Australia bans Gerry Adams over IRA links

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A political storm broke in Australia yesterday after the federal government announced that it was banning Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, and David Irving, the right-wing British historian, from visiting the country because both men were not of good character.

It was the third time that Mr Irving has been refused a visa to enter Australia, where he had planned a speaking tour to promote his controversial view that the Holocaust never happened. But it was the exclusion of Mr Adams, on what was to have been his first Australian visit to promote his biography, that caused the greater outcry, particularly among Australians of Irish descent. Civil liberties groups also attacked the Adams ban as a violation of free speech, and accused the conservative Liberal-National coalition government, led by John Howard, of caving in to pressure from the British government.

Announcing his decision to refuse visas to both men, Phillip Ruddock, the immigration minister, said that they had failed a test of good character under Australia's Immigration Act. Mr Ruddock cited Mr Irving's 1992 conviction in Germany for defaming the memory of the dead, his deportation from Canada in 1992 and from Germany in 1993 and his 1994 jail sentence in Britain. "Taken together, they reveal a consistent pattern of behaviour that led me to believe that Mr Irving is not a person of good character," he said.

Leaders of Australia's Jewish community welcomed the ban, and said it would have been "catastrophic" to let Mr Irving in at a time when Australians were already involved in a fiery debate on racial issues involving Asian immigration and aborigines.

As for Mr Adams, Mr Ruddock said that he continued to be associated with the Provisional IRA, an organisation that "conducted criminal terrorist acts and bombings", and that the Immigration Act allowed him to refuse visa applications to people who were members of criminal organisations. Asked if Canberra had been lobbied by the British government, Mr Ruddock said: "I am not able to comment on what may or may not have occurred."

The ban on Mr Adams took many people by surprise. Mr Howard has made much of the fact that his government wants to promote a new climate of free speech. That, together with Mr Adams' recent visit to the White House, had led to a belief that the Sinn Fein leader would be allowed entry. But Mr Howard is one of Australia's most conservative political leaders who would be inclined instinctively to support the British government.

Mr Irving accused Australia of acting illegally and said he was consulting his solicitor.

Dodie McGuinness, of Sinn Fein's national executive, issued a statement saying: "At this point in the search for a restored peace process ... this decision is most unhelpful."