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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 March, 2005, 18:55 GMT
Has Gerry lost support in the US?
By Mark Simpson
BBC Ireland correspondent

Gerry Adams
Has Irish America fallen out of love with Gerry Adams?
In America, Gerry Adams is like Jerry Springer - you either love him or hate him.

He's outspoken, he's controversial, he's been accused of stirring up trouble for many years and his critics say he thrives on conflict... that's Gerry/Jerry.

Not true, say friends; the real Gerry/Jerry is a peacemaker, a man who uses unorthodox methods to try to resolve unorthodox problems.

Jerry Springer is a talk show host; Gerry Adams is a politician. It's unlikely their paths will cross in the US this week, unless Springer decides to do a show about broken relationships.

The love-in between Irish America and the Sinn Fein president has hit the rocks.

The most potent symbol of that was the decision by Senator Edward Kennedy to refuse to meet Adams during the St. Patrick's week celebrations.

Peace process

Many regard Kennedy as the father figure of Irish America and by slamming the door on Adams he sent out a very symbolic message.

"He's been badly advised," said a Sinn Fein spokesman.

Privately, the party believes that the Irish government twisted Kennedy's arm to cancel the planned meeting.

In many ways, Kennedy's move was more significant than President Bush's refusal to invite Adams to the White House.

Gerry and George have never been great buddies.

With Kennedy it was different. In the past he went out on a political limb for Adams, particularly in the early days of the peace process, when President Clinton was persuaded to allow Sinn Fein to visit the USA.

It's clear the veteran senator's patience with republicans has now snapped. More than 10 years into the peace process, he expected the IRA to have gone away by now.

The 26m bank robbery, a money-laundering scam in the Irish Republic and the murder of Robert McCartney - all have been blamed on the IRA in recent months.

That's why St Patrick's Day is going to be very different in Washington this year. In political terms, there's nothing to celebrate.

Alarm bells

For Gerry Adams, some doors have been closed - and that's grabbed the headlines - but others have remained open.

The former US envoy to Northern Ireland, Richard Haass, invited him to New York on Monday.

At a breakfast meeting, he was greeted by many key players in Irish American relations, including millionaire Bill Flynn, Senator Kennedy's sister Jean Kennedy-Smith and former UN envoy Nancy Soderberg.

The meeting itself went well, but what must have set Sinn Fein alarm bells ringing was when Haass mentioned Adams in the same breath as Yasser Arafat.

The recently deceased Palestinian leader was once hailed as a man of peace but the Americans later came to the conclusion that he was a man of war. Sound familiar?

It's a comparison that Sinn Fein firmly rejects. When I put the Arafat remark to Adams, he brushed it off, pointing out with a smile that he was still very much alive.

We spoke at an Irish theme bar in New Jersey. Adams had just given a speech in the pub, in front of about 150 adoring supporters.

I spoke to a number of them. They all assured me that in spite of Edward Kennedy's rebuff, grass root Irish Americans still loved the Sinn Fein leader.

In the crowd, was one of the tallest men I've ever seen. He could certainly claim the title of Gerry Adams' biggest supporter. We did a quick interview on camera in which he eloquently outlined his support for Sinn Fein, for peace and for democracy.

Half an hour later, as I was leaving the bar, I heard this deep voice calling me back.

"Hey, Mr BBC man... Up the IRA!".


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