British fury at Bill Clinton for letting Gerry Adams visit US in 1994

‘The IRA intend to continue their strategy of terrorism and do not have courage to make peace’: British officials’ fury at Bill Clinton for letting Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams visit the US in 1994

  • Bill Clinton was blasted by British officials for letting Gerry Adams to visit in 1994
  • Sinn Fein president visited New York to speak at conference on Northern Ireland
  • John Major’s private secretary Roderic Lyne blasted visit in a letter to US official
  • Mr Clinton, who’d been president for a year, took ‘full responsibility’ for decision

Bill Clinton was blasted by British officials for letting Gerry Adams visit the US in 1994.

The Sinn Fein president was controversially granted a headline-grabbing visit to New York to speak at a conference on Northern Ireland between January 31 and February 2 in 1994.

A blistering note from then prime minister John Major’s private secretary Roderic Lyne sent to US national security adviser Tony Lake is part of around 500 Cabinet Office files released by the National Archives in Kew, west London.

Bill Clinton was blasted by British officials for letting Gerry Adams visit the US in 1994 (the pair are pictured together during Mr Clinton’s visit to Dublin in 2000)

It reads: ‘The movement in which Gerry Adams has long been a leading figure has murdered not only thousands of its own countrymen, but also one member of our Royal Family, one Cabinet Minister’s wife, two close advisers to Margaret Thatcher and Members of Parliament, two British ambassadors – and small children in our shopping centres.’

Mr Clinton, who had been president around a year, took ‘full responsibility’ for the decision which was described as a ‘difficult matter of judgment’ in another file.

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Mr Major wrote to Mr Clinton expressing dismay before the visit, according to a draft letter, he said: ‘Tony Lake will, I am sure, have told you how strongly we disagree with the decision to admit Gerry Adams to the United States.

‘He has been closely associated with terrorism for two decades. In the Joint Declaration, he was offered a route into the democratic process, and into negotiations with us and with the Irish Government. He and his movement have not taken it.

Gerry Adams is pictured addressing the Special Conference on Northern Ireland in New York in 1994 (left), and is also shown meeting Mr Clinton in Belfast in 2000 (right)

‘As you will know the evidence is that the IRA intend to continue their strategy of terrorism, and do not have courage to make peace and compete in the democratic arena.’ 

Mr Clinton was under pressure from influential Irish-American politicians in the US, most notably senator Edward ‘Ted’ Kennedy, who was named in multiple files as instrumental in pushing for Mr Adams’s admission.

In a letter to the president in January, senators Kennedy, John F Kerry – later Barack Obama’s secretary of state – Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Christopher J Dodd, make the case for the visit.

The letter said: ‘While no one can be certain that a visa for Mr Adams will result in the IRA’s accepting the condition established by Ireland and Great Britain for participation in the peace process, the United States cannot afford to ignore this possibility and miss this rare opportunity for our country to contribute to peace in Northern Ireland.’

A police escort for Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams as he arrives at New York JFK airport in 1994 ahead of a 10-day visit

The note from Mr Lyne to Mr Lake added: ‘It is sad, paradoxical, and misguided of the Kennedys, having lost two brothers to acts of terror, to be pressing you to admit a terrorist leader without an end to terrorism or even a commitment to end terrorism’.

A cable dated February 10 from Peter Westmacott, then a British diplomat in Washington, adds details garnered from Jane Holl, then of the US National Security Council, who had been present during a subsequent phonecall between Mr Major and Mr Clinton.

It reads: ‘Dr Holl said that the discussion on Northern Ireland was very brief. The President had raised the subject. He had taken full responsibility for the decision to give Adams a visa.

Mr Major (shown in 1992) wrote to Mr Clinton expressing dismay before the visit, according to a draft letter

‘It had been a difficult matter of judgment on which the two governments had evidently differed’.

Also attached to the bundle was a missive from Canberra suggesting that a potential visit by Mr Adams to Australia may go ahead in light of the US decision.

Mr Lyne has scrawled on the typed document: ‘I hope the Aussies realise this would be the end of Anglo/Australian relations!’

Mr Adams was denied entry to Australia in 1996 but later visited in 1999 following the Good Friday Agreement a year earlier.

The row over Gerry Adams came after Sir John apologised to Mr Clinton in 1992, following Home Office inquiries into whether he applied for UK citizenship while at Oxford University to dodge the draft in Vietnam. 

The then Prime Minister said sorry for any ‘mischief’ caused after a press report cast the matter as the British government searching for ‘potentially damaging information’ about Mr Clinton during the US presidential campaign. 

On December 6, 1992, Mr Major wrote the following to president-elect Clinton: ‘I am disturbed by the reports which have appeared about enquiries by our Home Office relating back to your time at Oxford.

‘What happened, as I hope Robin Renwick will have explained to your people, is that during the campaign our Home Office were asked a number of questions by journalists about whether you had applied for British citizenship while in this country.

‘In accordance with their normal practice, they refused to make any on-the-record comment but, having checked the facts, they sought to guide the press on a background basis that there was absolutely nothing in the story.

During his stay in New York, Mr Adams attending several meetings and fundraisers, including this Friends of Sinn Fein public event

‘I am only sorry that it has been played up now in a mischievous way. I hope the mischief will be short-lived.’

The same day a story had appeared in the Washington Post headlined: ‘Critics blast Major on file search.’

It read: ‘Opposition leaders today sharply criticised the government’s search of Home Office files during the US presidential campaign for potentially damaging information about Democratic candidate Bill Clinton, saying the episode might cast a chill over relations between the president-elect and Prime Minister John Major.’

A Government document from the released files explains the background to the issue, showing queries were first raised by a lobby reporter from a British newspaper.

It states: ‘The story was regarded as rather silly but it could have led to unfair speculation if left unanswered.

‘A simple “no comment” or “we do not discuss individual cases” would have fuelled the unfair speculation.

‘For this reason, it was decided by press office and agreed with the FCO to brief The Standard that the story was not worth following up. The story was not covered by the UK press.’

It adds that the same guidance was later issued to the Washington Post.

The Home Office search found ‘No record of an application … in Mr Clinton’s name’.

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