Rep. Richard Neal
By Ray O’Hanlon
A bipartisan group of Congress members has expressed their “outrage” over the treatment meted out to Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams outside the White House on Tuesday.
Adams, an invited guest to the president’s annual St. Patrick’s Day reception was denied entry to the event by the U.S. Secret Service.
Adams was left waiting outside on the street for a reported ninety minutes before giving up and leaving.
The Secret Service has since apologized, but not before the blistering letter to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough signed be fifteen members of the House of Representatives headed by Friends of Ireland co-chairs Reps. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Peter King (R-NY).
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Separately, Rep. Neal and Congressman Joe Crowley, a co-signer of the letter to McDonough, spoke to Mr. McDonough by phone.
In addition to discussing Tuesday’s brouhaha, the two representatives also raised the broader issue of Adams and other members of Sinn Fein facing challenges when traveling to the U.S.
The phone conversation came after Rep. Crowley (D-NY) contacted McDonough’s office
McDonough was receptive of the members’ concerns and Rep. Crowley said it was clear that McDonough feels strongly about the community. In short, it was a positive conversation, said a spokeswoman for Congressman Crowley.
The letter to McDonough, and dated March 16, stated that the signatories were writing “to express our outrage that Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was denied entry to the St. Patrick’s Day reception at the White House last night.”
The letter stated: Nearly eighteen years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in which America played an indispensable role, it is nothing short of astonishing that one of the principal architects of the peace process would not be allowed to attend a reception to which he was invited.
“For more than three decades the United States government has continuously encouraged the political parties in Northern Ireland to take risks for peace. But instead of being rewarded for their efforts many members of Sinn Fein are now being punished. This unfortunate behavior seems to be happening with increasing regularity.”
The letter continues: “As outspoken supporters of the peace process, we take great satisfaction that one of the longest standing political disputes in the history of the western world was brought to an end with the help of Irish America.
“After years of conflict, Northern Ireland is now seen as a society in transformation, and the negotiations that led to the power sharing institutions in Belfast are now seen as a model of successful conflict resolution across the globe.
“Despite this progress, representatives of Sinn Fein continue to experience extraordinary difficulties when travelling to the United States, and we believe that many of these individuals are being victimized because of their party affiliation. While raised with administration officials repeatedly, the situation is going from bad to worse. The treatment of Gerry Adams at the White House yesterday is just the latest example.
“We welcome the fact that the administration has continued the tradition of appointing another special envoy to the region. It is another example of the United States commitment to achieving peace, justice and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. But when the elected leader of one of the biggest political parties in Ireland is invited to the White House in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, and then told that he cannot attend, clearly more work needs to be done on this side of the Atlantic.”
In addition to Reps. Neal, King and Crowley, the letter was signed by Reps. Brendan Boyle, Stephen Lynch, Michael Capuano, William Keating, James McGovern, Peter Welch, Chris Smith, John Larson, Mike Kelly, Brian Higgins, Bill Pascrell and Mike Doyle.
After departing the vicinity of the White House, Adams, in a statement, had described as “unacceptable” the refusal to allow him entry to the White House for the White house St. Patrick’s Day reception, the last to be hosted by President Obama.
Adams was stopped by the Secret Service and told to step aside from the line of guests that typically trails back into the Washington streetscape from the White House east entrance. After ninety minutes of waiting, Adams departed.
Said Adams in a statement: “I had received my usual invitation to attend the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the White House and was pleased to accept.
“When I arrived the staff at the White House informed me that there was an issue of ‘security.’
“After two decades of travelling back and forth to the USA and countless meetings in the White House with successive U.S. Presidents, this is an unacceptable development.
“It is obvious that there remain some within the U.S. administration who seek to treat Sinn Féin differently.
“Some of our political representatives have been denied access to the USA while others, including myself, have to regularly go through additional searches and scrutiny when we travel to and from the USA.
“Last year the State Department initially refused to meet me as part of a transparent effort to pressurize Sinn Féin during negotiations at Stormont.
“That meeting did take place after protests from U.S. political leaders. Efforts to pressurize us in the negotiations failed.
“This morning Martin McGuinness, Mary Lou McDonald and I met with the Congressional Friends of Ireland.
“They too shared our grave disappointment at the White House situation and expressed their determination to have this issue resolved.
“Sinn Fein will not sit at the back of the bus for anyone. We are elected to represent citizens and we will do this. I am hopeful that the controversy around my White House invitation will help lead to a resolution of all these matters.”
Yesterday, before marching in the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Adams called for “the full normalization of relations between Sinn Féin and the White House, and a review of the U.S. security arrangements for Sinn Féin representatives visiting the country.”
Said Adams: “I want to welcome the letter from the congressional members to the White House in which they express their outrage over the refusal to allow me access to the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations at the White House on Tuesday evening.
“The constant additional security processes and delays which Sinn Féin representatives are regularly subject to has long been a cause of concern. We have raised it privately in the past. Yesterday my colleague Martin Ferris was delayed getting on his flight to Boston and when he eventually arrived on a later flight he was held for several hours.
“In the course of my meeting with the State Department on Wednesday, during which they apologized for the White House situation, I urged the administration to review their approach to Sinn Féin representatives visiting the USA and to fulfil the commitment of the Clinton administration 20 years ago to normalize relations between the US administration and Sinn Féin.”
The New York Times reported that the Secret Service apologized for the delay, which it attributed to an “administrative input error.”
A spokesman for the Secret Service, Robert K. Hobak, told the Times that it regretted not resolving the situation “in a more timely manner.”