. Of course, reaching agreement, ending sectarianism, building a shared future would be no less challenging but more easily accomplished if Mr. Paisley and his colleagues in the DUP were prepared to reach agreement in the upcoming discussions.

"I don't know if they will - I hope they will. But I am not naïve. Eight years after the Good Friday Agreement, Ian Paisley will still not talk to Sinn Féin. There is no dialogue. No conversation between us to address the concerns of the other. If the DUP refuses to agree a deal next month then the responsibility of the Irish and British Governments will be to move ahead with the implementation of the Agreement and in particular those rights and entitlements which citizens are entitled to: equality, justice, freedom and democracy.

"Dialogue between us is the only way forward. That is the future. It is our responsibility, especially those of us from this generation who have lived through the dark days of our past, to make sure we provide a better future for our children," Adams said.

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