"Brian Higgins is for staying the course in Iraq. Brian Higgins voted for the Patriot Act. His positions on these critical issues are diametrically opposed to those taken by Gerry Adams, Martin Sawma, leader of the Coalition of Progressive Democrats said.
The Western New York Peace Center, one of the organizers of the Anti-War demonstration had invited Mr. Adams to speak at the event, and although they did not receive a definitive commitment from the Sinn Fein leader, they did receive an e-mail from Paula MacManus of Sinn Fein indicating that Rita O'Hare, an official traveling with Mr. Adams, was informed of the event.
Leaders of United for Peace and Justice, A Washington-based group have, appealed to Mr. Adams to speak out in legislatively concrete ways for Congress to end the war he and his party (Sinn Fein)has consistently condemned from before its inception, according to a press release issued prior to Mr. Adams arrival in this country.
Earlier in the week John Curr III of the New York Civil Liberties Union, another co-sponsor of the demonstration filed a Freedom of Information request with the federal government to determine whether federal agents are spying on anti-war activists. Some activists, speaking on condition of anonymity suspect that federal agents are attempting to infiltrate the movement in order to create dissension and lead activists into illegal actions.
They say that the detention of Mr. Adams may be another attempt to disrupt the anti-war movement here. Historically, the Western New York area has strong traditions of dissent. From its position as a key terminus in the underground railroad, helping runaway slaves escape to Canada to the takeover of the University of Buffalo by students during the Vietnam conflict, the area is known to have the potential to become a political tinderbox.
The ratio of Democrats to Republicans in Buffalo is five to one and the popularity of President Bush is at an all time low here, as it is in the rest of the country. Within the last two months two left wing talk radio stations have gone on the air blasting the policies of the Bush Administrations.
St. Patrick's Day Surprise
Initially, Gerry Adams was scheduled to speak at the Irish Center in South Buffalo on St. Patrick's Day at 7:15 PM EST. Lines of people braved subfreezing temperatures to get into the hall to hear Mr. Adams and to partake in the traditional celebration.
As the warm up band put down their instruments, the crowd pressed forward to get a glimpse of the dignitaries entering the room at a side entrance. The anticipation was intense as Congressman Brian Higgins took the podium to raucous cheers.
This is bad because I'm a politician, and politicians should deliver good news, he began. We got a call tonight that Gerry Adams is being detained in Washington for an inordinate period of time, because his name turned up on a terror watch list, Higgins told a stunned crowd.
Higgins kept his remarks brief as the crowd began to boo. One heckler referenced Higgins vote for the Patriot Act.If Gerry Adams could be here, he would be here because here's what he told me, Higgins said, They wanted him in Washington tonight, They wanted him in Chicago, they wanted him in Boston, they wanted him in Los Angeles, they wanted him in San Francisco. Gerry Adams wanted to be in Buffalo. It says nothing about me it says everything about you. Tonight each and every one of you has reason to be proud in this community, proud of Western New York and the Irish people are tough and resilient people so tonight let the celebration continue. Let's celebrate our Irish heritage in this great community and in this great hall. Thank you very, very much. I am profoundly regretful that this happened, thank you.
The mood of anger gave way to optimism that Adams' delay would be temporary and that he would be able to march in the traditional St. Patrick's Da y parade on Saturday through a working class neighborhood known as The Old First Ward. Adams was also scheduled to lay a wreath at a memorial for victims of the Irish Famine located near the terminus of the Erie Canal which was built largely by Irish immigrant labor. However, at a hastily arranged press conference after his talk Higgins expressed deep uncertainty about the Adams visit. At the press conference, Higgins stated that he would phone Mr. Adams later that evening. A report in The Buffalo News the following morning indicated that Mr. Adams was released at 8:00 PM and would cancel his appearances in Buffalo so that he could travel to New York City by train.
On Saturday morning, critics of Mr. Higgins were not buying the story. Mr. Sawma indicated that Mr. Adams was still free to travel to Buffalo by car and could have made at least some of the events scheduled for Saturday. A check on flights available out of Reagan National Airport to the Buffalo/Rochester area showed that Mr. Adams may have been able to catch a flight to the area as late as 2:00 AM EST, but it appeared as of Saturday morning that Mr. Adams was still not permitted to fly on domestic flights.
