US urged to close SF fundraising 'loophole'

The US government was tonight urged to close any loophole which would enable Gerry Adams to raise money at American fundraising events even if he is barred from attending them.

Democratic Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson issued the call amid speculation the Sinn Féin president and other Northern Ireland leaders could be invited to US President George Bush’s St Patrick’s Day function on March 17 after being frozen out of the event last year.

The Lagan Valley MP also hinted DUP chiefs may not attend this year’s celebrations even if they are invited and may instead focus on a visit to the United States in April.

“The US Government needs to look at the whole issue of fundraising,” Mr Donaldson said.

“There is little point in the US administration placing restrictions on Sinn Féin leaders’ visas if they can exploit loopholes like Gerry Adams addressing the Friends of Sinn Féin dinner in New York last year by satellite.

“In our view it is highly unfair that Sinn Fein is able to engage in fundraising activity.”

Last November, Mr Adams scrapped plans to go to New York after the State Department barred him from raising funds for his party because Sinn Féin will not endorse policing in Northern Ireland.

The West Belfast MP instead travelled to Canada and addressed the New York event via a satellite link.

A Sinn Féin spokesman said it would be absurd if the US Government were to impose fundraising restrictions on the party leaders’ visas when they travel to America for St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

He also dismissed claims the relationship between the party and President Bush’s special adviser on Northern Ireland, Ambassador Mitchell Reiss, had been strained.

“Any suggestion that our relationship is strained is far off the mark,” said the Sinn Féin spokesman.

“In fact our last meeting with Mitchell Reiss went well.

“There have been differences of opinion over policing but I think if US officials have been studying the debate at the Sinn Féin Árd fhéis at the weekend, it was there for all to see how serious an issue this is for republicans.

“It was also clear how Sinn Féin will handle with the issue and what needs to be done by all sides.

“As for fundraising, I think it would be absurd for the US to impose restrictions on Gerry (Adams) or Martin (McGuinness) when the British Government have restored Westminster allowances to our MPs.

“We have also shown Sinn Féin will raise funds even if visa restrictions are imposed on our leadership. When restrictions were imposed on Gerry, we raised more than ever before. Restrictions only galvanise our supporters.”

Last year Northern Ireland’s politicians were frozen out of the White House bash in the wake of the murder of Belfast father-of-two Robert McCartney and the £26.5m Northern Bank heist.

The US government would not be drawn tonight on speculation about the possibility of an invitation for Mr Adams or visa restrictions.

“There is nothing definite. Nothing has been signed off,” said a spokesman.

Mr Adams will carry out a number of engagements in New York and Washington next month, where he will meet a number of senior US politicians such Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton, Edward Kennedy and Chris Dodd.

The West Belfast MP is due to visit Buffalo, where he will join Democratic Congressman Brian Higgins for St Patrick’s Day celebrations, and Massachussetts to meet Democratic Congressman Richard Neal.

Congressman Higgins has written to Ambassador Reiss urging him not to place curbs on the Sinn Féin leader.

Mr Donaldson hinted the DUP, whose leader the Rev Ian Paisley recently announced plans to appoint a lobbyist in the US, may not send anyone to the White House event even if the party is invited.

“We not planning anything around St Patrick’s Day but we are planning a visit in April,” he said.

“There is a view that it is better to put our message across in the United States at a time when there is less focus on green beer and more focus on issues.”

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