Gerry Adams has led Sinn Fein to political triumph. In the wake of recent controversies, Jennifer O'Leary assesses whether or not Adams is still a help to the party.
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Gerry Adams. The man who led the IRA into the peace process. Love him or
loathe him, his impact and influence have been enormous. But is Gerry
Adams' political future a hostage to his past? The Sinn Fein leader is
suffering a crisis of credibility after a wave of negative publicity.
Most notably in a television programme about the Disappeared.
Did you know Kevin McKee? A young lad in Ballymurphy. Not that I can
recall. But I may have. But I can't recall He did know Kevin McKee. I
was with Kevin when he spoke to Kevin. He's either lying, or has a
selective memory. Is Gerry Adams' past catching up
with him? I accept I was a war maker as an IRA man. I went through my
life believing we were led by two men called Gerry and Martin, then
finding out Gerry was never a member of the IRA. Me and my generation are
the silliest people in the world for believing this. The assault on Gerry
Adams' credibility comes just as his political career should be reaching
its peak. Sinn Fein is within reach of one of its stepping stones to a
united Ireland, holding power on both sides of the border. Gerry
Adams led his party to this point in spite of his past. But with Sinn
Fein dipping in the South's opinion polls, the party has to wrestle with
a crucial leadership question. Should he stay or should he go?
He is quite a popular leader. But his political career is over. I'm
satisfied that there's a campaign to remove Gerry Adams as the leader of
republicanism in Ireland. And I am telling you that is not going to
happen. Tonight on Spotlight, we ask if
Gerry Adams is still Sinn Fein's greatest asset or in danger of
becoming his liability?
Gerry Adams' political career began here. The people of West Belfast
know him best. This is where he grew up, repeatedly led the local unit of
the Provisional IRA, and eventually became a popular MP. Do you think
your generation is more political than your parents'? And this is the
generation raised under his watch, all born after the cease-fire, these
students on the cusp of voting age, Sinn Fein's newest target audience.
Was a good leader for Sinn Fein, giving a voice to Catholics in West
Belfast when we did not have one. Even without being interested in
politics, you knew who Gerry Adams was, he has tried to lead Sinn Fein
to be more progressive. He is one of the reasons we have peace in the
North, we have a lot to thank him for. You are using the past tense
when talking about Gerry Adams. Is that how you see him? There is time
for a change. Some leaders are dealing with the past, not what is
happening now. I think he has overstayed in Sinn Fein. People
forget to easy. He is trying to spread out Sinn Fein and show it is
not just for North Island, but throughout Ireland. -- North
Ireland. In terms of whether he should step down, you kind of has an
away. That passed at the very centre of
conflict has emanated Gerry Adams' life. Decades, he has embodied the
republican movement's revolution, emerging as a figure justifying the
IRA's campaign of violence. The British normally invade every
country when it is in their interest to do so. - normally leave every
country. We make it in their interest to do so. And he helped
make it a place in the mainstream. His place in history will be pretty
eminent. He brought republicanism out of the state of conflict into
politics. That was an incredible achievement, given the ferocity of
the conflict. He succeeded in an incredible political manoeuvre.
Whatever you think of the man, the political skills in getting Sinn
Fein and the IRA to where they are now of the highest order. The path
to power has been laced with personal triumphs, from Sinn Fein's
earliest electoral breakthroughs, to a place on the international stage.
I do not think there would be a peace process without Gerry Adams,
he is the single most important figure. He took a major political
gamble two years ago. Leaving one of Westminster's safest seats in West
Belfast to enter southern politics. He hit the jackpot, topping the poll
in Louth. At the same time, Sinn Fein rows with him, rocketing to its
best results in a modern Irish election. This is his new home, the
constituency of Louth, and in the border town of Dundalk, Gerry Adams
is a largely popular local politician. How do you rate Gerry
Adams? First-class, excellent, man for the
people. Has done a lot for the town, no complaints at all, a great
supporter. Would you vote for Sinn Fein? Yes, more so than Fianna Fail
or anything. Would you be a Sinn Fein supporter? Definitely not. Why?
Well, the record is there, isn't it? It will take them a long
Well, the record is there, isn't it? themselves of the record that we
have had. But what is Gerry Adams' own record? For decades, he has been
denying IRA membership. The situation of my membership of the
IRA is I am not a member, that is the fact of the situation. Are you
now or have you ever been a member of the IRA? No. I was not and I am
not a member. I can explain why he denied it at the beginning. He could
be prosecuted once he said so. But why does he continue to deny? Once
he was in that situation, it was difficult to change his mind. To see
he was actually in the IRA. Now it has got to the point of ridicule. It
is the height of absurdity would you can produce the minutes of two
meetings in 1972 that the British had with the IRA and who were the
two representatives, Daihi O'Connell and Gerry Adams? Unless Gerry Adams
was making the tea of representing St Vincent de Paul or something!
