BY ANNE HOWIE
GLASGOW, Scotland- Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, spoke for the first time ever in Scotland October 1. He addressed a meeting in Govan Town Hall here, called by the Scottish Committee for Peace in Ireland. A packed hall of 850 people heard Adams call for Scottish support for an unconditional resumption of all-party peace talks. He called on British prime minister John Major to "assert his authority" to keep the peace process moving.
What little reporting there was of the meeting in the national press focused on a picket of some 150 pro-British loyalist sympathizers. They chanted, among other things, "SAS - bang, bang, bang," an approving reference to the British army killing of three unarmed supporters of Irish self-determination in Gibraltar in 1988.
Bottles and other missiles were lobbed at people entering the meeting. Jeanette Findlay blamed the police for allowing the protesters to harass those attending meeting, pointing out that the police presence was exceptionally small for a gathering of this kind. Findlay is the coordinator of the Saoirse campaign in Scotland and an organizer of the Adams meeting.
Supporters of the fight for Irish freedom were quick to point out the historic character of the meeting. "The fact that it took place at all is the important thing," said one young man who spoke to this reporter during a recent sales and reporting team to Scotland. A number of people noted that in the past many meetings for leaders of the Irish republican movement here have been canceled in the face of bomb and disruption threats.
Marches in support of the republican cause have routinely been attacked by pro-loyalists. The government here has systematically fostered Protestant and Catholic divisions similar to those in Northern Ireland, particularly in the West of Scotland where a large percentage of the population is of Irish origin.
At the end of August, the Saoirse campaign, which is fighting for the release of all Irish political prisoners, was formally launched in Scotland. An Phoblacht/Re-publican News, Sinn Fein's newspaper, reported the day's events. Felim O'Hagan, a former republican prisoner, addressed a vigil in the main square in Glasgow, making him the first Irish republican ever to speak in George Square. Participants decorated the square with placards and balloons, and 2,000 leaflets were distributed to passers- by. The newspaper reports that "hundreds of signatures were collected on a petition and many people made a donation in return for a green ribbon," the symbol of Saoirse.
Importantly, the report continues, "None of the tension or threat of opposition from loyalist supporters which sometimes accompanies Irish solidarity activity in Glasgow was present."
The Militant sales team to Scotland found an openness to discuss the situation in Ireland and support among many for all-party talks. A student in Aberdeen said, "The troops should get out. Britain has no business being in Ireland." In Glasgow, a woman commented, "It's up to the majority in Northern Ireland to decide." A former soldier in the British army who had served in Northern Ireland said he agreed with the talks, "and with troops out if it stops the fighting."
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