A teenage girl whose grandfather was killed by the IRA has said Americans should not fete Gerry Adams as a “peacemaker” during a visit by the Sinn Fein leader to the USA.
Mr Adams announced yesterday that he intends to visit the United States to talk to politicians – and “Irish America” at large – about the impasse at Stormont, and will also attend a commemorative mass for Martin McGuinness in Washington.
Coincidentally, at the same time he announced his trip, Ellie Heenan – a 16-year-old Rathfriland girl whose grandfather William was shot by the IRA in 1985 – is attending Project Common Bond at Colby College in Maine, a conference set up after 9/11 for young people around the world affected by terrorism.
She said that while some people in the US have “glorified” Mr Adams for his role in the peace process, it must be remembered that “he was very closely linked to the reason our loved ones were murdered in the first place”.
Mr Adams – who has in the past been banned from the US – said whilst in America he will stress the need for respect, equality, and keeping to the Good Friday Agreement.
His latest visit comes after Donald Trump banned travellers from certain Middle Eastern states due to terror fears.
“It came as quite a shock because we are here at an international peace conference dealing with how our families were devastated by terrorism – and he is being glorified in this country as a peacemaker,” she said.
“A lot of the Americans with us lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks. We believe that groups like Al Qaeda, Islamic State and the IRA are all cut from the same cloth.”
Young people whose families have suffered from terrorism in over a dozen different countries are attending the conference, including delegates from the US, Sri Lanka, Spain, Kenya, Pakistan, Palestinian territories and Israel, she said.
Speaking of Mr Adams’ visit, she said: “It is very difficult to stomach because he was very closely linked to the reason our loved ones were murdered in the first place, and so many people were hurt.
“Sinn Fein are rewriting the past, there is a lot of historical revisionism going on. They say let’s move forward together, which I agree with, but we need to remember what happened to so many innocent victims.
“I never got to know my grandfather and neither did some of the other girls with us. We had that stolen from us.”
Kenny Donaldson, director of services at the South East Fermanagh Foundation, which sent four young delegates to the conference, said Americans would not get a broad perspective of events from Mr Adams.
“The great and the good of US political and civic life would get more truth from our representatives in five minutes of exchanges than they would in a lifetime of listening to Mr Adams,” he said.
He said Sinn Fein “brainwashing” now covers up the fact that the IRA terror campaign “was never about equality or human rights; rather it was about trying to force the political unification of this island”.
When asked to respond to this, Sinn Fein sent a statement saying that party president Mr Adams has flown out to brief Irish America and Capitol Hill and will attend a memorial Mass in Washington for Martin McGuinness.
Mr Adams said: “My meetings this week will allow me the opportunity to update Irish America, the State Department and Capitol Hill on recent developments in the political process, the failure to reach agreement at the start of this month and the widely held concerns across the island about the damaging consequences of Brexit.”
Meanwhile, Secretary of State James Brokenshire also begins a three-day tour of Washington and New York today. The main focus of his visit, a statement said, is also to brief US politicians, influencers and business leaders on the political situation in Northern Ireland, the continued need for strong foreign direct investment and to offer reassurance on issues such as Brexit.