Gerry Adams, head of the Irish Republican Army's political wing and one of the key figures in the Irish peace process, is spending St. Patrick's Day in Buffalo.
Adams, who as president of Sinn Fein has led the Irish Republican movement from violence to politics, brings his message to Buffalo amid the world's turmoil.
"No conflict is intractable," Adams said in an interview with The Buffalo News. "Dialogue is the way forward."
Adams is making his first visit to Buffalo at the invitation of Rep. Brian M. Higgins, D-Buffalo. He is scheduled to speak at 7:15 p.m. today in the Buffalo Irish Center, 245 Abbott Road. He will make two public appearances Saturday: at 11:15 a.m. at the Irish Famine Memorial near Erie Basin Marina and at a St. Patrick's parade at noon in the Old First Ward.
Adams, 57, is one of the most dynamic figures in the history of Irish nationalism. His family has a long history in the Republican movement, and while Adams insists he has never been a member of the Provisional IRA, British intelligence, among others, maintains he long played a dual role, serving as both head of Sinn Fein and as a member of the Provisional IRA's governing army council.
He was twice imprisoned by the British without trial during the 1970s. In 1983, Adams was elected president of Sinn Fein and a member of Parliament from West Belfast. A year later, he survived an assassination attempt that left him hospitalized for five days.
With Adams at the helm, Sinn Fein moved beyond being largely a political front for the IRA and evolved into a professional political party. In the process, the Republican movement moved off many of its long-held tenets.
Members elected to public office took their seats, rather than serving in absentia. More important, the IRA has made a steady march away from use of military force to fight British rule.
Secret negotiations with moderate Catholic politicians and the British government led to an IRA cease-fire in 1994 that helped pave the way for the landmark Good Friday Agreement in April 1998. The agreement shifted many government functions out of British hands and established power-sharing among most of the major political parties in Northern Ireland.
The coalition government collapsed in 2002 over an IRA spying scandal. The IRA last year decommissioned its arms stockpile and declared an end to its military campaign.
Adams has accomplished what few Republican leaders of the past have been able to -- he led the movement in a different direction while holding it together.
A profile of Adams on the BBC's Web site described him this way: "Within his own community he is generally revered as a clever politician who has largely replaced the muscular approach of physical force republicanism with a mental toughness which has delivered more than bombs and bullets ever did." Adams has visited the United States around St. Patrick's Day during the past decade to plead his case.
After being rebuffed last year, Adams was invited to attend today's traditional St. Patrick's Day festivities at the White House. The administration, however, refused to issue Sinn Fein a permit allowing it to raise funds during Adams' stateside visit.
Adams said the refusal leaves him "bewildered," considering the moves made by the IRA last year to lay down arms and commit to peaceful means. He also expressed guarded criticism of the Bush administration for not using American influence to push the British government to make a greater effort to jump-start the process prescribed by the Good Friday Agreement.
"I have to say in recent times the administration has been less helpful than it could be," he said.
Adams had stronger words for the Rev. Ian Paisley, head of the Democratic Unionist Party, Ulster's leading Protestant party, which refuses to negotiate a resumption of power sharing until the IRA disbands. "Ian Paisley refuses to be part of the process. He is taking a very negative attitude," he said.
Paisley and other opponents of the Good Friday Agreement question the IRA's commitment to peaceful means. They also have seized on several illegal activities pinned on the IRA, including a well publicized bank robbery in 2004 and the killing of a Belfast man by IRA members in a bar brawl last year.
Irish nationalists, on the other hand, complain about continued violence by Protestant extremists, including the pipe bombing of Catholic neighborhoods.
Two recent reports took note of continued problems but noted progress that the British and Irish governments have said should be grounds for a resumption of negotiations.
"Compared to where we were ten years ago, there has been a sea change," Northern Ireland Home Secretary Peter Hain said last month.
Adams agrees. "The situation has changed utterly in Northern Ireland," he said.
Serious problems remain, to be sure, he said. But he said Northern Ireland is mending.
"I'd characterize it as a conflict resolution process," he said. "Our society is in transition, and we need help to complete that journey."