The following is a transcript of Brian Higgins' Press Conference held on the second floor of The Irish Center at approximately 7:45 EST March 17
Congressman Higgins: Gerry Adams was unable to get his flight out of Washington because his name came up in a terror watch list, as well as somebody else he was traveling with. AS I've mentioned previously Gerry Adams, having met with all of the major political parties in January in the Northern Ireland Peace Process, uh, each one of them, with the possible exception of Ian Paisley, recognized that Gerry Adams is a gifted politician, a gifted diplomat who is almost exclusively responsible for the Northern Ireland peace process reaching the point that we have.
Today they are still negotiating implementation of the Good Friday accord which was reached in 1998 toward the devolution of government back to the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland. There's issues of policing, there's issues of decommissioning. When I was in Ireland a couple of months ago I met with a catholic priest who was overseeing the decommissioning and destruction of arms which was a precondition for the implementation of the Good Friday accord. Gerry Adams has done more than anybody else in Northern Ireland to promote the peace process there. He did at great risk to his own life work for twenty years to pull the Irish Republican Army - who had a long history back to 1905, founded by Arthur Griffith pull that nation whose military use of physical force to political ends.
If you understand the very interesting and complex Irish history , Northern Ireland's history, that organization, the only way it could find its way to the political process was through the use of physical force. throughout most of its history. Gerry Adams made strides and continues to make major strides toward the Northern Ireland peace process.
It would be irresponsible and premature for me to speculate exactly what has happened. I have a phone call into Mitchell Reiss, who is the special envoy to northern Ireland on behalf of the Bush Administration. I have called into the State Department. As we speak Gerry Adams is still detained at Washington airport. It's profoundly disappointing. He was looking forward very much to being here, with us and spending a couple of days and I'm certainly looking for this to be resolved hopefully sooner rather than later. I'll take any questions you have
Q: Mr. Adams was at the White House today?
He was at the White House. Q: How did he get in in the first place?
I think, uh I don't know. We have to ask that question of the State Department and the information we've heard is very speculative and its not from a primary source. I'm
hoping to speaking with Gerry Adams tonight and I'm hoping to get the full story.
Q: When you say detained is he in some sort of custody?
No, he's not in custody. What happened was there were four folks traveling, including Gerry Adams from Washington to Buffalo and two of the four, including Gerry came up on the terror watch list, and they were detained by a transportation security official in the airport, for well over an hour and their bags are still being inspected.
Q: When was he last in the United States prior to this visit?
Gerry comes pretty regularly, and this is a pretty common occurrence as I am told, that he comes up, is detained and very often misses his events as a result of that. You have to understand something here, is that people don't have, aren't steeped with a knowledge, necessarily of the Northern Ireland conflict, its history, but Gerry Adams should be allowed to come to this country without any restrictions. Under the Clinton Administration, Gerry Adams was given a fund raising visa to travel freely as all the other parties in the Northern Ireland peace process have been given. Most recently he was denied a fund raising visa and was given a travel visa, but that he comes up on a terror watch list at this point at a critical, critical juncture in the Northern Ireland peace process is unconscionable.
Q: It's not a matter then of mistaken identity, like Ted Kennedy's name actually came up on the watch list?
It is, his name and I forget who else's name actually came up on the terror watch list.
Q: Sinn Fein is made up of a lot of former IRA members. Do you think that's why he was detained tonight?
Well, given the history and the name Sinn Fein, which means ourselves, alone the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, but what Gerry Adams is trying to do is , very effectively, pulling the Irish Republican Army away from their history of using physical force to achieve political ends and major progress was made when Gerry Adams was issued a full fund raising visa to come to the United States. It solidified the United States' support for Sinn Fein's involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process. So this is not a good sign, when in fact we're at a very critical point in the Northern Ireland peace process. Every single political party leader that I met with personally in Northern Ireland in January believed that Gerry Adams was the primary influence in getting the Northern Ireland peace process to where it's at, so, there is a history. It's a complicated history, but the fact of the matter is that the State Department needs to get through those issues so that people understand who is what and...
