Adams, Gerry

Adams, Gerry
orig. Gerard Adams

born Oct. 6, 1948, Belfast, N.Ire.

Irish nationalist and president of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

He was interned without trial as a suspected terrorist in 1972, 1973–76, and 1978. He became vice president of Sinn Féin in 1978 and persuaded the group to enter candidates in the 1981 elections. Elected to the British House of Commons in 1983, he refused to take the oath of allegiance and never took his seat. In 1991, as Sinn Féin's president (from 1983), he began to shift its strategy toward negotiation; his efforts led to indirect talks with the British government and a 1993 agreement (the Downing Street Declaration) by the British and Irish prime ministers to consider the future of Northern Ireland. He was credited with the IRA's 1994 cease-fire announcement and was pivotal in winning support for the Good Friday Agreement (1998), which led to the creation of a power-sharing assembly in Northern Ireland.

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▪ 1995

      In 1994 Gerry Adams joined the long list of international figures who made the change from alleged terrorist to peacemaker. On August 31 the Irish Republican Army (IRA) announced a cease-fire. As president of the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein, Adams was a central figure in bringing it about.

      Gerard Adams was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Oct. 6, 1948, into a prominent Irish nationalist family with ties to the IRA. Although Adams denied being a member of the IRA, it was widely believed that by 1972 he had become a member of the IRA's army council and its commander in Belfast. He was one of the first people to be imprisoned when the British government introduced internment without trial for suspected terrorists. During the course of his three years' imprisonment, he collected his sole criminal conviction: for attempting to escape.

      In 1981 Adams persuaded Sinn Fein to widen its strategy and enter candidates in both local and national elections. He was elected an MP in 1983, but he refused to take the oath of allegiance and never took his seat. (He lost his seat in 1992.) As an MP, Adams was frequently invited to condemn violence, but he always refused.

      In 1991, however, Adams started shifting Sinn Fein's strategy toward negotiation. He wrote to trade-union and church leaders and to politicians in both London and Dublin, saying that Sinn Fein wanted to join peace talks. He also began a series of secret negotiations with John Hume, the leader of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party, which had always opposed violence and the IRA. In 1993 the British government admitted that it had conducted indirect negotiations with Sinn Fein through intermediaries.

      In December 1993 British Prime Minister John Major and Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds agreed on a common strategy for considering the future of Northern Ireland, the so-called Downing Street Declaration. Adams stepped up his campaign to win international respect. In January 1994 he obtained a visa to visit the U.S., where he appeared on a number of television and radio interview programs. At the same time, Adams was barred from British radio and TV under the terms of an exclusion order and broadcasting ban. (Intriguingly, his statements could be read on the air by actors.)

      Meanwhile, Adams was involved in intensive debates inside Sinn Fein and the IRA over their response to the Downing Street Declaration. Finally came the announcement of a cease-fire. Within three weeks the broadcasting ban had been ended; within seven weeks the exclusion order had been lifted. The scene was set for Adams' new role as principal Sinn Fein negotiator in talks about the long-term future of Northern Ireland.


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▪ Irish leader
in full  Gerard Adams 
born October 6, 1948, Belfast, Northern Ireland
 president of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), one of the chief architects of Sinn Féin's shift to a policy of seeking a peaceful settlement to sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, and a member of the British Parliament (from West Belfast) and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

      Born into a strongly Republican family, Adams became involved in predominantly Roman Catholic civil rights protests in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which became increasingly violent in the late 1960s. By early 1970 he was suspected of heading a unit of the IRA, a Republican paramilitary organization seeking the unification of predominantly Protestant Northern Ireland with the predominantly Roman Catholic Irish Republic. In 1972, following two years of escalating violence by the IRA and Protestant paramilitary forces, Adams was interned without trial, though he was soon released to participate in secret peace talks with the British government. Following the failure of these talks, Adams reputedly became a top strategist in the IRA, though he consistently denied any direct involvement in the organization, which is illegal in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. Adams was imprisoned again in 1973–76 and 1978 and was later officially charged with membership in the IRA, though he was never convicted.

      In the late 1970s Adams began publicly advocating that the Republican movement adopt a more political strategy, arguing that military victory was unlikely. He played a leading role in planning the hunger strikes undertaken by Republican prisoners in Northern Ireland in 1981, which galvanized the Catholic community there. In 1983 Adams was elected president of Sinn Féin and a member of the British Parliament, but in keeping with party policy he refused to take his seat to avoid taking the compulsory oath of loyalty to the British queen. Reelected in 1987, he lost his seat to Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) representative Joe Hendron in 1992 but regained it in 1997. In 1988 Adams engaged in sometimes secret talks with SDLP leader John Hume (Hume, John), which led to follow-up talks in the early 1990s. The two leaders issued a joint statement to the British and Irish governments in 1993, identifying points of agreement and signaling the conditions under which Sinn Féin would be willing to engage in multiparty talks.

      In January 1994 Adams was granted a visa to attend a conference in New York City. This controversial visa was followed by others, which allowed Adams to raise funds for Sinn Féin on American soil. The process of bringing Sinn Féin closer to the political mainstream, reflected in Adams's visits to the United States, led to an 18-month IRA cease-fire beginning in August 1994. In September 1997, after the declaration of a second IRA cease-fire in July of that year, Adams and his negotiating team joined multiparty talks to end the conflict in Northern Ireland. Adams supported the Good Friday Agreement (Belfast Agreement) (April 1998) on steps leading to power-sharing self-government in the province, and he campaigned for acceptance of the accord within Sinn Féin and in referenda that were passed in Northern Ireland and the Republic in May. In elections in June 1998 he won a seat in the new Northern Ireland Assembly.

 The political process proceeded in fits and starts, and the British government suspended the assembly numerous times. Confidence in the devolved government was boosted in July 2005 when the IRA declared that it had ended its armed campaign and disposed of its weapons. In March 2007 Adams and Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley (Paisley, Ian) reached a historic agreement to form a power-sharing government.

      Charismatic, articulate, and possessing experience that generated respect within his constituency, Adams was a powerful leader of a highly organized movement. Along with Martin McGuinness, he led his party from its traditional violent rejection of British rule to parliamentary politics as part of a new government in Northern Ireland.

Paul Arthur Kimberly Cowell-Meyers

Additional Reading
Gerry Adams, Before the Dawn (1996), is an autobiography, and he discusses his goals in Free Ireland: Towards a Lasting Peace, rev. ed. (1995).Paul Arthur

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Universalium. 2010.

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