CAMBRIDGE - When veteran Irish nationalist Gerry Adams last spoke to an audience at Harvard University, back in 1994, the British media were forbidden from broadcasting his voice over the airwaves.
During a talk at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government last night, Adams pointed to that British ban on quoting outlawed paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland as evidence that the only way to make headway in seemingly intractable conflicts is through dialogue.
Adams noted that "by very dint of my coming here, that [British] policy came under ridicule. The need to be open to dialogue, to listen to other ideas, to be non-prescriptive - they are all lessons we can learn," he said. The ban, imposed in 1988, was lifted later in 1994.
Adams has been making stops in the Boston-to-Washington corridor during what he called "St. Patrick's Week" in the United States, speaking to President Obama and others involved with the Anglo-Irish peace process.
|Gerry Adams at Harvard (Photo by David Kamerman, Globe Staff)|
Adams noted that the process picked up steam in 1994 when his party Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, agreed to a complete cessation of hostilities with Britain, paving the way for the Good Friday peace agreement in 1998 that ended three decades of bloodshed.
"It's been difficult and slow, but we're all in a far better place than when I last visited here," he said.
His central message was that "conflict is never intractable. All these problems, wherever they present themselves, are human problems, mostly created by man. . . . There is never, ever, a military solution to problems like the Anglo-Irish one or the conflicts we see elsewhere.
"There can be no military settlement," he added. "It's just impossible. You may have a temporary advantage over your opponents, but you can't resolve your differences."
Adams hardly painted a glamorous picture of negotiating peace, calling it "torturously slow" in Ireland and saying he wasn't naive "about the difficulties and sometimes the tedium of peacemaking, the incremental nature of it all."
"But there is a certainty of hope, that if we think we are partners, we will be partners," Adams said. "If we think we can do nothing, we will do nothing."
Speaking about the killings of two British soldiers and a policeman this month by a dissident Irish republican group, Adams said "Sinn Fein has been robust in asserting that they are wrong, that they have to stop, they are going against the grain of popular opinion and, indeed, they are as much an attack against Sinn Fein as they are as against those who were killed."
Martin McGuinness, Adams's Sinn Fein colleague who is now deputy first minister in the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, has called the killers "traitors," and some commentators noted this week that Adams had not used that language.
Asked by an audience member whether he agreed with McGuinness that the killers were traitors, Adams said: "I agree with Martin." That answer prompted applause.
Earlier, he said: "If anyone is concerned that this is the start of The Troubles again, of going back to war, that will not happen. We can be sure of that. They have no strategy, no popular support, no political program, and there is no sense in what they did."
Adams was unequivocal in saying his party's goal remains that of ending British rule and ending the partition of Ireland. But he said the route to that goal lay in working with the unionists, not fighting them. "Our function is to bed down the peace process, to root it, to ensure that the political processes work," he said. "To reach out to unionism, and to make friends, and try to develop harmonious working relationships with them."
Adams was gracious toward Ian Paisley, the former leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, saying: "Ian Paisley deserves our gratitude for being the person who did the deal on the part of unionism, and for the gracious, honorable way that he honored that agreement. He helped the atmosphere immensely."
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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