No Gandhi in 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: Could violence in Northern Ireland have been avoided by using Gandhi's tactics?

Gerry Adams: Yes. In theory, yes.

But I think first of all we should remind ourselves that against the background in India, there was quite a sustained campaign of violence against the British.

We didn’t have a Gandhi figure. We didn’t have such a figure. We didn’t have a Bishop [Desmond] Tutu. We didn’t have a Martin Luther King. We did have a good array people who did proclaim the good news.

The fact is, the history of Ireland is one in which the physical force tradition is quite strong. And secondly, at a time of what’s called Trouble or Troubles, the military response has almost been the first reaction by the British state. So whether it was agrarian struggle; whether it was was economic struggle; or social emancipation; or whether it was independence or liberation struggle, the British cracked down quite viciously.

And given the Irish psyche and given our own history, the physical force tendency was always in the ascendancy.

As you get older, you reflect on things and you see things from life experience and from a different perspective. I do think that armed actions were – and I defended them at the time – were justifiable in the context in which they occurred. I don’t agree with everything that happened. In fact, I strongly disagree and disapprove of some of the things that happened. But I think the core of what we put together in this process was to develop an alternative to armed action. So it wasn’t a matter of condemning, or denouncing, or marginalizing the people who used physical force. It was a matter of saying, “Look, you don’t have to do that because here’s a different way to do it.” But that meant other pillars of society, including governments, ________ the international community taking their weight of the responsibility and showing that politics could actually work. Because up until that point, politics actually worked.

Recorded on: Oct 8, 2007