Home / St. Patrick’s Day Remembrances: John McCain vs Gerry Adams

St. Patrick’s Day Remembrances: John McCain vs Gerry Adams

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I hope the following serves as a vignette regarding the steely nature of presidential candidate John McCain:

During the 2005 St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Washington, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was largely cast out in the cold. This came as a blow to him, as he had come to expect cheers, not jeers, from the Washington establishment. But by 2005, Congress, and President Bush himself, had grown tired of Sinn Fein's apparent ambivalence toward the Irish Republican Army's criminal elements and activities.

Yet another of the IRA's many atrocities came to light around this time — the killing of Robert McCartney outside a bar in East Belfast by a crowd that included many IRA members. When the McCartney sisters appealed to Adams to help them investigate the circumstances of their brother's death, the Sinn Fein leader repeatedly snubbed them.

The 2005 St. Patrick's Day fete in Washington focused on the McCartney sisters who had been invited to tell their story over shamrock-shaped cookies and tea to Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Christopher Dodd and John McCain. They also met with President Bush, who vowed to support them "100 percent." The whole story blew the lid off the romantic vision of the IRA amongst Irish-Americans and, for perhaps the first time ever, Americans saw Adams, Sinn Fein and the IRA for the monsters they really are.

Gerry Adams, meanwhile, had seen his guest-of-honor status at the St. Pat's celebrations scrapped. He did not meet with the President. Instead, the justice-seeking McCartney sisters were the cause celebre on this day. Even Kennedy, that Irish-American stalwart, pulled out of a meeting with Adams, citing the IRA's "ongoing criminal activity and contempt for the rule of law."

But John McCain — an Irish-American himself — delivered a thunderous speech at the American Ireland Fund dinner in which he branded the IRA "cowards" who did not deserve to be called Republicans. Looking Adams right in the eyes, McCain declared, "Stealing from banks and slaying men on the streets to settle personal grievances are not the acts of freedom fighters, they are the work of a small minority trying to hold back the forces of history and democracy and they hurt the very people for whom they claim to fight … There is nothing republican about the Irish Republican army."

McCain also stated that "[a]nyone, Irish, American or British who desires and works for the success of peace, freedom and justice must denounce in the strongest possible terms not only the cowards who murdered Robert McCartney but the IRA itself and any political organization that would associate with them." McCain's speech was so saturated with vitriol toward Sinn Fein and the IRA that Adams was stunned to silence — shortly after the speech, he wordlessly made a hasty exit. Adams' aides recalled wondering if the Sinn Fein leader was about to explode, cry or faint.

And so Gerry Adams learned that John McCain was not a man you wanted to mess with. McCain proved his mettle on March 16, 2005.

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  • david

    Mc cain is a Protestant SCOTS-IRISH, one of the invincible foes of the cowardly IRA. The British Army is the one dependable ally of the U. S. army. Three cheers for the Red, White and Blue

  • Paul

    To Mark – not all Irish are disgusted with “plastic paddies”. You’re just gonna hear that from the sheep who’ve been brainwashed by west Brit media. The Irish don’t agree with each other over the political situation in Ireland, why do u think they’d be any different in America? Just take any stance u like and don’t expect full support or condemnation – you’ll be criticised either way!

  • Paul

    I just want to add one more thing, regarding McCartney. I wasn’t justifying it at all – it was deplorable and there was no excuse. The lack of cooperation between the ira an the police though has to be taken in context. It was asking a very hardline organisation who’d dedicated their life for a “cause” to cooperate with a british security force who they didn’t recognise as legitimate. Doing so at that time would have undermined their entire struggle. If u understood the ira you’d see why this was an impossibility for them. They offered to instead shoot the murderers. That is of course barbaric, vigilante justice to us, but again, context is required. The murderers were themselves ira volunteers, an upon joining were made very aware of the ira court martial process and agreed to be subject to “ira justice”, pending the establishment of an Irish state with a proper legal system. They acted out of order, and caused considerable damage to their cause, and were as such subject to an ira court martial. They actually have their own process for this, and maximum punishment is death! That’s the world they agreed to live in when they signed up to the ira! There was no ira order to kill Robert McCartney, who was incidentally a republican activist himself.

  • Paul

    Furthermore, McCartney’s murder was not an ira order. If an off duty marine kills someone in a bar, is the whole us army to blame? Please try to reflect on stories you read in newspaper, separate fact from opinion, then come up with an opinion of your own. They might correlate but at least you’ll be thinking for yourself.

