Gerry Adams

Sinn Féin politician who worked to ally the political and military struggle

Gerard ‘Gerry’ Adams was born in Belfast on October 6, 1948. Descended from a leading republican family, it came as no real surprise when, at the outset of the Troubles in the 1970s, Adams became interested in the republican cause.

Adams was interned by the Northern Irish government in 1971, but his influence in the republican movement was reflected in the demand by the Irish Republican Army that he be released to take part in their delegation to talks with the Northern Ireland secretary, William Whitelaw. With the failure of those talks, he was again interned in 1973, and on trying twice to escape was sentenced to 18 months in jail.

While in custody, Adams wrote the popular Brownie column in the Republican News in which he expressed the groundbreaking view that the republican movement needed to give greater priority to the political struggle. On release in 1977, he built a new position for himself within the movement, being selected as vice president of Sinn Féin in 1978. He continued to argue that the party needed to ally political and military struggles.

Adams then led Sinn Féin into the 1982 Assembly elections where they gained several seats, quickly followed by his election to Westminster on an abstentionist position in 1983.

There were several major setbacks to Adams’s dominance of the republican movement. In 1986, a split in republicanism followed his move to build a base in the south of Ireland by dropping the abstentionist policy for the Irish house of representatives, the Dáil Éireann. Adams then lost his West Belfast seat in the Westminster parliament to Joe Hendron of the Social Democrat and Labour Party in 1992. Despite these setbacks he continued to dominate the republican side of politics.

From the mid 1980s, Adams worked to build the overall influence of republicanism. This saw him engage in secret talks from 1988 with the SDLP leader John Hume. When these talks were revealed in 1993, Hume came under pressure to break them off, but discussion continued, and in fact he started another series of discussions, again in secret, with the British government.

These developments led to the IRA ceasefires of 1994 and 1997. Adams has led Sinn Féin to a very strong position, although he continues to distance himself from the Northern Ireland assembly by standing aside for other Sinn Féin leaders. The 2004 assembly elections saw Sinn Féin eclipse the SDLP as the largest nationalist party.

Author of several books of popular history and volumes of autobiography, Gerry Adams is married with one son.

© Ciaran Crossey 2004