Even some who were in the IRA found Gerry Adams' denial is hard to take.
These days, Gerard Hodgins is a critic of Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein,
but used to be a member of the IRA and a Sinn Fein activist and says he
was part of Gerry Adams' election team in 1987. Our brief was to get
him re-elected in the Westminster election for June 1987. We had
briefing paper on which it was suggested that it would be best to
put the whole issue of IRA membership to bed once and for all
by acknowledging past membership or association and then it would become
a dead issue. Gerry said no, and the issue has become bigger and bigger
for him as the years go on. Very interesting, because I was electoral
director until it was shut halfway through the campaign and I saw no
papers for Gerry Adams and I worked with all of his election since 1982,
and at no time was there a discussion in Sinn Fein as to
whether Gerry Adams was a member of the IRA. I went through my life
believing that we were fighting for the Republic and were being led by
two people called Gerry and Marton, then finding out
two people called Gerry and Marton, never a member, that Martin left in
1974, around when I joined. So me and my generation are really the
silliest people in the world for believing this, for them not being
honest with themselves. It does not matter to me whether Gerry Adams was
in the IRA. I live within the Republican world, and served the
Republicans every day, and people are not queueing up to as me if he
was in the IRA or not. In a statement, Gerry Adams said he has
made his position on membership of the IRA many times, but questions
around his credibility were crystallised in a documentary on the
Disappeared, people killed and secretly buried by Republicans.
Gerry Adams played a crucial role in recovering some of the missing
bodies, but he allegedly ordered one of the killings, according to the
late Brendan Hughes, a former close friend and IRA commander who came to
consider Gerry Adams actuator. This woman was taken away. -- consider
Gerry Adams actuator. -- traitor. It was Jean McConville, and only one
man could order the killing, and that was the head of Sinn Fein. Did
you give the order for the killing of Jean McConville? No, I had no
part to play in the abduction, killing or burial of Jean
McConville, or indeed any of the other individuals and Brendan is
telling lies. But for some, Gerry Adams' remarks raised more
questions, like Marie McKee, taking part in the joint BBC and RTE
documentary, watching it in her West Belfast home, her brother Kevin's
body never being found. Did you know Kevin McKee? Did I know him? I
cannot say I know him. Person to person. But I know his family. I
know his siblings. Did you know him as a young lad in Ballymurphy? Not
that I recall, I may have. Kevin McKee's mother was looking for him,
entire families looking for him. Bear with me, do you not live in the
real world? People go off, people disappeared, people have reported
having seen such and such a person. What do you think of that? What does
he mean, people disappear? People do not just disappear, someone other
takes a personal way or the person goes away. That is a manifest lie
that he did not know Kevin McKee, he did know Kevin McKee, I was with
Kevin McKee when he spoke to Kevin, I have been asking for 40 years, we
have is my brother? And if anybody is in a position to find him, it
will be him. He is the only one that can go to people, that move who was
there, even if able are dead, someone knows something. And he is
telling lies! The whole lot is a crock and he knows it. Gerry Adams
was lying in this programme? Yesterday is either lying or he has
a selective memory and I think he is lying.
He says he has gone to people and he is helping.
No, he is not. He could find my brother. I know he could. He could
ask questions and find out. Did he walk to his death? Did he look
around? Did he say anything? Did he ask for money? Did he ask for me? I
would love to know more. I would love to know where my brother is and
bring him up and bury him and then there? That would be the end of
that. Tonight Gerry Adams said he did not lie and has no memory of an
encounter with Kevin McKee. He told us he regrets the injustice
done to the family and refute any suggestion Republicans are not doing
their best to retrieve the remains of all those killed and secretly
buried. Marie McKee comes from the same streets as Gerry Adams. What
resonates about reactions to all the stories of the Disappeared is that
they attract criticism from Republican voices.
They Disappeared under the single biggest, darkest part of the
Troubles, really. It is the denial, the dishonesty and not knowing what
happened that people are finding difficult to deal with.
People rationalise in food waste but he has a credibility problem and the
party has a credibility problem another segment of the electorate
out there within nationalism, which is stifled Sinn Fein's growth. They
have plateaued in the north and in terms of growing chimp a's -- Sinn
Fein's appeal will have to wait for new leadership.
The damage to his reputation is not confined to disputes in the
Troubles. He is accused of rewriting personal history to protect his
political career. In October this year, his brother Liam was found
guilty of raping and sexually assaulting his daughter, Aine. It
was a tragic family story and a terrible crime committed by Gerry
Adams brother. From the very beginning I believed
Aine. I couldn't From the very beginning I believed
are making up a serious allegation. It was a testing time for Gerry
Adams not just because a sensitive family issue was aired in public.
