Finding the Politics of Northern Ireland

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: How did you get involved in the politics of Northern Ireland?

Gerry Adams: I failed an exam which was called the Eleven Plus. But then; again the following year, so I ended up at grammar school. And I suppose I would have ended up teaching. But I got caught up in the convulsion that became a conflict.

In 1964, in Paisely, who now leads the power-sharing  arrangements throughout; during an election, to come on to the Falls Road and take down the national flag, the Irish tri-color.

And the IUC when they received death threats, obliged him and went and took it down. And of course it was then a matter of honor, I suppose, for the people to put it back up again. So there was another sally into the area and then it was taken down again. I was going to school, and we passed the site where the flag was flown, which was an election office. And this was very exciting for us. We went back and forth to school, and there were a huge amount of armed police officers, armored cars. There was street violence for a few days.

And that sort of whetted my appetite. I started to read in a more political way. 1966 was the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. And that was marked with pageants, and with dramatic presentations, with republications of the writings of the leaders of _______ Pierce and Connelly, and others with poetry. And just a big celebration of this watershed event in Irish history.

I started to get a context then. I started to read. I became an Irish Republican as I started to read all of this. And then I joined Siin Fein. I dropped out of school. I became a founding member of the Civil Rights Association. And there you have it.


Recorded on: Oct 8, 2007