Q: Congressman, you talk about the history, but of course, Mr. Adams' personal history included being held without charges in British concentration camps, including Long Kesh. Now, he's been a very outspoken opponent of the United States policy of detaining prisoners without charges.
I think, the only charge they ever brought against him was the charge that he tried to escape. So given that history do you think that this might have something to do with his stand against Gitmo and his stance against the war in Iraq?
Well, I think that Gerry Adams obviously is, you know, he was jailed twice about twenty years ago without any jury trial. He was a target of an assassin who didn't succeed, but he was in the hospital for five days. I think that this administration needs to be more understanding of the issues surrounding the Northern Ireland peace process because this is a critical point. Every political leader that we've met with -Peter Hain the Northern Ireland secretary - they negotiate with Gerry Adams as a legitimate leader of an established political party, Sinn Fein.
The Irish Republican Army, which Sinn Fein is the political arm of, agreed to and participated in a decommissioning, a destruction of arms that was observed by the international monitoring commission, a world body to observe this process, which in fact, confirmed the Irish Republican Army would not return to their tradition of using force.
Q: But sir, if you could address the question.
Do you think this has to do with Bush Administration's fear of him speaking out against our policies with Guantanamo Bay and also the way the war is going in Iraq? I would certainly hope that it would not be and I don't know. I hope to have more information this evening about the circumstances. I want to talk to Gerry directly about this, his feelings about it. As I said I have a phone call into Mitchell Reiss who is a special envoy on behalf of this administration for Northern Ireland affairs, and we're going to get to the bottom of it one way or other.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the, uh, you say he's not being detained but his baggage is being held? Or is he still being-
No, no. He's been cleared.
Q: Any hope of getting him here later tonight or tomorrow?
I can't say for certain. I'm going to have to find out. I'll being talking with him later on to find out what the situation is.
Q: You said this is not the first time this has happened. How frequently does this happen?
I don't know. In talking with various people from Sinn Fein, uh they explained what had occurred given that context, that this very frequently happens because his name comes up on a terror watch list and the fact of the matter is Gerry Adams shouldn't be on a terror watch list. If he's been recognized by the
British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, if he's been recognized by the Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain, if he's been recognized by
James Kenny the United States Ambassador to Northern Ireland, why does his name appear on a terror watch list? I'm not quite sure and
hopefully we can get an answer to that.
This administration has an obligation to promote peace in Northern Ireland. It's not a unionist or loyalist issue. It's not a nationalist or Republican issue. It's an issue of self-determination and that's the tradition of this nation and that's what Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams are all about.
Q: Do you fear that this could damage his image, just the fact that he was detained?
Well, unfortunately I think this is a fairly common occurrence, because his name appears on a terror watch list. And the fact of the matter is we want to find out why it does.
Q: Did he go straight from the white House to the airport, then?
I have to assume that they tried to get assistance from the State Department. Again I don't have the details, the sequence of calls and who had called and what time that was, but they were at the airport with plenty of time to catch the flight, which was a 5:30 flight or approximately thereof to Buffalo.
Q: What was the flight?
Washington National, United Airlines
Q:Is he cleared to fly to Buffalo now if he wanted to. Would it be possible tomorrow since he's been cleared?
I don't know that. Obviously, flight availability would be an issue, there - it is quite late. I'll know better when I speak with him.
Q:Let's just say it works out that he does want to come to Buffalo. Yeah, I think this is an aberration.
I think it's an anomaly. I think what had happened from time to time, his name will come up and he may be detained inordinately, for an inordinate period of time, but eventually, so I don't know what the motivation is behind it. I don't know if it's deliberate or-
Q: The question is in the Irish community, is it justifiable?
No, it's not. Gerry Adams does not belong on a terror watch list. Gerry Adams is promoting peace. Gerry Adams is, as I mentioned earlier, in big demand, particularly on this day. He wanted to be in Buffalo. He recognizes the extraordinary influence that America, generally, has had in promoting peace in
Northern Ireland. And good progress is being made. We're at a very critical juncture and it's profoundly disappointing but the Irish
American community is generally, a tough and resilient community and the people of Buffalo and Western New York are even tougher and more resilient.
