By George Cook
Gerry Adams is to stand down as President of Sinn Fein in 2018, bringing to an end a prolonged period of political history in Northern Ireland. After the death of Ian Paisley in 2014 and Martin McGuinness earlier this year, Adams was the last remaining stalwart of traditional Irish politics that included much of The Troubles. Adams, who had been in charge for 34 years, was a controversial figure who managed to rejuvenate himself from leading much of the violence of The Troubles to negotiating a landmark peace deal in the form of the Good Friday Agreement. Through his abstentions from Parliament in Westminster when he was an MP, he maintained his status as a pivotal figure in the Republican movement. And now that Adams has announced his resignation, big questions remain over who will succeed him as President in the very near future.
During his tenure, Adams transformed Sinn Fein into a party who were extremely popular on both sides of the border being the third largest in the Republic and second largest in Northern Ireland. In his Belfast West constituency, the almost cult status of Adams was demonstrated where he secured over 70% of the vote. This was in stark contrast to the situation in many areas, where Sinn Fein sometimes struggled to poll above 2%. As such, his personality is one that has become strongly engrained into the party and it will prove extremely difficult to fill void that his resignation has produced.
Never far from controversy, Gerry Adams was questioned by police as recently as 2014 in relation to the murder of Jean McConville by the IRA. At their most dangerous and prevalent, the Irish Republican Army were responsible for a number of terrorist attacks across the UK from the murder of Lord Mountbatten to the Birmingham pub bombings. For many, it is often hard to comprehend how volatile and toxic the situation was surrounding Irish politics, given the two decades of relative peace we have been fortunate enough to witness in Northern Ireland. Despite never being charged with McConville’s murder due to insufficient evidence, the scope of information that he knew about IRA terrorist activities is often highly disputed. Whilst his violent past should not be ignored, Adams’ influence was crucial in the decision of the IRA to pursue political activities in a more democratic fashion.
At no other time was this co-operation and peaceful nature more evident than in the presiding years that culminated in the Good Friday Agreement. Alongside Paisley and McGuinness, who were nicknamed the ‘Chuckle Brothers’, Gerry Adams successfully negotiated a peace deal with the Labour government under Tony Blair.
After spending years in the political wilderness marred by his terrorist links and divisive politics, the revolution in Adams’ approach to politics eventually concluded with him meeting the Queen in 2012.
The recent unpredictability for the Government in Northern Ireland due to its collapse makes for a future that looks full of uncertainty. Sinn Fein too are facing an uncertain future, with very few stand out candidates for the Presidency. Gerry Adams’ strong and passionate character needs to be reflected in the new leader so that Sinn Fein can continue their manifestation as a prominent force in Irish politics on both sides of the border.