Leading Article: Back to reality for Adams

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The Independent Online
THE VISIT by Gerry Adams to New York was always likely to be something of a propaganda coup for the president of Sinn Fein. The Americans identify, at least subliminally, with an image of Ireland as

a victim of British colonialism. Irish-Americans have long been schooled in an apocalyptic tale encompassing 800 years of national struggle against a supposedly sadistic oppressor.

The histories of the two countries are entwined. The American War of Independence prompted Britain to grant 'Grattan's' shortlived Irish parliament virtual independence in 1782 to appease those preaching Hibernian revolution. Woodrow Wilson's support for small nations bolstered the cause of Irish nationalism after the First World War. And now the successful passage of Bill Clinton's domestic reforms depends on legislative support from the politically powerful Irish lobby.

This long-standing relationship helps to explain the sympathetic and uncritical hearing that Mr Adams has enjoyed from the US media. He was allowed to portray himself as a martyr. Little effort was taken by interviewers to explain the slightness of his electoral support or the nature of IRA violence.

Britain's cause was hardly helped by the broadcasting ban on Sinn Fein, which seems ever more ridiculous and counter-productive and should be dropped with as much haste as is respectable. American enthusiasm for giving Mr Adams a voice was fuelled by the broadcasting ban which runs so contrary to the US constitutional guarantee of free speech.

But Douglas Hurd, who whistled in the wind in America against the statements made by Mr Adams, should not be too down-hearted, and the Prime Minister ought to keep his powder dry. By over-reacting, they have magnified the importance of the visit. A dignified silence would have been a better way to deal with what will be a passing wonder for the American media.

The Sinn Fein leader may have walked the American stage virtually unchallenged, but the British government won an important concession from the US administration to reward its forbearance. President Clinton announced that his electoral pledge to despatch a peace envoy to Northern Ireland had been superseded by the Downing Street declaration. John Major need no longer worry that Washington will interfere in negotiations which the Government prefers to see confined to these islands.

For all the posturing before his Irish-American supporters, President Clinton has little interest in being caught in the mire of Anglo- Irish affairs. He is too involved in pursuing his health reforms to be bothered trying to resolve such apparently intractable problems. The future of Northern Ireland will be decided not on Larry King's chat show but by the two communities within Northern Ireland in concert with the governments of the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom. This is the reality that Mr Adams must now face after the euphoria of his trip.