Gerry Adams: Profile of Sinn Féin leader

Gerry Adams Gerry Adams spoke to the media just hours before he presented himself voluntarily to the Police Service of Northern Ireland to be questioned about the 1972 murder of Belfast woman Jean McConville

Related Stories

Gerry Adams has led Sinn Féin, Northern Ireland second biggest political party, for the past 31 years.

The Belfast man is one of the most recognisable and controversial figures in Irish politics and his arrest has captured worldwide attention.

To some he is hailed as a peacemaker, for leading the republican movement away from its long, violent campaign towards peaceful and democratic means.

To others he is a hate figure who publicly justified IRA murders.

For years, Mr Adams has consistently denied that he was ever a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The paramilitary group is believed to be responsible for about 1,700 deaths during more than 30 years of violence, mostly in Northern Ireland, that became known as the Troubles.

One of those deaths was that of Jean McConville, a widowed mother-of-10 who was abducted by the IRA in 1972, murdered and secretly buried.

On Wednesday, just hours before his arrest over Mrs McConville's murder, Mr Adams said he would tell the Police Service of Northern Ireland that he was "innocent totally of any part in the abduction, the killing or the burial of Jean McConville".

Mr Adams added: "I never will disassociate myself from the IRA. That doesn't mean that I agree with everything that they did because I don't, particularly in the case of Jean McConville, which I think was wrong - a grave injustice to her and her family. But thankfully, thankfully the war is over."

Gerry Adams Gerry Adams has consistently denied that he was ever a member of the IRA but said he will never "disassociate" himself from the organisation

He was born in October 1948 in Ballymurphy, west Belfast, and both of his parents came from families that had been active in armed republicanism.

His father, Gerry senior, had been shot while taking part in an IRA attack on a police patrol in 1942 and was subsequently imprisoned.

Influenced by his father, the young Adams became an active republican while still a teenager.

He worked as a barman at the Duke of York pub in Belfast where he was fascinated by the political gossip traded among the journalists and lawyers who frequented the bar.

However, as the civil rights movement gathered pace in the late 1960s, the young Adams did not spend long pulling pints.

Soon he was out on the streets, involved in the protests of the time, and in 1972 he was interned - imprisoned without charge - under the controversial Special Powers Art.

According to his own account, he was purely a political activist, but that same year, the IRA leadership insisted that the then 24-year-old be released from internment to take part in ceasefire talks with the British government.

Gerry Adams and Brendan Hughes Gerry Adams pictured with IRA man Brendan Hughes in the Maze prison in 1983

The talks failed and were followed by the Bloody Friday murders, when the IRA detonated at least 20 bombs across Belfast in one day, killing nine people and injuring 130.

Security sources believed Gerry Adams was a senior IRA commander at the time, but interviewed after the organisation's formal apology 30 years on, he adamantly denied this.

In 1977, he was acquitted of IRA membership.

At the height of the 1981 IRA hunger strikes, he played a key role in the Fermanagh by-election in which Bobby Sands became an MP a month before his death.

Two years later Gerry Adams became MP for West Belfast on an absentionist platform, meaning he would represent the constituency but refuse to take his seat in the House of Commons.

Also in 1983, he replaced Ruairí Ó Bradaigh as president of Sinn Féin. Three years later, he dropped Sinn Féin's policy of refusing to sit in the Irish parliament in Dublin.

Despite the tentative moves towards democracy, the IRA's campaign of violence continued and Sinn Féin were considered political pariahs.

Gerry Adams in 1980 Gerry Adams played a key role in leading republicans away from an armed campaign towards democratic republicanism

In the late 1980s, Gerry Adams entered secret peace talks with John Hume, the leader of the Sinn Féin's more moderate political rivals, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).

The Hume Adams negotiations helped to bring Sinn Féin in from the political wilderness and paved the way for the peace process.

But treading a line between politics and violence was risky.

In 1984, Gerry Adams survived a gun attack by loyalist paramilitaries, the Ulster Freedom Fighters, in Belfast city centre. He and three companions were wounded but managed to drive to the Royal Victoria Hospital for treatment.

A second murder attempt was made at Milltown cemetery, west Belfast, in 1988 at a funeral for three IRA members. Three mourners were killed but loyalist paramilitary Michael Stone said his real targets were Adams and Martin McGuinness.