Q: Are you surprised to learn that his name is on that list?
I am. I really am because what our nation has an obligation to do is to help all of the parties. I was part of Congressional delegation to travel to Northern Ireland to London and to Ireland. We didn't meet with just the nationalist parties. We met with the Unionists and the Loyalists in very frank discussion, in very candid discussion. That is, I traveled with a Republican member of the House. That is the tradition of this nation in a bipartisan way promoting a process that will achieve peace and recognizing all of the significant political parties in that peace process.
Q:Do you see this as a slap in the face by Republicans?
Absolutely not. This is disappointing,
obviously, but we don't have the details to draw any hard conclusions yet and we hope we will have more answers to our questions and yours, later tonight and into tomorrow. But don't let this dampen the spirit.
Q:Are you buying Brian, is that what your saying?
Q: Congressman, another question: Critics of the Patriot Act have feared exactly this type of thing. Do you regret your position voting for it? No, you know what's fundamental to the Patriot Act is border security. And what the Patriot Act does, fundamentally, it removes the barriers that exist for a federal agencies to better share information and enhance border security. Unfortunately, in this day and age a lot of issues are bundled. A lot of bad things are thrown into the fundamental issues. My vote on the Patriot act is essentially, given where we live and that is on an international border, and I thought it was important to maintain that level of security. Also keep in mind that since the enactment of the Patriot Act there have been no documented evidence of abuse
Q:Documented? No documented -
Q: But that doesn't mean there hasn't been abuse?
Well, no documented evidence of abuse.
Q: Mr. Adams was not allowed fund raising (visa) but are there other avenues whereby contributions can be made?
I'm not quite sure about other avenues. I know people from the United States can send contributions. I know it restricts his ability to actually physically fund raise. To be at an event where the event is intended to raise money for Sinn Fein. That seems to be the restriction I don't think it restricts anybody from initiating a contribution themselves.
I'm sure that goes on on a regular basis. The urban industrial cities of America were a prime destination for people who were forced to emigrate from Ireland particularly during the famine years, which were 1845 to 1849. The population of the City of Buffalo almost doubled during that period. Now they weren't all Irish immigrants but a good percentage of them were. So I think, again, it's very, very disappointing and we'll see what happens when we call later on tonight.
Q: But do you expect that he'll be here tomorrow for the scheduled events? I'm hoping again, that it can be worked out but I don't know. I've not heard from him directly and I can't say.
Q:Don't you think this kind of thing strengthens the hand of extremists such as the Reverend Ian Paisley. Doesn't it sort of reaffirm his sort of propaganda?
I think these sort of incidents don't help. I don't think these incidents are beneficial to anybody.
Q: If I could just get a sequence of events. He was at the White House then he was at the airport at what- 4:30 probably?
Two hours after his flight was supposed to take off, you're telling us that his luggage is still- They were detained physically. He was detained physically for over an hour.
Q: Okay, and the luggage?
They're still at the airport.
Q:So he's been cleared, but his luggage is-
You're not cleared till your cleared.
So even though he's not being physically detained on purpose, he is being detained in terms of his movement.
Q:Is he traveling with somebody who has never traveled with him in the U.S. Before?
No. He's traveling with his attorney
Yeah, Rita O'Hara and the fourth person, I don't know the identity of that individual. But two of the four came up on the terror watch list.
Q: (inaudible) Comment on his decision to come to Buffalo as opposed to larger cities?
He's never been to Buffalo, number one.
He's been to other cities. Number two he recognizes Buffalo is a unique place, and a place that has a very significant Irish -American
community as evidenced by this place where we are sitting today. This is not the Irish Center of South Buffalo it is the Irish Center of
Buffalo and Western New York. So I think it's in recognition of his appreciation and his admiration for Western new York and Buffalo and the people of this community.
Thank you all.
By John McMahon
Cancellation of Gerry Adams Visit Ignites Controversy over Congressman Higgins' Pro-War Stance
The cancellation of scheduled appearances by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in Buffalo, NY in observance of St. Patrick's Day has anti-war activists here wondering whether his absence may have more to do with the potential embarrassment of his host U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins, than it does with his temporary detainment at Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. just prior to his flight to Buffalo.