  • Paul

    God, I am Irish, and I love Irish Americans but really these days they are annoyingly vocal about issues they have very rudimentary knowledge of. You clearly don’t know the history of the IRA, nor of SFs involvement in creating the peace process. Instead you rely on tv and whatever sentiment is in vogue. I’m sure if the situation existed in your state against an occupying force you’d lie down and do nothing.

    Regarding 9/11, alquieda are a totally unrelated and different phenomenon to the ira. Different situation, different ideals, different army. Unfortunately Americans seem to think in black and white and polarise everything. To the Israeli who said the Arab terrorists have bought the ira I don’t know wtf you are talking about! There is a passing trend of hanging Israeli and palestinian flags in northern ireland these days among the working classes as a kind of metaphor to roi vs ni. This is a silly bit of name calling between them, but don’t be deluded into thinking the loyalists of ni are Israeli sympathetic. You are talking about a group to whom the Irish are “Jews” and who have frequently align themselves with far right wing groups. When they were in control of the north they created an almost apartheid system against the Irish, with the entire British military and media on their side, and together crushed any attempts at civil rights campaigns – which is what led to pira support in the first place. They also rekindled the catholic/Protestant divide (which was architected by the British for hundreds of years in Ireland – see the penal laws). There is no oxymoron in being Irish and Protestant, which is what the ira wanted. It’s not a “send the Protestants home” thing as you seem to think, but “send the British government home”. The fact is that due to the divide they created, most nationalists were catholic and most unionists were Protestant. There’s a pretty ok documentary on YouTube called “the ulster troubles”. It’s old (1980’s) and British made, so a little biased but has a fair amount of the basic facts that might help you understand how such a mess came to be.

    Regarding Robert McCarthy, it’s always sad when someone loses their life so tragically, like the thousands others killed in the troubles. They all had families and loved ones too, including the combatants, but that was the life they chose. How McCarthy found himself drinking in an ira bar arguing with senior figures doesn’t seem to be asked very often.

    Ultimately, I don’t really care what McCain or Irish America think. It’s easy to have half baked opinions and write blogs, but you don’t live here. Regarding your support of PEACEFUL unification of Ireland – that’s exactly what sf are aiming for. The situation now exists in northern Ireland where that can actually be achieved democratically, but that was a pipe dream in the past. Even Nelson Mandella was once a terrorist, and in many ways far more gruesome than the ira (check out his torture tactics!) But you in the states call him a hero and a doctor. Reason – because he won! There is a time for peace.

  • Gosh, Mark, I’d forgotten I’d even made that earlier comment. March seems so long ago now… way back before Obama was a shoo-in and I was still worried that Romney might actually win the Republican nomination!

    Seven years is a long time, though, and as the vividness of 9/11 fades in the memory I’m sure there are some whose notions of the IRA as a merry bunch of Guinness-swigging Robin Hoods are swelling in their faux-patriotic pea-brains again.

    Fortunately Northern Ireland has, meanwhile, moved on and – apart from a few idiots who are determined to live in the past – the peace really does look, this time, as if it might last.

  • Dr. D:

    I like how you added your voice to the subject in much the same manner as #3! Your point was so nice you had to state it twice! ;P

    Seriously, though, thanks for weighing in again. Much appreciated.

    I’m certain that 9/11 did change some minds, but unfortunately the continued likes of Mssr. Robert would suggest that there yet remain plenty of American plastic paddies who are still unenlightened with regard to terrorism, and its devastation, its cowardice, its immorality.

    As long as the fighting and the resulting death is “over there,” it seems so gosh-darned romantic to them. They need to grow the fuck up.

  • Mark: well said.

    I’d hazard a guess that a lot of Irish-Americans did get a huge dose of perspective on September 11th, 2001, when they found out first-hand just what the practical effects of terrorism are.

    I’d guess that a lot of previously enthusiastic American donors to the ‘Cause’ suddenly started questioning what their money was paying for – and decided to keep their wallets closed henceforth.

    I’d guess that this resulted in a huge drop of revenue to the IRA, and was in large measure a direct cause of their renunciation of violence: which ultimately made possible that momentous Paisley-McGuinness handshake and the current power-sharing arrangement in Northern Ireland.

