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Gerry Adams

(b. 1948)


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1948– )

Northern Irish republican leader, president of Sinn Féin since 1983. In recent years Adams has made the transition from alleged terrorist to peacemaker.

Born in the nationalist Falls Road area of Belfast, Adams has consistently opposed British jurisdiction over Northern Ireland and has agitated for British ‘withdrawal’ as the first step towards a united Ireland. He was a founder member of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, which campaigned for equal political and economic rights for Northern Ireland's large minority of Roman Catholics. Although Adams denies ever having been a member of the IRA, it is widely believed that by 1972 he was a member of that organization's army council and commanded its key Belfast division; he was charged with membership of the IRA in 1978 but was freed seven months later because of insufficient evidence. Adams was interned in Long Kesh as a suspected terrorist in 1972, released to take part in secret talks with the British government, and rearrested in 1973. He then took part in an abortive escape attempt from the Maze prison before being released again in February 1977. In 1978 he was elected vice-president of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the IRA (though Adams continues to maintain that Sinn Féin and the IRA are separate organizations and that, as leader of the former, he has no authority over the latter).

In 1981 he persuaded Sinn Féin to field candidates in local and national elections as a complement to the IRA's ‘armed struggle’, advocating a double strategy of ‘the armalite and the ballot box’. In 1983 he was elected to the Westminster parliament but refused to take up his seat. Banned from broadcasting in Britain, Adams made high-profile fundraising visits to the USA, where he was fêted by Irish-American republican sympathizers. The broadcast ban was lifted in 1994 as part of a joint Anglo-Irish governmental peace initiative, the aims and terms of which were set out in the Downing Street Declaration. On 31 August of that year Adams announced a ‘complete cessation’ of IRA violence. The ambiguous terms in which this statement was couched proved problematic for the British government and Northern Ireland unionists alike, who insisted that decommissioning of terrorist weapons take place before substantive talks on the future of Northern Ireland could begin. The IRA returned to violence in February 1996, but renewed their ceasefire after the general election of May 1997, in which Adams, having lost his Westminster seat in 1992, was re-elected. In 1998 Adams signed the Good Friday Agreement, which committed Sinn Féin to peaceful democratic politics and set up a cross-border body, a council of the (British) Isles, and a Northern Ireland assembly, to which Adams was duly elected. After a bomb planted in Omagh by a republican splinter group, the ‘Real IRA’, claimed twenty-nine lives in September 1998, Adams took the historic step of condemning the action and stated that the time for violence in Ireland has ended. Gerry Adams's writings include The Politics of Irish Freedom (1988), The Street and Other Stories (1992), and three volumes of autobiography – Falls Memories (1982), Cage Eleven (1990), and Before the Dawn (1996).

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Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).


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