Only hours after attending a St. Patrick's Day function at the White House, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams was detained by federal authorities Friday as he attempted to catch a flight to Buffalo where he was scheduled to make several public appearances.
Adams, a key player in the Irish peace process credited with leading the Irish Republican Army away from violence, was stopped when his name appeared on a terror watch list, said Rep. Brian Higgins. The Buffalo Democrat termed Adams' detention "unconscionable."
Higgins, who had invited Adams to Buffalo, broke the news Friday evening to a jammed hall at the Buffalo Irish Center, where Adams was scheduled to speak.
"Gerry Adams should not have been on a terror watch list," Higgins told the crowd. "He very much wants to be in Western New York."
Adams was released after several hours in custody but was unable to catch a flight to Buffalo. He was scheduled to make several public appearances Saturday, but Higgins said Adams will not be traveling here. Instead, he will travel by train for the balance of his U.S. visit, to New York City today and then Springfield, Mass.
Higgins, who spoke to Adams after his release about 8 p.m., said: "I would characterize him as very disappointed, but resigned to the fact this is his life, this is what he deals with."
Adams was traveling to Buffalo with three others, and he and another member of his party were detained by the Transportation Security Administration for questioning and their luggage seized at Reagan National Airport while they were being processed for a 5:30 p.m. flight on United Airlines.
Higgins said this is not the first time Adams has been questioned prior to boarding a plane because of his apparent presence on the federal government's watch list of suspected terrorists. Adams was most recently detained several days ago as he attempted to board a flight in Newark, N.J. to travel to Washington, Higgins said. Adams was released in time to catch the plane.
He said Adams' absence in Buffalo was "profoundly disappointing," but said he didn't know enough to speculate on the government's motives. "I don't know if it's deliberate or a coincidence," he said. "This kind of incident doesn't help. We are at a critical point in the Northern Ireland peace process."
Higgins said he spoke with members of the State Department Friday evening.
"The State Department is involved and they are inquiring," he said.
The incident could escalate tensions between Sinn Fein and the Bush administration.
During his visit to the United States, Adams has criticized the administration for refusing to grant Sinn Fein a permit to conduct fund raising, the only political party from Northern Ireland facing such a ban. Sinn Fein is allowed to raise money from supporters, but not at events that Adams attends, and the ban forced the party to return about $100,000 collected at a breakfast in Washington on Thursday.
At that event, Adams criticized President Bush's special envoy to Northern Ireland.
"I don't have any high regard for Mitchell Reiss' input in this process," Adams said. "If it is he who is advising the president, then it's very, very bad advice."
Adams also has said the Bush administration could be doing more to push the British government to get on with honoring its commitments under the Good Friday agreement, reached in 1998.
Adams was among the political leaders Bush invited to the White House for traditional St. Patrick's Day festivities.
This is the second time authorities have stopped Adams from visiting Buffalo. He was scheduled to come in 1985 when the city hosted a convention of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, but visa issues prohibited his departure from Northern Ireland.
Adams, in choosing Buffalo to celebrate St. Patrick's Day this year, passed up invitations from several larger cities.
"He recognizes Buffalo is a unique place and has a significant Irish-American community," Higgins said.
The congressman said Adams told him Friday evening he is determined to come to Buffalo in the future.