Gerry Adams, born in Belfast, president of Sinn Féin, was one of the chief architects of Sinn Féin’s shift to a policy of seeking a peaceful settlement to sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. He was elected several times to the British House of Commons for Belfast West, however, following party policy, did not take his seat. He represented Belfast West (1998–2010) in the Northern Ireland Assembly before winning a seat in Ireland’s Dáil, representing Louth and East Meath. Adams is one of the most divisive figures in Irish politics, loved and loathed, adored and distrusted with a passion by respective sides.
Born into a strongly republican family, Adams became involved in predominantly Roman Catholic civil rights protests in Belfast, which became increasingly violent in the late 1960s. By early 1970 he was suspected of heading a unit of the IRA, a republican paramilitary organisation 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 organisation, 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 galvanised 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, 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.
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 reached a historic agreement to form a power-sharing government.
Although he absolutely and consistently denies it, there is a general acceptance in Ireland that Adams was a senior figure in the IRA during much of The Troubles. Allegations against Adams were made by deceased IRA veteran Brendan ‘The Darkie’ Hughes who in an interview with journalist Ed Moloney for his 2010 book “Voices from the Grave” said “I never carried out a major operation without the OK or the order from Gerry.” Dolours Price, the woman convicted of the 1973 IRA bombing of the Old Bailey, was among the first to publicly accuse Gerry Adams of being responsible for the abduction of those the terrorist organisation considered informers.
In an interview with The Telegraph in September 2012, prior to her death, Dolours Price claimed that Adams, as her “Officer Commanding” in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional IRA, ordered her to drive alleged informers from Northern Ireland into the Republic. They would later be executed. She also claimed Adams was involved in approving an IRA bombing campaign on mainland Britain, including the attack on the Old Bailey for which she served eight years in prison. Her allegations, and those of other former IRA members – who, like Price, spoke on tape to researchers from Boston College in the United States – still have the potential to cause damage to the peace process, in which Adams has been a key player, and continue to haunt his political career.
On 29 September 2012, Taoiseach Enda Kenny stated ”From all the evidence I have read and from all the evidence I have heard, I believe Gerry Adams was a member of the IRA and I was led to believe he was also a member of the army council.”
In October 2013 Liam Adams, Gerry Adams’ brother, was found guilty of ten offences, including rape and gross indecency committed against his daughter, Áine Tyrell. When the allegations of abuse were first made public in a 2009 UTV programme, Gerry Adams subsequently alleged that his deceased father, Gerry Adams, Sr., had subjected family members to emotional, physical and sexual abuse. On 27 November 2013, Liam Adams was jailed for 16 years for raping and abusing his daughter.
On 30 April 2014, Adams was arrested by detectives from the PSNI Serious Crime Branch, under the Terrorism Act 2000, in connection with the murder of Jean McConville in 1972. He had previously voluntarily arranged to be interviewed by police regarding the matter, and maintained he had no involvement. Fellow Sinn Féin politician Alex Maskey claimed that the timing of the arrest, “three weeks into an election”, was evidence of a “political agenda… a negative agenda” by the PSNI. Jean McConville’s family had campaigned for the arrest of Adams over the murder. Jean McConville’s son Michael said that his family did not think the arrest of Adams would ever happen, but were “quite glad” that the arrest took place. Adams was released without charge after four days in custody and it was decided to send a file to the Public Prosecution Service, which would decide if criminal charges should be brought.
At a press conference after his release, Adams also criticised the timing of his arrest, while reiterating Sinn Féin’s support for the PSNI and saying: “The IRA is gone. It is finished”. Adams has denied that he had any involvement in the murder or was ever a member of the IRA, and has said the allegations against him came from “enemies of the peace process”. On 29 September 2015 the Public Prosecution Service announced Adams would not face charges, due to insufficient evidence.