A bipartisan group of Irish-American congressmen, including Brian M. Higgins, on Monday demanded an explanation from the head of the Transportation Security Administration on why Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was detained on his way to a St. Patrick's Day event in Buffalo last Friday.
The group, known as the Ad-Hoc Committee on Irish American Affairs, said "restrictions on domestic U.S. travel for a legitimate political and elected leader, recognized by both the British and Irish governments, is unacceptable."
The group includes House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King, R-Seaford; Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Syracuse, a powerful appropriations subcommittee chairman; and John E. Sweeney, R-Clifton Park, vice chairman of an appropriations subcommittee.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has Adams on a terrorist watch list because security organizations list him as a onetime leader in the Irish Republican Army, which had a long history of violence in Northern Ireland.
Although he was convicted three decades ago of an IRA-linked crime, Adams denies ever having been a member of the IRA.
Sinn Fein is the political arm of the movement to unify Ireland.
Higgins, D-Buffalo, called the detention of Adams, leader of the Irish nationalist group Sinn Fein, "shameful." The committee's letter to TSA Director Kip Hawley said Gerry Adams is the "leader of the largest nationalist party in the north of Ireland."
"He is a principal representative in the peace process, was crucial to the decommissioning of the Irish Republican Army and is essential to the implementation of the Good Friday Accords," their letter said.
"Placing Mr. Adams and Sinn Fein representatives on a watch list that serves as a de facto restriction on movement in the U.S. is wrong, unjustified and harmful to the peace process," the committee said. They want Adams removed from the watch list.
Hawley could not be reached to comment, but getting the TSA to open its classified watch files could prove difficult, if not impossible.
The TSA detained Adams here before his flight to Buffalo, and earlier in the week at Newark, N.J., airport on his way here to celebrate St. Patrick's Day at the White House with President Bush.
"It is unacceptable that a few hours earlier, Gerry was a guest in the White House for a meeting with President Bush, and then delayed by airport security," Higgins said. The committee told Hawley they want to know specifically what restrictions there are in Adams' or any other Sinn Fein representative's files in the TSA or the Department of Homeland Security.