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Sinn Fein Wants Leader Off U.S. Watch List

March 20, 2006

DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) _ Sinn Fein accused the Bush administration Monday of needlessly harassing officials of the IRA-linked party at airports in the United States, where party leader Gerry Adams was detained last week because he is on the U.S. ``watch list.″

Adams and his longtime aide, Richard McAuley, were delayed Friday from traveling to Buffalo, N.Y., for a meeting just hours after both Sinn Fein officials were guests of President Bush in the White House for St. Patrick’s Day. They missed the flight _ and still were missing two suitcases when they returned Monday to Ireland.

``This is a nonsensical position we’ve found ourselves in, and we’re determined for it to stop,″ McAuley said in a telephone interview from a car carrying him and Adams back to Belfast. ``In one moment we’re in the White House and Gerry is having his photo taken with the president, ... then a few hours later at the airport, you’re being pulled aside for this rigorous, ridiculous special screening.″

McAuley conceded that both he and Adams had convictions for Irish Republican Army-related activities in the early 1970s _ Adams for an attempted prison breakout, he for possessing a rifle. Adams left prison in 1977, McAuley two years later.

Because of the convictions, Adams and McAuley require special waivers from the Bush administration. The convictions could be why the two are regularly pulled aside at U.S. airports when Homeland Security officials check their computer records.

``Nothing that happened 30 years ago can justify the treatment of Adams today,″ McAuley said.

``Before we leave Ireland, the State Department is given a complete schedule of our journey. They know what flights we’re taking, the times to the minute, and the flight numbers. Despite the fact they have all this detail, we end up with this ridiculous security stamp on our tickets,″ he said, describing the mark on all their U.S.-issued tickets as ``SSSS.″

McAuley said Sinn Fein has implored U.S. officials since 2003 to drop Adams and other Sinn Fein officials from Homeland Security’s ``watch″ list. He said they were complaining publicly because Friday was the first time they missed an event with Irish-American supporters because of it. Previously, he said, they had missed flights to Ireland.

``Every U.S. official we speak to agrees the policy makes no sense, but the buck gets passed from State to Justice to Homeland Security, and becomes impossible to tie down,″ said McAuley, who expected a string of complaints this time from Sinn Fein’s supporters in Congress. ``This might make a difference,″ he said.

Rep. Richard Neal, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts who played host to Adams on Sunday, said a group of Democratic and Republican members of Congress would send a joint letter to the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration ``asking how Mr. Adams was cleared into the White House for a meeting with President Bush on Friday morning, but was delayed by airport security at Dulles just a few hours later.″

He did not say who planned to sign the letter nor when it would be sent.

On St. Patrick’s Day, Adams joined other Northern Ireland leaders at the White House, then met at midday with State Department officials.

McAuley said Bush recognized Adams from the podium and afterward ``had no difficulty greeting Gerry Adams like a long-lost friend, and telling him ‘well done’ on the peace process.″

He said Sinn Fein officials arrived at Washington’s Dulles Airport more than 90 minutes before the flight to Buffalo and were expecting a security delay of about 30 to 45 minutes. Instead, he said, they did not get started for an hour.

He said they were subjected to body searches, then had their suitcases and wallets emptied as a Homeland Security official discussed their computer file over the phone.

McAuley said a third prominent Sinn Fein official was quickly cleared to travel through Dulles security to Buffalo. She was Sinn Fein’s representative for North America, Rita O’Hare, who remains wanted in Northern Ireland for absconding from charges of attempted murder of British soldiers in Belfast in 1972.

O’Hare stayed behind. McAuley said they remained at Dulles past midnight, in the hope of having their Buffalo-bound suitcases returned.

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