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Irish leader visits Oakland, street name unveiled

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff
Saturday March 16, 2002

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said he has no quarrel with the Bush Administration’s level of involvement in the Irish peace process during an East Bay appearance Friday afternoon. 

“I have no complaint about the attention the White House is giving,” Adams said at an Oakland press conference, brushing off critics’ complaints that President Bush is not as engaged as his predecessor, Bill Clinton. 

“The times are different,” Adams said, noting that Clinton came into office before the historic Good Friday peace accord of 1998 that paved the way for a joint Catholic-Protestant power-sharing government in Northern Ireland. 

Adams, on the last legs of a U.S. tour that included a Wednesday meeting with President George W. Bush, was in the East Bay for the dedication of Gerry Adams Way, a small street, which intersects with Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in downtown Oakland. 

Adams said he was honored by the connection with Martin Luther King, Jr., who “inspired a whole generation of young people” in Ireland in the 1960s. 

“It’s a mark of the way people connect across a huge ocean and a whole continent,” said Adams. 

Developer Ciaran Scally, a native of Northern Ireland who is putting the finishing touches on an 18-unit residential development on Gerry Adams Way, asked the Oakland City Council to approve the street name in 1999. 

The council agreed to name the heretofore unnamed stretch of concrete Gerry Adams Way despite the objections of a handful of Irish Protestants who flew to the Bay Area to protest the move. 

Adams’ political party, Sinn Fein, is the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, and opponents argued that the street naming glorified terrorism. 

But speakers at the Friday event praised Adams for his work to bring peace to Northern Ireland. 

“We will follow the example of Mr. Adams to lay down our arms and solve our problems with words,” said City Councilmember Nancy Nadel, who sponsored the 1999 resolution to name Gerry Adams Way. 

“There is no other place in the United States that has recognized the importance of Gerry Adams in bringing peace to Northern Ireland,” added Oakland mayor Jerry Brown. “Hopefully the English are listening so we can get on with negotiations and real peace.” 

Adams said there is a growing sense of stability in Northern Ireland. But, he touched on a series of current conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, including an ongoing debate over how to best diversify a traditionally Protestant police force. 

U.S. envoy to Northern Ireland Richard N. Haass has criticized Sinn Fein for moving slowly to cooperate, but the party has responded that proposed police reforms do not go deep enough. 

“While we want to be part of the police service, it has to be one that is genuinely de-politicized,” Adams said Friday.