  • Robert, my apologies for not replying to your challenge here before now. For the longest time, I kept getting an error message when trying to post this, a problem which has only recently been corrected …

    I am not an Irishman, despite my ethnic heritage (of which I’m proud), but I will try to break this down for you with what limited knowledge of Ireland’s politics that I have:

    In the Republic of Ireland — not Northern Ireland, but Ireland proper — the three biggest political parties are Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party (not the same as the one in Britain). FF was made up of some Sinn Fein members and does tend toward nationalistic sentiment. But they do not support terrorism (so far as I am aware).

    FG tends to be more conservative and less nationalistic than FF, while Labour is pretty much the quasi-socialist entity that it is in Britain and has a tendency to copy FF in its nationalist aspirations.

    None of these political parties have a mandate for IRA terrorism.

    And in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein is the second-largest political party, NOT the largest. And Sinn Fein share power, under the 2007 Assembly elections and the St Andrews Agreement, with the Democratic Unionist Party. (Remember, Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley shaking hands?) This, to me, meant the Northern Irish want to move on and what better why than making the country’s most notable republican and loyalist parties work together?

    Robert, I say again, if you sit over there in the States, blindly supporting Irish Republicanism without knowing what that has, in the past, entailed, then you really do not have a clue, as is the case with so many other Irish-Americans who either cannot, or will not, acknowledge how many innocent lives, both Irish and British, that the IRA have snuffed out.

    I want a united Ireland too, but I’m also pragmatic enough to know that it just may never happen. And I’m not going to support people who say they will try to bring it about by turning Ireland into a war zone. You really need to speak with genuine Irish people who can give you their very frank assessment about how they see your militancy.

    All I ask from other Irish-Americans is this: a little perspective. Please.

    That’s it. End of. I’m finished with this conversation; I’ve had my say and I can say no more about it without repeating myself.

  • John Doolan

    As an Englishman of Irish descent, I think that the union with the UK is certainly set to continue.. you cannot just discount a million loyalists and at the end of the day a substantial number of them would be willing to stand up and fight for their right to be ‘British’. The sad thing is that the Britain of the Loyalists no longer really exists..it is a multi racial, multi faith society and the Irish in England & Scotland ( 5 million of Irish origin )also have their place in that ethnic mix. The loyalists are in fact an embarrassment to most Brits, with their ridiculous bowler hats and hate filled parades. They even parade through strong Irish catholic areas in England such as North Liverpool – thankfully most people choose to ignore them. I guess my point is love ’em or loathe they ain’t going away anytime soon so maybe we should put the United Ireland idea aside for now and try to just break down barriers for the children of N.I and live side by side instead.

  • Robert

    Hogwash. Maybe Mark would like to explain to us “ignorant” Americans who support self-determination and democracy in Ireland why it is that Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing, is the largest Nationalist party in the north of Ireland? We heard for years the blather about the IRA having little support among the Irish people, and yet Sinn Fein has enough of an electoral mandate in the north of Ireland that nothing can be done in the Six county power-sharing assembly without their approval. Go ahead and explain.

  • Setanta — thank you. What you have had to say here means more to me than you may think. What Irish-Americans like Robert, the Gerry Adams worshipper, don’t realize is how fed-up and disgusted with American “plastic paddies” the Irish are. I know, from having talked to people in Ireland and members of the Irish community in London, that they are aghast at just how ignorant Irish-Americans can be with their blind militancy. They’ve actually said to me, “Well, it’s so easy to support a people’s struggle for independence when all the fighting is ‘over there’ and you don’t have to directly take part in it.”
    It’s folks like you, Setanta, who are far more representative of how the Irish actually think and feel about the whole thorny issue of “the Troubles,” and I thank you for your input in this thread.

  • Setanta

    Note that speaking out against the IRA, or Sinn Féin, or even nationalism, or unionism for that matter, does not mean that a person is “anti-Irish”.

    Les: I too wouldn’t mind the Republic ‘re-unifying’ with the rest of Ireland. I’m not sure that such a thing would garner much support though: the Republic has had its independence for too long to consider rejoining the union.

    Chris you appear to be doing the opposite, yet exactly the same, thing as what you accuse McCain of. In the interests of balance, perhaps you’d care to comment on this series of attacks which has been ongoing since at least 1999. The article also mentions the continued attacks on Orange Halls. There are also continued attacks and threats by Republicans against the security forces and civilians.

