DUBLIN (AP) - Sinn Fein party leader Gerry Adams appealed Friday to Irish Republican Army die-hards to stop their violence and to support his seemingly Quixotic campaign for a vote in Northern Ireland on uniting politically with the rest of the island, the long-elusive dream of Irish republicans.
Adams, a reputed former commander of the long-dominant Provisional IRA faction that renounced violence in 2005, said sporadic attacks by IRA splinter groups still opposed to Northern Ireland's Good Friday peace agreement make it harder to build public support for uniting the British territory with the Republic of Ireland.
Sinn Fein this year has launched a campaign seeking support from the British and Irish governments to hold a referendum in both parts of Ireland on unity, an idea contained within the 1998 Good Friday deal. Both governments remain publicly cool on the idea in practice, citing the unrelenting hostility of the north's Protestant "unionist" majority to leaving the United Kingdom.
Adams, speaking to party supporters in the border town of Dundalk that he represents in the Irish parliament, said the only hope of winning a future referendum on taking Northern Ireland into the Irish Republic would be "to find ways to engage with, and to listen to, the concerns and ambitions of our unionist neighbors."
"There is now a democratic and peaceful way to bring about Irish unity. There is no reason whatever for any group to engage in or promote or support violent actions," Adams said. "Violent actions will make the task of achieving a "yes' vote more difficult."
Such peace feelers from Adams tend to fall on deaf ears both among IRA die-hards and Northern Ireland's Protestant communities. The Protestants still view Adams as an architect of three decades of Provisional IRA warfare that claimed 1,775 lives, not of the relative peace since the Provisionals' 1997 cease-fire.
Yet ironically, Adams' push for a vote on Northern Ireland's future could win key support from his Protestant political rivals.
The major Protestant-backed party, the Democratic Unionists, predicts Sinn Fein would suffer a humiliating defeat in any such vote. DUP leaders argue that few Protestants want to surrender the union with the UK, while many Irish Catholics appear content to keep it, particularly in today's Northern Ireland with its joint Catholic-Protestant government and much more stable economy versus the bailed-out, debt-hobbled republic next door.
Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson, who leads Northern Ireland's 6-year-old unity government, provoked gales of laughter from his recent party conference when he argued Sinn Fein's desire for a public vote confirming the popularity of Northern Ireland's place in the UK "makes turkeys voting for Christmas look like a carefully considered strategy."
The latest opinion poll on the question, produced this week for BBC Northern Ireland, supported the Democratic Unionists' view.
The survey of 1,000 Northern Ireland voters found that 65 percent wanted Northern Ireland to stay in the UK, while just 17 percent said they would vote to join the republic. The rest either weren't sure or didn't care.
It found that more than nine in 10 Protestants would pick the UK, while just 35 percent of the Catholics would vote to unite Ireland - and 38 percent would keep the UK instead. The poll had an error margin of 3 percentage points.