BY DOUG COOPER
SYDNEY, Australia-"We will only get as much freedom as we take," Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams told 450 people at the Australian Jockey Club here on February 26.
"Those who think that in some way their race or nation or tribe or religion is better than somebody else's are actually playing the game of the exploiter and making his or her job more easy," he said.
The Irish leader was accompanied on his first visit to Australia by Sinn Fein leaders Ann O'Sullivan, Dodie McGuinness, and others. O'Sullivan has replaced McGuinness on Sinn Fein's Australia Desk, and McGuinness is now the party's national election campaign director. The party is the third largest, in terms of votes, in the British-occupied six counties of Northern Ireland, and is leading the struggle for a united Ireland free of British control.
The delegation visited Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Perth from February 22 to March 1. The tour, organized through Australian Aid for Ireland (AAI), received extensive media coverage. For two years the Australian government had maintained a formal visa ban against Adams, but was forced to back down last November.
Adams visa: victory for all
"The denial of a visa to me was never about stopping me. It was about stopping people here from having information," Adams told a national news conference at Sydney's Hotel Intercontinental on February 22.
Some 30 percent of the population here is of Irish descent. The majority of Britain's settlements in Australia originated as penal colonies in the wake of the loss of 13 of its colonies in North America in the American revolution. Starting nearly 200 years ago and for many decades after, "some were sent because they were political activists, revolutionaries. Others because they stole a loaf of bread or poached a rabbit to keep their families from starvation." None came voluntarily, Adams noted.
"It is possible, if we get more people involved in this struggle, if we get the strength of the Irish diaspora...the sacrifices that people have to make back at home can be lessened. And then not only will we get freedom and justice, but we'll get it with less risk, we'll get it in a shorter time, and we'll get it in a way which leaves behind an Ireland which is stable, and which can best develop economic and social policies best suited to the betterment of the majority of the people on the island," Adams told 450 AAI members and guests at the Harold Park Function Centre here on February 27.
In response to repeated questions from the big-business media about the Irish Republican Army (IRA) "decommissioning," or handing over its weapons, Adams explained, "The peace process is not stalled on decommissioning. That is an excuse. It is stalled because the next steps to bring about the institutions agreed to on Good Friday [in 1998] and which were due to be in place last year need to be put in place quickly.... Decommissioning is an objective, not a condition of [the peace process]." The British government and Unionist (pro-British) parties in Northern Ireland have stalled in implementing the terms of the accord.
Truth about freedom struggle
"The north of Ireland has never been a normal society. It isn't now. It has yet to be transformed," Adams told 1,000 people at the University of New South Wales February 27. He was greeted by a standing ovation. The talk was televised nationally by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
"The whole spiral of discrimination and of resistance, of pogrom and of resistance, all brought the gun back into Irish politics ... almost 30 years ago," he said. "Loyalists killed Catholics, bombed, inflicted pogroms. The RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary], which was the state police, was also involved in a whole series of killings of peaceful civil rights marchers. Then, and only then, until 1970 and 1971, did republicans take up the gun defensively."
Describing the discrimination Catholics face - a pillar of London's rule over the six counties - Adams said that unemployment in his district in Belfast stands at 64 percent, that Catholics are twice as likely to be unemployed, and 85 percent of men in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh prison were there solely on the basis of forced confessions. He had "been in prison for almost five years, on two or three occasions so far, and I have yet to have the benefit of a jury trial," he said. "These are all matters of injustice that need to be `decommissioned' alongside the question of weapons...."
"Since we came here, there has been one grenade attack on an isolated nationalist home as part of a pattern for the last number of months," Adams added.
Initially speaking in Gaelic at the national news conference, Adams then described himself as "an aboriginal person from Belfast." He urged the Australian government to treat Aborigines with respect and equality. Adams met with national Aboriginal representatives, including Lowitja O'Donoghue and Mick Dodson, in Sydney on February 22. He noted later the "common colonial history of dispossession and genocide" and the need for mutual support.
Adams met with the National Executive of the Australian Council of Trade Unions in Melbourne, publicly thanked the Maritime Union of Australia for its longtime support, and met with wharfies at the Fremantle MUA hall near Perth.
He also sent a solidarity message to a 1,200-strong February 27 rally for striking coal miners engaged in the biggest union battle in the country at the moment at the Gordonstone mine near Emerald, Queensland.
Adams also met with several politicians. The mayor of Brisbane, James Soorley, hosted a February 23 City Hall reception attended by more than 1,000 people.
In the course of the visit, only one anti-Sinn Fein protest occurred of eight people in Brisbane.
Doug Cooper is a member of the Maritime Union of Australia.
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home