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King’s Ties to Irish Leader No Bar to Chairmanship

When Gerry Adams, head of the Irish Republican Army’s political wing Sinn Fein, descended on Rep. Richard Neal’s (D-Mass.) office last week to confer with Members about the state of the Northern Ireland peace process, there was one noticeable absence from the room.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), one of Adams’ closest Congressional allies over the years, had to skip the Thursday briefing because at the time he was being ratified by the GOP Conference as the new Homeland Security chairman.

King, who “had planned” to be there, said his long-standing relationship with Adams did come up in his meeting with the House Republican Steering Committee on Wednesday prior to his selection, but that he had “put it in a positive light.”

“My involvement with Gerry Adams and others” was “instrumental in bringing about the peace agreement,” he recalled telling the panel’s members.

Among the examples King cited to the committee was his longstanding work as an intermediary between Adams, whom he has known for more than 20 years, and the U.S. and British governments. Indeed, “the night of the Good Friday Agreement [King] was constantly working the phones between political leaders in Washington and Belfast,” said his spokesman, Kevin Fogarty.

That apparently was good enough for Steering, which gave King the nod as its choice for Homeland Security chairman over fellow GOP Reps. Don Young (Alaska), Curt Weldon (Pa.), John Linder (Ga.) and Dan Lungren (Calif.). (In the weeks before his selection, anonymous operatives on K Street and Capitol Hill had targeted King with an opposition research campaign aimed at corroborating various allegations, including his past support for the IRA.)

However, King, a co-chairman of the Congressional Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, has been widely viewed as taking a tough line on the IRA in the wake of the terrorist group’s implication in a December 2004 bank robbery and the murder of Belfast Catholic and Sinn Fein supporter Robert McCartney, who was brutally slain by IRA members in a pub fight in January. In March, King called on the IRA to disband. And in July, the IRA, which has long sought to expel British forces from Northern Ireland and unite it with the Republic of Ireland, announced the end of its armed struggle.

But King said there had been “no rift” or effort to distance himself from Adams, a suspected former IRA commander (Adams has always denied the accusation). The night before Adams’ Hill visit on Thursday, the two had bumped into each other at Bobby Van’s Steakhouse and briefly chatted, King said.

Moreover, King said that during this year’s annual St. Patrick’s Day visit to Washington by Northern Irish political leaders he’d met with Adams, as well as with McCartney’s five sisters, whose efforts to bring their brother’s killers to justice and confront the IRA have attracted international attention, including an invitation to the White House in March.

Adams’ presence on the Hill is hardly unusual. Since he was first granted a visa to visit the United States in 1994, Adams has met with Members in Washington about twice a year, said Neal spokesman William Tranghese. And after Thursday’s Hill meeting with Adams, during which more than a dozen predominantly Democratic Members discussed a recent spate of violent rioting in Belfast by hard-line Protestants (who believe the peace process has led to too many concessions to Catholics) and the state of the IRA’s decommissioning efforts, the Sinn Fein leader headed to the State Department to meet with officials there.

But in light of the controversy surrounding the IRA’s activities, at least one leading Member has publicly distanced himself from Adams.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), whose support for the Adams visa in 1994 was pivotal to jump-starting the peace process, pointedly refused to meet with Adams during his St. Patrick’s Day visit to Washington in March.

Nor did Kennedy meet with Adams during his Hill visit on Thursday, although Adams said their respective offices remain “in contact.”

And “scheduling issues” kept Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who had also declined to see Adams in March, and the Sinn Fein leader from meeting Thursday, said Stacie Paxton, a Dodd spokeswoman. The two had subsequently planned to speak by telephone but ended up playing “phone tag.” Ultimately, Paxton said, Dodd spoke to another Sinn Fein representative.

Still, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), whose husband had invited Adams to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative summit in New York last week, did find some time in her schedule.

Philippe Reines, a spokesman for Clinton, declined to characterize the discussion between Clinton and Adams. “It was a private meeting,” he wrote in an e-mail.

(Kennedy, Dodd and Clinton were among a group of Senators who introduced a resolution in March “condemning violence and criminality by the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland.”)

Adams’ visit came at a time when the McCartney family’s plight is once again drawing attention.

Last week, an article in The Washington Post detailed recent alleged IRA-linked intimidation and violence directed at the McCartneys and associates of the family, including the beating of Paula McCartney’s two teenage sons and of a close friend of the McCartneys’ slain brother.

But among some House Members present at the meeting Thursday, there was little concern that it was Adams’ responsibility to stop the intimidation the McCartneys say they are experiencing.

One attendee, Rep. Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Congressional Friends of Ireland, said Adams “feels terrible about what happened to Mr. McCartney and he feels that his party members will and should participate in the police investigation, but you can’t blame Sinn Fein for what’s happening on the street. There are thugs in every neighborhood … and that’s a police issue.”

In a separate interview, Neal, a co-chairman of the Congressional Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, echoed Walsh’s comments.

As did King, who said: “I believe Adams when he says he’s doing all he can. I’ve known him long enough to know he’s not going to be involved in any intimidation.”

For his part, Adams said: “I support the [McCartney] family and I’m against any attacks on the family of any kind.”

Poppycock, said Catherine McCartney, one of Robert McCartney’s five sisters.

Reached by phone in Belfast, McCartney, who said she wasn’t opposed to Adams meeting with Members, scoffed at the suggestion that he bore no responsibility for counteracting the intimidation and violence directed toward her family.

“If these people are acting completely on their own, it’s a most serious issue. It means the IRA can’t deliver, and Gerry Adams can’t deliver on peace,” McCartney said.

“I’m sure Gerry Adams reassures everyone over there that they’re doing their utmost to help us in our quest for justice, but I assure you that’s not the case,” she added, dismissing Adams’ claims as mere “damage limitation.”

McCartney, who is in contact with Kennedy, said she’d notified both Kennedy and Clinton’s offices about the attacks by e-mail.

McCartney called the Senators’ responses “very positive. … They said they were aware of the issue and would be raising it.”

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