Belfast Telegraph

State papers: Clinton's invite to Adams provoked furious response from PM Major's private secretary


US President Bill Clinton (right) meeting then Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams at Queen’s University, Belfast in 1995
US President Bill Clinton (right) meeting then Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams at Queen’s University, Belfast in 1995
Adams and Clinton during the US President’s visit to Dublin in 2000
US President Bill Clinton (left) and Prime Minister John Major speaking outside 10 Downing Street in 1995

By Thomas Hornall and Adrian Rutherford

The extent of fury within the British Government at the decision of then US President Bill Clinton to allow Gerry Adams into America has been laid bare in newly-released files.

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, claimed Mr Adams "has long been a leading figure" in a movement responsible for thousands of deaths.

The memo is contained in hundreds of files made public today in Belfast, Dublin and London. The previously classified documents cover some of the key moments in the years leading up to the first IRA ceasefire in 1994, including the ongoing violence and the moves towards peace.

One of the big stories of 1994 was the decision by President Clinton to grant Mr Adams a visa to visit the US.

Government papers detail the depth of UK anger at the move.

Mr Lyne refers to Mr Adams's alleged links to the IRA. Mr Adams has always denied being a member of the terror group.      

It refers to IRA murders, including that of Lord Mountbatten in 1979 and those of MPs Anthony Berry and Ian Gow in 1984 and 1990.      

His note 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 US President for around a year, took "full responsibility" for the decision, which was described as a "difficult matter of judgment" in another file.      

Mr Major wrote to Mr Clinton expressing dismay. 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.  

"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."      

Another file contains notes of a meeting between the US ambassador to the UK and the Prime Minister's private secretary, which said: "Unless Mr Adams' visit is followed by a rapid and permanent end to the IRA's violence, there is no question that it will have done huge damage to the (Joint) Declaration."


The Downing Street Declaration between the UK and Irish governments in 1993 laid the framework for the peace process.

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

In a letter to the President in January, senators Kennedy, John 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."

The note from Mr Lyne to Mr Lake refers to the killing of Mr Kennedy's brothers, John and Robert, adding: "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 was present for a subsequent phone call 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. 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 might go ahead in light of the US decision.

The new releases are part of a bi-annual publication of government files. Since 1976, records held by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland which were 30 years old have been reviewed annually with a view to making them publicly available - a process known as the 30-year rule.

In September 2011 the Assembly accepted a legislative consent motion to reduce the time limit for release from 30 years to 20 years, in line with the practice London.

The 20-year rule is being phased in, with two years of records released each year.

Records released today in Dublin - which operates under the old system - are from 1988.

Belfast Telegraph


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