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N. Ireland: Time for Real Debate : Britain should grant visa to Sinn Fein's Adams

October 07, 1994

Earlier this week, two Northern Irish politicians, one of them Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams, met in debate on "Larry King Live." It's a debate that all of Britain should have heard.

Commenting on the broadcast, the editorial page of the London Independent rightly said:

"After a long conflict that has claimed more than 3,000 lives, one might have expected the IRA's chief apologist to face vigorous public cross-examination in London and Belfast. Instead, the United States is playing host to the debates. . . .

"The debate is dragging its feet here in Britain, while in the United States and the Republic of Ireland, it is alive and fervent. British indifference to Northern Ireland allowed injustice to fester unchallenged for generations, and so provide a recruiting ground for the IRA.

"The danger now is that paralysis here will hold up the peace. Britain should play its proper role, and not simply look on as Washington and Dublin take the lead."

Adams is president of Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalist party whose military wing is the terrorist Irish Republican Army. On Aug. 30 he unexpectedly announced a "complete cessation of military operations" by the IRA. On "Larry King Live" he was up against Ken Maginnis of the Ulster Unionist Party, who is publicly skeptical about Adams' intentions.

One can agree with the London Independent without suggesting for a moment that Adams, who will appear today before the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, is the most important nationalist leader in Northern Ireland. That distinction, in our judgment, belongs to John Hume, president of Northern Ireland's Social Democratic and Labor Party, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by members of the European Parliament. Regrettably, few Angelenos have heard of Hume or know how he and Adams differ. But what is more regrettable is that Adams is speaking today so far from Britain, where there are many potential debate opponents who indeed know this difference.

Britain has promised that three months after "a permanent end to the use of, or support for, paramilitary violence," to quote the 1993 Downing Street Declaration, Sinn Fein will be welcome at multilateral negotiations on the future of Northern Ireland. Because Adams did not use the word permanent in his Aug. 30 announcement, Britain need not begin negotiations on Dec. 1.

However, Prime Minister John Major would serve Britain's interests by taking the Independent's point and issuing Adams a visa. President Clinton has lifted the ban on political contact between U.S. government officials and representatives of Sinn Fein. Major cannot go so far so soon, but surely the time has come for informal but public debate to include Adams in Britain as well as in the United States.

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