The 1993 Shankill bombing confirmed the tightrope Gerry Adams had to walk in order to keep hardline republicans on board with his political project.

He expressed regret for the bombing that killed nine people and one of the bombers, but did not condemn it.

Mr Adams then carried the coffin of the IRA man Thomas Begley, who died when the bomb exploded prematurely.

Gerry Adams carrying the coffin of IRA bomber Thomas Begley in 1993 Gerry Adams outraged unionists when he carried the coffin of IRA bomber Thomas Begley in 1993

But the Hume-Adams talks were beginning to bear fruit. President Bill Clinton withstood pressure from London to grant Gerry Adams a 48-hour visa for a peace conference in New York. The visit attracted worldwide attention and Adams used it as justification to press on with politics.

The Hume-Adams process eventually delivered the 1994 IRA ceasefire that ultimately provided the relatively peaceful backdrop against which the Good Friday Agreement was brokered.

In 1998, 90% of the party backed its president in taking seats in the new Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont - a remarkable piece of political management given Sinn Féin's "no return to Stormont" slogan in the 1997 general election campaign.

Mr Adams stayed out of the Stormont power-sharing executive, letting Martin McGuinness take a ministerial post.

When the power-sharing deal collapsed in 2003, Gerry Adams became a key player in the government's attempts to broker a new agreement between Sinn Féin and their one-time enemies, the Democratic Unionist Party.

The negotiations foundered at the end of 2004, but in October 2006 both Mr Adams and DUP leader Mr Paisley indicated their support for the St Andrews Agreement, drawn up after intensive talks in Scotland.

The deal led to a once-thinkable situation, a Stormont coalition led by the DUP and Sinn Féin.

A key element of the deal was Sinn Féin support for the police, whom the IRA had once deemed "legitimate targets".

It was unthinkable in the days of the Troubles, but persuading Irish republicans to embrace policing was another step on Adams' personal and political journey between war and peace.

Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams Gerry Adams helped to negotiate the St Andrews Agreement, leading to a once unthinkable political deal involving the DUP and Sinn Féin

In January 2011, Gerry Adams formally resigned as West Belfast MP in order to run for election in the Republic of Ireland.

The move was believed to be in response to fears that the party was too narrowly focused on Northern Ireland and needed to boost its all-island strategy.

The following month, he was elected as a Teachta Dála (member of the Irish Parliament), representing the border constituency of Louth and East Meath.

However, closer to home, personal turmoil was unfolding in the Adams family.

His brother, Liam Adams, was publically accused of rape and child sexual abuse. The allegations were made by Liam Adams' adult daughter Aine, who waived her right to anonymity in a bid to bring her father to justice.

Gerry Adams publicly named his own father as a child sex abuser as he spoke about the impact the allegations had made on his whole family.

He then became embroiled in the police investigation, when it emerged his niece had told him she had been abused several years earlier.

The Sinn Féin president said his brother had confessed the abuse to him in 2000 and added that he made his first report to the police about the allegations in 2007, shortly after his party voted to accept the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Last November, Liam Adams was jailed for 16 years for raping and abusing his daughter over a six-year period.

Allegations about Gerry Adams' own past had never gone away, and the case of Jean McConville continues to haunt the entire republican movement.

The Sinn Féin leader has condemned her murder and consistently denies any involvement in the 37-year-old widow's death.

More on This Story

Related Stories

More Northern Ireland stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

  • Stained glass of man with swordFrance 1 England 0

    The most important battle you have probably never heard of


  • Golden retriever10 things

    Dogs get jealous, and nine more nuggets from the week's news


  • Pro-Israel demonstrators shout slogans while protesting in Berlin - 25 July 2014Holocaust guilt

    Gaza conflict leaves Germans confused over who to support


  • The emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-SabahFreedoms fear

    Growing concern for rights as Kuwait revokes citizenships


Elsewhere on the BBC

  • CastleRoyal real estate

    No longer reserved for kings and queens, some find living in a castle simply divine

Programmes

  • Leader of Hamas Khaled MeshaalHARDtalk Watch

    BBC exclusive: Hamas leader on the eagerness to end bloodshed in Gaza

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.