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.
Question: What was your hope for Northern Ireland?
Gerry Adams: Even yet I don’t use the term Northern Ireland. It was interesting that even yet, I’ve never felt a oneness with the place. I’ve always been conscious of the island as partitioned. And in fact they depended upon these conditions to keep them in a position of ascendancy. It was only as you started to work your way through all of that that you realized it wasn’t just a simple task, that this was a journey and in my case a life journey.
They the unionistist state reformed, arguably we would be living in a united Ireland today now some almost 40 years later. But certainly there would not have been a conflict. There would not have been the war that we’ve all come through.
As it turned out, the unionists did resist it. The reforms which were necessary crack down on what was a very pacifistic country that was based upon the American civil rights movement. We even used the same anthem of “We Shall Overcome."
The British state upheld the unionist position. The British government, the Labor government at that time, brought troops in to uphold the position, to hold the line. And within a few short years, it was back to what Irish history has known for all of our existence. It was back to conflict between the government or the army of our nearest neighbor, Britain, on those in Ireland who want a republic, or who wanted Irish freedom, or who want Irish freedom or who want an end to the partition.
Question: What was the turning point in the Northern Ireland peace process?
Gerry Adams: It’s been a very long path.
This reminds me a bit of a very good friend of mine who is a really wonderfully well-known singer. And he was discovered after 30 years on the road. So I suppose the turning point of the Irish process was when we persuaded others of the value of dialogue and inclusivity. Once we got to that point, even though it maybe took us 20 more years to get to where we are now, dialogue is crucial. Political will is crucial. But inclusivity is just absolutely fundamental to our process.
Question: Looking back, would you have done anything differently?
Gerry Adams: Well it’s hard to know. I used to bother myself with that question. Why couldn’t we have done 30 years ago what we did 10 years ago? An Irish person looks at the years 2004 to 2007, and it’s a collection of pieces I wrote as events were developing or immediately after events had occurred. So even from my own point of view, it was interesting to look at what I’d written at the time.
If you have political will to make something happen, it’s a matter then of getting other people who may have a oppositional view, who may have the total opposite point of view into the same frame. So a lot of the work is really tedious. It’s really detailed. It’s away from the public search light. And, to tell you the truth, for most people it’s probably boring.
And maybe that’s what history is like. When you read the history book and something is reduced to one chapter or one paragraph.
In all of this, if I could put on my hat depending on where you want to start, if the British had never come to Ireland the way that they did, we would never have had a conflict.
The question reminds me of an old Irish joke about a tourist stopping a person on the road and asking them how would they get to Kerry. And the person they stopped said, “Well if I was going to Kerry, I wouldn’t start from here.”
So it’s impossible to know what could have been done differently. I’m a bit more philosophical about it now.
It would have been better if this had been sorted out a long time ago. It would have been better if people hadn’t of been killed. But I do think there is, as Shakespeare said, a tide in the affairs of men. So it took a John Hume; it took a Tony Blair; it took a Bill Clinton, I suppose. The efforts just didn’t work.
Recorded on: Oct 8, 2007