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: Are the lessons of Northern Ireland relevant to the Middle East?
Gerry Adams: I have to preface my answer to that by, in the first instance, saying that I don’t think that we have any special right to lecture; or we wouldn’t be arrogant enough to say, “Here’s the way to do it.” At the same time, we learned from the South African process, and it is possible there are broad principles involved in any process of conflict resolution. And it is possible to take those broad principles and then adopt them or tweak them to suit the peculiarities of any given circumstance.
If you, first of all – and this in the Middle East context as I try to spell it out – you have to be inclusive. So you can't say, we’re only going to deal with that group or this group. You have to be inclusive. You have to uphold the imperative of dialogue. So you can’t say, we will not talk.
I know it may seem a bit bizarre because people are naïve as to talking to me as I am naïve talking. But it wasn’t that long ago since I was censored from television. My voice couldn’t be broadcast. Even a short story that I wrote – a book of short stories – was banned from television. An advertisement for a book of short stories – an advertisement of somebody saying, “This is a new book of short stories” – was banned from television. I was banned from coming to the USA. And that doesn’t work.
What happened in that context was that the state decided upon a security that it called euphemistically a “security response.” So you kill the enemy, you censor the enemy, you imprison the enemy. You get your friends to support you in that, and you get your international allies to support you in that position. So you perpetuate the conflict. Once you start to talk; once you open up proactive listening and dialogue; once you say, “Well we can’t choose who we talk to. The people have to choose that”, then you open up an entirely different dynamic, a different trajectory. And then within that, there cannot be any predetermined outcomes. Everything has to be on the table, on the agenda. You can’t say, “We talked, but we’re only gonna talk about this.” You don’t have to agree; but you have to allow other people to bring their issues forward.
And then the key then, of course, is that there has to be a political will. In the Middle East, there is not the international political will to resolve that problem. And I view the international community stands indicted for its failure to actually grasp that problem and deal with it. In the Middle East, there is a peace process waiting for political leaders. The settlements there; the ability of popular, in my view, of the people of the Palestinian territories and the people of Israel to live together in two separate states, but interdepend upon each other as neighbors; that it needs political leaders to make that happen.
Recorded on: Oct 8, 2007