    Chris Ward, by the way, wasn’t “arrested simply for being a Catholic from a Catholic neighborhood”, as you suggest. A worker in the bank in question, he was charged in the course of an investigation which saw at least ten people questioned and three of them charged in court.

    Ruvy in Jerusalem: I think most “intelligent Protestants in Northern Ireland will tend to vote for what they consider right for them. There may be various reasons for their choices, but for those amongst their number who are unionist, I doubt the prospect of being a “big fish” has anything to do with their political ideology.

    Nor are any of them “begging for scraps”. As a member state, if you will, of the United Kingdom, MPs from the region are as entitled to make their cases and proposals for their taxpayers as any other MPs from any of the other regions of the UK.

    The Republic’s economy had been doing quite well recently, and it’s certainly nice to see it. However, in contrast to your “big fish” analogy, I would argue that it’s better to be able to dip your rod in a larger and more full reservoir, than to dip it into a much smaller one.

    To Mark Edward Manning, as an Irishman, I certainly do not look fondly upon the IRA (in any incarnation), just as I do not look fondly on the UVF or the UDA. I applaud your ability to remain objective on this issue, despite your stated political ideology with regard to my country. This is in synch with the feelings of the vast majority of Roman Catholics here in Northern Ireland – something I’m not sure some Americans seem to understand. The fact is that between a fifth and a third of Catholics in Northern Ireland support the union, even if they vote in general elections for specifically nationalist political parties. Currently, only around 23% of the people of Northern Ireland want the long-term future to be one where it is united with the Republic. As with yourself, that doesn’t mean all of those people support the IRA, or its offspring.

  • Les Slater

    There have been times when I’ve been accused of being a Republican. I say ‘damn right, I support the reunification of Ireland and for the exit of all British troops’.

    It is quite clear to me that McCain is not only not a republican but an enemy of republicanism.

  • Robert

    Somewhere Gerry Adams is smiling this morning. Revenge is sweet.

  • Chris Upper Darby, PA

    In researching John McCain’s stance on Irish issues, I stumbled upon this article. I agree with the Irishman from Ulster that this article and John McCain both ooze of ill-informed anti-Irish republicanism, and as such, anti-Irish Catholic sentiment.

    As far back as 1998 John McCain tried to sabotage the Good Friday Agreement, and fought against extending a visa for Gerry Adams to visit America.

    In this article, you quote McCain who is making a broad prejudiced generalization against the Provisional IRA, judging them innocent before being proven guilty. To this very date, it has not been proven in any court that anyone from the Provisional IRA had anything to do with the Northern Bank robbery. As a matter of fact, a young Catholic employee of the Northern Bank, Chris Ward, arrested simply for being a Catholic from a Catholic neighborhood and therefore scapegoated as being the Provos “inside man” has been proven innocent.
    He and the IRA have already been proven guilty in the prejudiced court of public opinion, however. Do you think that John McCain will apologize for his remarks?

    John McCain feels confident to decry the IRA and Sinn Fein as terrorists for “cowardly acts.” But what about the cowardly acts and state-sponsored terrorism of the British Secret Services, Armed Forces, and Royal Ulster Constabulary? He seems to welcome British contributions to NATO efforts in Afghanistan and their troops into our efforts in Iraq, and has shaken Tony Blair’s hand despite documented collusion between British Intelligence and the murderous loyalist paramilitaries?

    You speak of the “cowardly murder” of Robert McCartney, and rightfully so. But why hasn’t John McCain called for inquiries and justice into the cold-blooded and cowardly murder of Civil Rights Lawyer Pat Finucane by loyalist paramilitaries working on intelligence given to them by the British government?
    During the same week that the McCartney Sisters visited America and John McCain proudly met with them, ex-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern not only acknowledged and supported their call for justice, but also acknowledged and called for justice for Geraldine Finucane. How come McCain was silent on her quest for justice? Her husband was murdered in cold blood at the breakfast table right before her and her children’s eyes based on information that the RUC had passed on to his assassin.

    We could get into the interment of Irish Catholics based solely on their religion and cultural background with no trial just because the English “suspected” them of being part of the IRA.