Gerry Adams came here in April for his brother's first trial not to
offer his support but to testify as a witness for the prosecution.
According to Gerry Adams, his brother had confessed to one
incident of sexual abuse more than a decade before the trial. Gerry Adams
was criticised for not reporting it as soon as he found out and only
coming forward years later. On the one hand, there is human
simply because most people would say, this is a horrible thing to
happen in your family. I don't think anybody is wanting to hunt Gerry
Adams over that issue. anybody is wanting to hunt Gerry
hand, Sinn Fein is vulnerable over hypocrisy and everyone remembers
Sinn Fein coming out and demanding that Bishop after Bishop should
resign for the same reason, that they knew about child abuse and
didn't do anything about it. There is damage done in relation to that.
Republicans relationship with the police was not what you would call
cordial. Shortly after Sinn Fein fated to accept the new PSNI, that
is when he went to the police. And a cross examination by his brother's
barrister, Gerry Adams was accused of testifying to save his political
skin, an accusation he denied. His credibility was tested in the
witness box. Gerry Adams came under particular pressure over the extent
of the contact he had had with his brother after learning of the abuse.
Gerry Adams claimed that Liam was largely out of his life.
I saw him occasionally during that time, maybe a period of 15 years,
when I learned that he was a member of Sinn Fein, and I'm got him dumped
out. During the trial he was confronted
with evidence that his brother had been more than an occasional
presence in his life. Photos of them together, one of his memoirs in
which he thanked Liam Adams and a signed copy of this speech that he
presented to his brother. I didn't read the transcript. I have
read that it was attended but he was in court against his own brother and
that has to count for something. People have got to understand
that has to count for something. a very difficult thing to go into
court and Daniel own brother -- and deny your own brother.
How much has Gerry Adams reputation really suffered? Earlier this month,
days after the allegations about your McConville were broadcast, he
flew to New York for dinner at this hotel. If an annual event, helping
to rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for the party.
Gerry Adams was received very well in New York. He is the best-known
Irish politician in America because of his work on the peace process.
Niall O'Dowd has no Gerry Adams since the early 1980s.
The thing I would say about Gerry Adams is he is a man of his word. He
was determined to Adams is he is a man of his word. He
peaceful resolution to the issues in Ireland and he did those things.
Peace has been achieved in Northern Ireland and we need to build for the
future. There is not much point dragging out the past on any site.
But this is where Gerry Adams image matters most these days, in the
Republic. Irish Times cartoonist Gerry Turner has been drawing Gerry
Adams for many decades, just one of the many windows through the Irish
topic have viewed him. -- Irish public.
When I first drew him, I did it like this and I never thought about it, I
just did it. Is your own persistent denial of
being a member of the IRA... He may not give about much but Gerry Adams
strategic thinking and image have played a huge part in building the
IRA in the South. In opinion polls he has consistently
been more popular than his party. His entry into southern politics two
years ago helped lift Sinn Fein. They now have an opportunity to play
out the long game and become the Republic's third biggest party and
possibly junior partners for a coalition government. That would
make the Sinn Fein leader the second most powerful figure in the Irish
cabinet. Sinn Fein have been working for
years to get to this stage where they are administered in the
government, North and South. They will deny that and they will deny
they are even thinking of having a coalition with horrible right-wing
parties but they would go into coalition with old neck
could get into government. -- old neck. Gerry Adams has had to
tackle issues from the Republican past and in getting to grips with
the past, he has had to make public messages in an attempt to
disentangle his leadership and party from the past. Brian Stack was the
only prison officer killed in the Republic during the Troubles. Father
of three was shot and left paralysed and brain-damaged before dying from
his injuries. After 30 years of denials, Gerry Adams intervened and
was able to tell Brian Stack's family that the IRA had carried out
the killing. I can sleep now. I am not tossing and turning in bed any
more, wondering did they or didn't they? Even though I knew
more, wondering did they or didn't then. A huge sense of relief and it
wouldn't have happened if Gerry Adams hadn't agreed to meet us and
agreed to go and get some information for us. It just wouldn't
have happened otherwise. He probably feels his political career is in its
last stages and I get a sense he wants to help victims. He wants to
write a few wrongs before he moves off the stage.
There is no question Gerry Adams has been willing to tackle episodes from
the past of the IRA but critics say, he is more likely to get involved
when those episodes posed a physical problem for Sinn Fein. The challenge
for him now is that his past makes success in the South even more
difficult. There is no doubt that Gerry Adams box office in West
Belfast and in Louth. He has struggled in Leinster house when he
is making perfectly valid points about the austerity measures but it
is too easy for them to say, never mind that, tell us about the
Disappeared. Perhaps you might someday tell the
truth about the tragedy and about the remorse and about the compassion
that should have been shown to Jean McConville.
