Gerry Adams, the former Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) leader who personally ordered the murder of a widowed mother of 10 and participated in a decades-long terrorist campaign that claimed more than 600 civilian lives, took to Twitter on Friday to complain that airport security in the United States is mildly inconvenient:
Sometimes it's harder 2 get outta the USA than it is 2 get in2 The White House. Dreaded SSSSs. pic.twitter.com/XjxG5kCy4Z— Gerry Adams (@GerryAdamsSF) March 18, 2016
SSSS is Secondary Security Screening Selection, an airport security measure that singles out members of a list compiled by airlines for additional inspection. The criteria used in compiling the list isn't public, and it's definitely a hassle; like much of what the Transportation Security Administration does, it's unclear if it does much good.
But then again, multiple historians and various IRA veterans have said that Adams was a member of the IRA Army Council, the terrorist group's central decision-making body, for decades. Brendan Hughes, a former senior IRA officer, said in an interview he "never carried out a major operation without the OK or the order from Gerry." Dolours Price, another IRA veteran, publicly stated, "Gerry Adams was my commanding officer."
Both Hughes and Price stated that Adams personally ordered the kidnapping, beating, murder, and disappearance of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10 children who the IRA believed was informing for the British. An official investigation by the Northern Irish police ombudsperson Nuala O'Loan confirmed McConville was never a collaborator. Adams had ordered the abduction and death of an innocent woman.
So it's a bit rich to see Adams now complaining that he is subjected, maybe for reasons related to his history of political violence and maybe for other reasons, to a little extra air travel security screening.
Gerry Adams was also mad he couldn't get into a White House party
Confirmation of my invite 2 White House Reception. From the White House. pic.twitter.com/lMTVXp05MP— Gerry Adams (@GerryAdamsSF) March 16, 2016
This wasn't Adams's main complaint from his trip to the US. He was mostly incensed that he was initially denied entry to the White House's St. Patrick's Day party, to which he had been invited.
You see, despite very clearly being a senior military leader of the IRA, Adams has always denied involvement, and instead served as leader of the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein. While the IRA tried to use physical force to subvert the democratic will of the Northern Irish people (a majority of whom have always supported remaining in the UK), Sinn Fein tried, starting in the early '80s, to win Catholic votes away from peaceful republican parties like the Social Democratic and Labour Party.
In the 1990s, Adams made an admirable pivot, participating in peace talks and ultimately acceding to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, after which the IRA ended its campaign, eventually formally declaring it over in 2005 and decommissioning all its weapons.
Adams was first invited to the White House in 1995 by Bill Clinton, in a show of good faith as negotiations were underway, but now he's basically a mainstream political figure in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In recent years he's focused on the latter, growing Sinn Fein into the third-largest party in Irish parliament and the leading voice of the Irish left. These days, they talk considerably more about water charges than about uniting the island through violence.
So as a mainstream Irish political figure, he got invited to the White House St. Patrick's Day party this year. But a guard delayed his entry, saying there was an "issue of security." After a while, Adams got tired of waiting and left. He issued an aggravated statement declaring, "Sinn Fein will not sit at the back of the bus for anyone." Just in case Adams's comparison of himself to Rosa Parks was too subtle for anyone, Sinn Fein's Northern Irish leader Martin McGuinness made it explicit (in a tweet Adams retweeted):
The Secret Service apologized for the delays Adams faced:
The Secret Service apologized for the delay, which it attributed to an "administrative input error." A spokesman for the Secret Service, Robert K. Hobak, said it regretted not resolving the situation "in a more timely manner."
Rep. Peter T. King (R-NY), a vocal opponent of fictional Muslim terrorists he's made up and a longtime fan of very real Irish terrorists he's financially supported, deemed the White House's rudeness to a widow murderer "totally inexcusable." King did concede that Adams "might be on a list for things that happened 20 or 30 years ago." And by "things" he means "murders."
King and 12 other members of the House signed a letter condemning the White House for being impolite to a man who oversaw the bombing deaths of hundreds of civilians:
This entire spectacle is hard to take. Adams is a murderer of men, women, and children. And here members of Congress are treating a faux pas against him as a grave slight for which the White House must prostrate itself to make amends.
But there is something to all this — as distasteful as it may be, the cause of peace does require things like inviting Gerry Adams to the White House.
A peace deal without Adams would've meant a peace deal without the IRA, and as the primary violent force on the republican side, the IRA needed to be included in any agreement. And keeping up deals means more than obeying the precise dictates of agreements. It means rewarding people who stepped up to the table and were willing to reach a negotiated peace. It means assuring people like Adams that they'll be treated like respectable members of society.
That amnesty isn't unlimited. Prosecutors have yet to amass enough evidence to convict Adams of the McConville murder, despite his obvious guilt, but her death was not included in any immunity deal, because her body was found by a civilian, not identified by the IRA itself. If prosecutors eventually bring charges, it's only proper for Adams to face trial and be sentenced to prison if found guilty.
Until that happens, though, the international norm is to treat him as a normal political leader. It's ugly, but it's the price we pay for peace — and it sends a message to other terrorist leaders that giving up the struggle might just be worth it. But in the meantime, if he has to put up with a little extra airport security, maybe he should ask himself if that's really so scandalous.