    And we could get into the fact that the Ulster Defense Association, the Ulster Volunteer Force, and the Loyalist Volunteer Force, to name three prominent Loyalist paramilitary groups, have yet to disarm or stand down as the IRA has. Where is McCain’s public outcry against their continued violence and hate-crimes?
    For example, an Irish-Catholic Athletic Association was recently torched, one of several high-profile cases of sectarian attacks against Catholics simply on account of their religion.
    Why does McCain give these terrorists a free pass to continue to violently intimidate and brutalize an oppressed community?
    How is attacking a Catholic for wanting to be positively and encouragingly civic-minded in an athletic association *Not in opposition to “[a]nyone, Irish, American or British who desires and works for the success of peace, freedom and justice” as you quote McCain as saying?

    Not to mention the fact that the British Empire has had to be persuaded with force to leave each and every one of its former colonies, a fact that is exemplified by a little country I like to call the United States of America, a legacy that is inextricably linked to the city and people of Boston, who you so decry for their romantic support for the Provos.

  • Robert

    Thanks Mark. As an undecided Irish-American voter in Pennsylvania you helped remind me that John McCain ridiculed President Clinton’s role as a mediator in the Irish Peace Process. But Clinton proved to be RIGHT, and McCain it turned out was very, very WRONG.

  • After 100 years in Iraq, we’ll go on to liberate Northern Ireland from IRA terrorists and their livers of mass cirrhosis!

    /lame attempt at humor

    Good column, Mark.

  • Mark,

    I rarely comment on this issue, but once upon a time I used to sympathize with the IRA. After all, in 1947-48, they helped us win independence from the Brits.

    But having seen the IRA been purchased lock, stock and shillelagh by the Arab terrorists, I have no sympathy for them at all.

    Nevertheless, I do believe it is far better for Irish Protestants to be a big fish in the Dail Eirann than a little second rate guppy in the British Parliament. Holding about 20% of the seats in the Dublin Parliament would be far better than a lousy six or ten MP’s (out of over six hundred) begging for scraps from London bureaucrats.

    I believe that intelligent Protestants in Ulster can see this as well. And now that the Repuublic is a going concern (even as a German subsidiary), it’s not like the Ulstermen would be sentenced to penury and potatoes.

    After all, after six or seven (or twelve) beers, does it really matter if you are from the Church of Ireland or the Church of Rome? You’ll still be pissin’ the same bathroom. And if the two churches effect a Reconciliation, what’s the fight going to be over?

  • I am far from anti-Irish republican, friend. Nothing would please me more than a united isle of Eire. The whole 26 + 6 = IRELAND thing is a concept I embrace. But NOT through violence, intimidation and terror.
    I don’t like it, but the British have set their roots down in Northern Ireland, and there are generations of loyalist families there who’ve known no other home. Where are they supposed to go? Things are already crowded enough here on “the mainland,” thank you very much.
    There are two types of Ulsterman, both of whom lay claim to those six counties, and we have to accept this as a geopolitical reality.
    It’s really demeaning to say that just because someone is Irish or has Irish blood (which I do) should look fondly upon the IRA. That’s just inane.
    Saying that I’m anti-Irish for hating the IRA is like saying Mahmoud Abbas hates the Palestinians because he favors the peace process. It’s not that simple, friend.
    And if Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein condemned McCartney’s murder, why, therefore, did the McCartney sisters seek solace with a receptive American audience? Why were they so desperate to meet with Bush? Why did they think help in seeking justice could only be found across the Atlantic?
    Don’t get me wrong. The Catholics/republicans need a framework set in place to protect their rights against the likes of the goons in the Orange Order, but for that framework to be the IRA or its political affiliate is a step too far.

  • Another good piece, Mark. McCain clearly understood better than most Americans of Irish ancestry that the modern terror organization is far from being the same IRA that fought for Irish independence in the early years of the 20th century.

    I don’t think, though, that it took until 2005 for most IRA sympathizers in the US to start withdrawing their support. The IRA had been struggling since 2001, when 9/11 brought home to every American the literally visceral effects of real-life terrorism which the people of Ireland and Britain had been living with since the sixties.

  • Nine county Ulster native

    Not very factual or concise of a blog if you ask me. For a start it oozes a little anti-irish republicanism.

    Also, if you get your facts right, the Northern Bank robbery despite what McCain could contrive, was never, ever proven to be the work of the I.R.A nor indeed the brutal, savage murder of Mr.McCartney. A murder might I add that was wholly, condemned by the leadership of Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams himself. The McCartney family appeared on stage, applauded and was welcomed at a Sinn Fein party conference shortly after.

  • Lee Richards

    Too bad he wasn’t serving his 2nd term as president THEN.