Arrest rekindles US media’s interest in peace process

SF chief’s detention comes at a difficult time for Irish-Americans

US president Barack Obama: disappointed at failure of all-party talks led by former US diplomat Richard Haass. Photograph: Alan Betson

US president Barack Obama: disappointed at failure of all-party talks led by former US diplomat Richard Haass. Photograph: Alan Betson


“There’s also breaking news tonight from Northern Ireland, ” CBS News television anchor Scott Pelley told viewers last Wednesday night.

“Politician Gerry Adams has been arrested in connection with a 1972 murder committed by the Irish Republican Army. For decades, the IRA carried out bombings and murders to fight British rule. Adams leads the IRA’s political wing.”

Northern Ireland rarely, if ever, figures on the American television news, but the arrest of Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams last week on suspicion of involvement in one of the most notorious killings of the Troubles rekindled interest in the US news media and concern among the Irish-American community.

The CBS evening news has an audience of six million American viewers, a broadcasting reach that points to the shorter-than-two-minute report’s potentially harmful consequences for Sinn Féin in a fertile fundraising ground for the party.

Returns filed with the US department of justice show Friends of Sinn Féin has received more than $10 million (€7 million) in donations in the US since being founded in 1995, an average of about $580,000 a year.

Damage limitation
In that context, the prominent briefing by Sinn Féin sources about the nature of the questions being put to Mr Adams during his detention suggests a damage limitation exercise by the party.

Coverage of Adams’s arrest in the US wasn’t limited to television news. His arrest was also reported on, analysed and commented on by a variety of US print and online publications. “A heinous crime, secret histories and a Sinn Féin leader’s arrest”, read the headline on a front-page news story on Friday’s New York Times.

“BC’s Irish project leads to arrest of Gerry Adams”, read the Boston Globe’s front-page story last Thursday, highlighting the role played by the taped interviews with former IRA members in Boston College’s ill-fated oral history project on the Troubles.

Another Globe story on Friday, headlined Gerry Adams arrest jolts backers in Boston”, noted the concern among Irish-American figures in Massachusetts who embraced the Sinn Féin leader on his visits to the city.

The story captured the general reaction among this community: they are suspicious of the timing of the arrest just weeks before local and European elections, and questioned reasons for it 42 years after the murder, and why this crime in particular has the attention of the PSNI.

“My concern is that so much progress has been made in the North with the peace process. I’m concerned about what happens now,” Boston mayor Martin Walsh told the Globe.

Peace process
Other Irish-American politicians were anxious about how the arrest might affect a fragile peace process.

“All that he has done for the peace process,” New York Republican congressman Peter King told The Irish Times. “There wouldn’t be a peace process, there wouldn’t be a Good Friday agreement without Gerry Adams. He did it at such risk to himself, personal risk. I just really question what the motives are of the PSNI and why the British government is having this.”

The arrest comes at a difficult time for Irish America, less than two months after President Obama expressed disappointment at the failure of the all-party talks led by former US diplomat Richard Haass, and soon after Haass told a US congressional committee it was “premature” to describe Northern Ireland as a model of peace-building.