Head of Ireland’s Sinn Fein party comes to Philly campus

On September 23, SPEAK held a meeting of epic proportions. It was a meeting to end all meetings. It was a meeting about peace.

According to David King, executive dean of the Campolo School for Social Change, where the meeting was held, the day was about acknowledgement of the brokenness of this world and about putting feet to Eastern’s mission of justice.

Specifically, the meeting dealt with the turmoil in Ireland.

“We give people a voice by turning our ears toward them,” King said. “Northern Ireland has a voice. Today we want to acknowledge this voice, listen and learn.”

That voice came in the form of Gerry Adams, honored guest and head of the Sinn Fein party in Ireland. After giving a brief history of Ireland and the conflict between the north and the south, Adams began to speak about peace.

“What I once learned and what’s the process of peace in Ireland is the importance of dialogue,” Adams said. “So when I say the importance of dialogue is central, it means we can argue and talk about all of these [issues], and that’s why I’m here… Part of what I’m trying to do is learn.”

But just learning is not enough, according to Adams. We need to learn to listen.

“Most of us go into conversations to convince other people of our points of view,” Adams said. “Sometimes we have to go into it and let the other person change our mind…”

The youth in Ireland are listening. But, he questioned, is it to the wrong thing?

“Youth aren’t born sectorial, they have to be taught it,” Adams said. “People are ignorant about their own history and young people become contaminated.”

Following the meeting was a question and answer session, during which Dr. David Black asked Adams how many Protestants he knew growing up.

“The first girl I ever kissed was a Protestant girl,” Adams said.

The meeting was an idea bred by Tony Campolo.

Several weeks before the meeting, he approached Ben Cressy, a sophomore history major who had just begun working in the EAPE office, and gave him the date of the meeting. The rest was up to SPEAK.

“It was crazy. It just sort of came together,” said senior Dan Leonard, head of SPEAK.

“I don’t want to give all the credit to Tony. It was really an effort between him and Dan Argue and [former president Bill] Clinton,” Cressy said.

The meeting was one of Clinton’s global initiatives, although Clinton and Campolo were not in attendance.

Now, the first steps are being taken toward peace. On October 11, all of the parties are going to Scotland to see if progress can be made toward reconciliation. The meetings end on November 24.

“We need to do everything possible to make sure a change happens,” Adams said. “Where there once was conflict, there’s now relative peace… and hopefully long lasting unity.”

And there is at least unity between Eastern and Adams.

“I will be wearing the Eastern University t-shirt in Belfast tomorrow,” Adams said, effectively ending the meeting.

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