The other concern about the recent revelations that Sinn Fein will have
is it was a reminder of the conflict and the conflict is a turn-off for
the vast majority of people in the South. That diminishes with time but
it is a negative for a large number of voters and being
it is a negative for a large number is not helpful for Gerry Adams.
I think you get in the way of Sinn Fein, to be honest with you, and the
Republic. The politics are interesting but when you see Gerry
Adams, things come into your mind and it is nothing to do with Sinn
Fein. Sinn Fein has fallen slightly in
opinion polls since the Disappeared was broadcast but some say the real
damage is to their potential for growth.
Recent indicators would tend to suggest there has been some damage
to the brunt of Adams and not his own supporters but those supporters
that he would hope to gain over the coming years.
Like here in the County Kildare town which classed select did a Sinn Fein
TD in the 1920s, but the vote in this town within the Dublin commuter
belt is growing. Would you vote for Sinn Fein? Of course I would.
No problem. No problem. There is so much frustration here
the present government and all the cutbacks we've had that the anger is
going to come out in the next election and I think they are going
to be net winners because they are just sitting on their hands. There
is all the stuff in the news at the moment, bodies and his brother,
obviously, all of this will have a big impact.
Would you have more time for the party if they changed the
leadership? It might mean more credible if they
had a different face that was not so attached to the past. Sinn Fein's
future fortunes lie in the Republic, which may be why Gerry Adams has
predicted the next president of Sinn Fein will come from the South.
I think there is a geographical but also a generational move within the
party. If you look at the next generation of leadership, they are
creatures of southern politics and I think if you look at the party
development over a longer term, it's real interest is in wielding power
in the South. The North, for the foreseeable future, will remain, I
think, recognisably what it is today.
We are now getting to a stage in Sinn Fein where there has to be a
generational change and the older card will disappear. The people
involved in the IRA are of an age where they are going to retire so
there will be a huge symbolic change and closing the door on the past.
Dublin on Sunday. A state ceremony to mark the centenary of the funding
of the Irish volunteers. The precursor of the IRA and a
forerunner of the current Irish army. A ceremony attended by leading
politicians from the Republic and some from Northern Ireland. This
ceremony was a preview of the Republic's plans to mark the
centenary of the Eastern rising in 2016. The question is whether Gerry
Adams will watch that landmark commemoration as Sinn Fein leader or
as someone standing on the sidelines.
His reputation has been damaged his own handling of his personal
situation. His good ability has been damaged and in politics, if you lose
your credibility and you are seeing as someone who has not been truthful
at all times, you do lose support. He won't go right now because that
will appear to be a media campaign to get rid of him and it will look
like the media pushed him out. He can't let himself be pushed around
like that. But if he is solely concerned with endgame, he ought to
be looking for a successor right now and he ought to be preparing to
vacate the stage before the next general election.
Commentators will talk about Gerry Adams credibility and he remains
high in the opinion polls so I am happy to leave this to
high in the opinion polls so I am decide. I come from a party, when I
joined Sinn Fein, it was an illegal organisation. We are now the second
largest party in the North and we are probably the predominant
opposition in the counties. We are a growing party and I'm proud of that
and I am pleased to have worked with Gerry Adams because he has driven
that more than anybody else. Belfast on Sunday night and a
dissident republican attempt to bomb the city centre. This is one reason
why the future leadership of the wider republican movement matters.
Moving into a post Adams scenario creates a challenge for
republicanism. They would probably be an ease within Sinn Fein that a
southern leadership -- unease be an ease within Sinn Fein that a
Sinn Fein that a southern leadership could fail to maintain the same
authority across the spectrum of republican communities in the North
and there could be a sense that dissidents could manipulate or find
room to manoeuvre in if that were the case and that would be something
that Sinn Fein would be mindful of at the moment.
Gerry Adams moved a generation of Republicans away from this kind of
attack something acknowledged by his Republican critics.
You have to remember this was... We are never going to go back to war,
especially if Gerry Adams goes. It would be ridiculous to say, Gerry is
a, let's go back to war. Sinn Fein brought in from the cold. There are
systems of power here, salaries and pensions and stuff so they are not
going to go back to war. In West Belfast, the peace process offers
the next generation the prospect of a better future but for Gerry
Adams, who did so much to lead public and into the process, there
remain Ross Jones about the past which will not go away.
Gerry Adams has led Sinn Fein to political triumph. In the wake of recent controversies, Jennifer O'Leary assesses whether Adams is still a help or if he has become a hindrance to the party's pursuit of power.