An Envoy for Peace

Gerard (Gerry) Adams is the president of Sinn Fein, the largest nationalist, Republican or pro-Belfast Agreement political party in Northern Ireland. He has been member of Parliament for Belfast West since 1997 and a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for Belfast West since 1998. He is the Sinn Fein parliamentary leader in Dail Eireann, Ireland's House of Representatives.

From the late 1980s, Adams has been an important figure in the Northern Ireland Peace Process. Under Adams, Sinn Fein has moved toward being a professionally organized political party. He played a pivotal role in getting the IRA to give up its armed campaign against the UK in return for devolved government for Northern Ireland.

Adams was born in 1948 in West Belfast, Ireland, one of ten children who survived infancy in a nationalist Catholic family. He became involved in the Irish republian movement while working as a bartender, joining Sinn Fein and Fianna Eireann, the Irish Republican youth movement, in 1964. He was an active supporter of the Northern Ireland civil rights campaign in the late 1960s, and in 1967 he joined the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. After helping to navigate his party through violence and hunger strikes, Adams was eventually elected president in 1983, the first Sinn Fein MP to be elected to the British House of Commons since the 1950s, although in keeping with his party's policy, he has refused to sit in the House.

In 2007, less than two weeks after Adams was re-elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly, he came to an agreement with Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley regarding the return of the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland. Adams remains a vigorous spokesman for the Irish Republican Movement.

  • Transcript


Question: Would you make a better envoy than Tony Blair?

Gerry Adams: I don’t put myself in any sort of position of comparing myself with anyone else. We help in a modest way.

I have been to the Middle East. I spoke just last month [ September 2007] to the Israeli ambassador to Britain. Mark McGinnis was in Sri Lanka and tried to help there. He also chaired with Ralph Meyer from South Africa a conference in Helsinki last month with people from Iraq.

I’ve been fairly heavily involved in what’s now a field process, or at least a process which has been abandoned for some time. And the Spanish-Basque dispute.

So in a very modest way, we can help. We help, but you can’t intrude. You can’t interfere. And there’s also, believe it or not, a whole industry as built up around conflict resolution. Some of it may be well meaning. Some of it may be less well meaning – self-perpetuating to a certain extent.

I know from my own experience that there was nothing worse than do-gooders who come in and thought they had all the answers, and who come in with only a superficial knowledge of what was required. So if we can help in any of these processes, we will. But the calculation will be that we can be of benefit, and that we can advance negotiated settlements as a means of resolving conflicts.

If people of Israel cannot do anything they want to – whatever the government and the military people may think – cannot wipe out the people of Palestine. And the people of Palestine cannot wipe out the people of Israel. So there has to be a negotiated approach.

Without appearing too long winded or folksy, if there’s a dispute in your family and you don’t talk, and you know then people get alienated, and then people take up fixed positions, and then other people get involved. But if somebody comes in and says, “Hi. Come here. You know that’s your brother. That’s your sister. That’s your husband. That’s your wife. That’s your children. Sit down and talk about it. Listen to what they have to say.”


Recorded on: Oct 8, 2007