Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said he was disappointed that US President George W. Bush did not invite him to the White House for St. Patrick's Day, but he acknowledged his IRA-linked party has lost the initiative in pushing toward peace in Northern Ireland.
Adams, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday, said Sinn Fein was on the defensive because of public outrage over a massive Belfast bank robbery and the Jan. 30 killing of a Catholic civilian. He said Sinn Fein was on "the back foot" and used the sports analogy that the group had lost possession of the ball.
"We at the moment have lost possession, but our intention is to regain possession, is to regain the initiative and to drive the process on once again," he said.
Bush scratched Adams' and other Northern Ireland leaders' names from the invitation list because of the controversies, but the Sinn Fein leader said he still believed the US was committed to Northern Ireland's peace process.
Adams, visiting the US to seek support from Irish-American activists, was asked whether he believed it was a snub for the White House to not invite him for St. Patrick's Day for the first time since 1995. He said it was a symbolic "disappointment," but he was not overly worried.
"Do I interpret that as a movement by this administration away from the peace process? No, I don't," Adams said. "This will not be worked out in the White House. ... This will be not worked out anywhere else except back on the island of Ireland."
Sinn Fein is affiliated with the outlawed Irish Republican Army. It is reeling from accusations that the IRA mounted the world's largest cash theft, stealing the equivalent of US$50 million from a Belfast bank on Dec. 20, and was responsible for killing Catholic civilian Robert McCartney outside a Belfast pub on Jan. 30.
For the first time since Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord, Senator Edward Kennedy also has refused to meet with Adams on St. Patrick's Day, which is tomorrow.
Despite these difficulties, Sinn Fein and others who want peace in the British province must have the "broad support" of the US, Adams said:.
"I think our record speaks for itself," he said. "There was conflict, there is no longer a conflict. It isn't a perfect peace, but it is a peace process."
The IRA has denied involvement in the bank robbery. It also initially denied involvement in McCartney's killing but since has expelled three members linked to the attack. Sinn Fein also suspended seven members in the case.
On Monday, US Representative James Walsh, the head of a key Irish-American group in Congress, said he planned to meet with Adams later this week to tell him that "it is time for the IRA to go out of business, and that they are hurting the process."