Adams turns to his old friends in New York

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The Independent US

Gerry Adams was on stage as a guest on Monday night of New York's transport workers' union explaining how comfortable he feels in America, when one of the myriad orange, green and white balloons festooning the hall popped with a loud bang. "That," he said without pause, "also makes me feel at home."

Gerry Adams was on stage as a guest on Monday night of New York's transport workers' union explaining how comfortable he feels in America, when one of the myriad orange, green and white balloons festooning the hall popped with a loud bang. "That," he said without pause, "also makes me feel at home."

It was a joke that drew easy laughter from his audience, Irish-American members of the union who had gathered for an annual dinner to honour two fathers of the Irish republican movement, James Connolly and Michael Quill. Already, they had given Mr Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, a standing ovation as he had entered the room accompanied by the strains of marching bagpipes and drums.

The recent allegations that Sinn Fein turned a blind eye to violence and crime committed by the IRA - the raid at the Northern Bank and the murder outside a bar of Robert McCartney - have not given Mr Adams any cause to celebrate. Worse, his annual St Patrick's Day week in America has been eclipsed by headlines about political leaders here, from George Bush to Edward Kennedy, snubbing him this time.

But on this night, he was all grins. Eleven years after he was first allowed by President Clinton to enter the United States, Mr Adams was the man of the hour. On stage beside him were the leaders of the city's transport and police unions and, in a surprise appearance, John Sweeney, the powerful president of America's umbrella union organisation, the AFL-CIO, who called him a "courageous hero".

"I always feel uplifted by the people here," Mr Adams said during his 20-minute address, in which he referred only obliquely to what he described as a "huge avalanche of abuse being heaped upon Sinn Fein" back home. Even if he will not be in the White House as usual on St Patrick's Day and even though this year he is not raising money here, there is still succour for him in the US.

The cheering and whistling which greeted him at Monday's rally - one of scores of such events orchestrated for Mr Adams in several states across the US - is evidence that support for him and for Sinn Fein remains barely diminished among grassroots Irish-Americans.

"I really think that in these days when he is being hit from every angle back home and he arrives here to be welcomed like this, then it must really mean something for him," said Patricia Harty, editor of Irish-America magazine in New York. She admitted, however, that scant coverage of Northern Irish affairs in the US press meant that most of his supporters had only a vague notion of Sinn Fein's troubles.

True, there is still an old guard of Irish-American activists in the US who have no time for Mr Adams or the peace process, which they angrily denounce as a sell-out to Westminster. His difficulties today only please them. "Hoisted on his own petard," growled one well-known anti-Adams activist, who preferred not to be named, at Monday's meeting.

But according to Patrick Doherty, one of the authors of the McBride Principles, which set down standards of non-discrimination for US companies operating in Northern Ireland in the late 1980s, the opponents of the peace accord have become increasingly marginalised. "There is overwhelming support among Irish-Americans today for Adams and the peace process going forward," he said. "When Adams says he knows nothing about the bank robbery, they believe him. He has a high degree of credibility."

In another sign of Irish-Americans closing ranks behind Mr Adams, a delegation of community leaders, headed by the powerful Ancient Order of the Hibernians, met in New York earlier this month with Ireland's ambassador to the US, Noel Fahey, to voice concern at attacks being made on Sinn Fein. The group expressed similar frustration in a letter to President Bush.

Supporters of Mr Adams here are trying not to read too much into the snubs from the White House or Mr Kennedy. They hope the crisis will pass. As for his decision not to fund-raise this time, it is not for fear, they argue, that Irish-Americans would seal their wallets. "He would not lose a single dollar," insisted Mr Doherty.

Mr Adams tried to reassure his audience. The squeeze he faces, he insisted, was not because of "any events or dreadful incidents at home" but a result of Sinn Fein's electoral successes. "Most of these problems are created because Sinn Fein is being successful ... not because it is failing."

And he promised to fulfil the promise that most Irish-Americans still expect of him - the achievement of peace and, in their minds, the final unification of Ireland. "We are going to resolve the current difficulties in the peace process and we are going to be moving the process forward," he said. And then, he said, his critics and foes - and by implication, the British - will know they have lost. "The revenge we will have will be in the laughter of the Irish children."

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