Rebel: The Story of Gerry Adams

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An Irish republican politician, president of the Sinn Féin political party, and a Teachta Dála for Louth since the 2011 general election. Yes, Gerry Adams, a name that will go down in history as one of the most famous Irish politicians of all time. To some, the name provokes feelings of fear and hatred. To others, it is a synonym of the Republican struggle and of the Irish peace process. Adam's political career is world-renowned - mostly for its controversial character. But who is the man behind the politician - and what is in store for him in the years to come?

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: Gerry Adams, a name that will go down in history as one of the famous Irish politicians of all time. To some he provokes feelings of fear and hatred, to others he is synonym of the Republican struggle and the end of the Irish peace process. Gerry Adams's political career is world renowned mostly for his controversial character but who is the man behind the politician and what is in store for him in the years to come?

SOUNDBITE [English], Gerry Adams, President, Sinn Fein: “I'm totally .... I'm really, really, really happy that I didn't go to Westminster. I'm entirely satisfied that is, was the appropriate and democratic thing to do. I don't see any way in this time, how the cause of Ireland, whether you're Unionist of Nationalist or Republican, can be advanced in the British Parliament, it represents British interests not Irish interests.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Arthur Morgan, Former Sinn Fein Politician: “Gerry's pathway to contesting and indeed winning the seat is much much simpler than many people out there suspect and its simple because I wasn't going to go again, in fact I almost didn't go in 2007, I almost didn't contest the election in 2007, I was concerned and so were others that if I did not contest it, that we might have lost the seat and so on that basis I decided yes and I agreed with Gerry that I would contest the seat on that occasion in 2007 but we did shake hands on an agreement that, that was it, that I was finished, that I wouldn't then being contesting the election and so really, again, it became a matter of who then would step into the position and contest the seat (2.33) and everybody here was over the moon, absolutely delighted that Gerry was coming to take on the challenge and it would be a challenge for somebody outside to come in and attempt to win the seat and not just did he do that but he did it spectacularly by achieving more that 16,000 first preference votes, more than 2,000 votes above the quota.”

Narration: With a long career of standing up to the British authorities in Ireland, Gerry Adams is very familiar with Northern Ireland's use of the internment method prison without trial.

SOUNDBITE [English], Arthur Morgan, Former Sinn Fein Politician: I first met Gerry Adams in approximately 1977, although I had seen him at Ard dheis, at Sinn Fein Ard dheis, our Sinn Fein Party Conference on many occasions before that and I first met him in jail actually, probably no surprise there, in H blocks, Long Kesh, we were both on remand there and got to know him quite well, we were in the same wing on the block, the H2 it was and I, of course have got to know him considerable better over the years. So it was almost accepted that if you were arrested, you could be interned and it was almost accepted because there were so many people interned, Republicans and Nationalists, but I was interned first on a prison ship, The Maidstone, which was a prison ship in Belfast Lough and we were held below deck, the food was crap, the conditions, visiting were awful but it was the time in 1972 when the British were assuming direct rule, this was after Bloody Sunday and our protest was on going at that time and Willie Whitelaw, who was the first British Secretary of State, closed the Maidstone and we were shipped to Long Kesh, and it was like getting to Butlins, like getting to a holiday resort and I know many people who have served 14 years, 16years, 17years, 22years. so 4 and a half years is, I think, a very short period and I probably spent, I can't remember, but I probably spent. Certainly in that 4 and a half years, there were at least 4 Christmases or 3 Christmases.”

Narration: Gerry Adams has been involved in politics since the 1960's witnessing first hand some of the biggest events in Ireland's modern history. As a politician he has acquired a highly controversial, cantankerous reputation but it is the inward determinations and force of Gerry Adams, the man, which had enabled the politician in him to thrive, despite the considerable pressures his career has come under.

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SOUNDBITE [English], Gerry Adams, President, Sinn Fein: "For almost 30 years I represented the people of West Belfast. I am humbled and appreciative of the heroism, the generosity, and the courage of that community and I'm equally honoured to represent the citizens of Louth and West Meath and alongside our councillors here I will continue the pioneering work of my predecessor Arthur Morgan"

SOUNDBITE [English], Gerry Adams, President, Sinn Fein: “The politics I like to be part of are politics which empower people and which would see political representatives as tribunes of the people but also conduits for the people to have their rights and be able to have a meaningful say in society. I don't think Westminster does that, I don't think our systems in Ireland do it, yet, but, you know, politics all the time is in the need for renewal and re-imaging and re-generating and you know, to be truly democratic it has to be organic. As I understand Irish freedom it is first of all, the freedom of the people of this island to govern ourselves and then it’s the freedom of every citizen to have rights and entitlements. What has happened because the war has been brought to an end is that different other modes of struggle, different other more pragmatic ways to achieve those objectives because of the economic upheaval in this part of Ireland, because of the deep distress that many people now feel, like half a million people unemployed, tens of thousands of people emigrating, cuts in Health Services and special needs assistants and hospitals and all of that, and the handing over of economic sovereignty to the IMF and to the EU, it's very challenging political times and some of those who helped to create that circumstance feel quite hostile to what Sein Fein is saying cos we are arguing for very basic citizen based, rights based, Irish sovereignty based ways forward.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Gerry Adams, President, Sinn Fein: “Oh, absolutely, I think all the wisdom is that Ireland as a single island unit, whether it's a single island economy or a single island political unit, it just makes sense and increasingly people are more comfortable of that concept, even people who may want to retain the link with Britain, do see the good sense like agriculturally, even for animal safety, it makes sense to have a single island approach, for energy needs it makes sense, for health, I mean if you're on one side of an artificial border there's a better service for cardiac or for cancer treatment or for some other ailment on the other side of the border, it just makes sense to join all of that up. It also makes sense that you shouldn't be competing.”

Narration: The hunger strike of 1987 marks one of the most influential periods in the conflict between Britain and Ireland. It was another means by which the IRA fought British involvement in Irish politics. For a while, the world turned their eyes towards the conflict in Ireland. But while many people merrily watched from afar, the aftermath of the hunger strike can still be felt by those who experienced or witnessed it firsthand.

SOUNDBITE [English], Gerry Adams, President, Sinn Fein: “I know many people who have been killed, family members have been killed, friends have been killed, neighbors have been killed, but there's something about the hunger strike that just catches you, it was a very, very unique period, these guys went on hunger strike because of the conditions they were living in prison, it became a battle between British government and the small group of prisoners, it became a battle of wills between Thatcher and Bobby Sands and his comrades.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Arthur Morgan, Former Sinn Fein Politician: Obviously the hunger strike was a huge low, even though it was now regarded as a high internationally, because of where it brought the whole Republican struggle to and the whole Irish freedom struggle to, it was a very much a low, because people were, their comrades were dying and in a very slow painful way, that was, you know, marks the lowest in my life, but from that, came an awareness among Republicans of what could be achieved.”

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

SOUNDBITE [English], Gerry Adams, President, Sinn Fein: “Because there was a very very concerted attempt to criminalize a struggle, and it failed and because of the sacrifice of the prisoners and the generosity of the prisoners, it was Thatcher in the eyes of big parts of the world, and certainly Nationalist Ireland, that is was criminalized, as a result Bobby ended up with more votes than she. So that accelerated the whole process of electralism within Sein Fein. We had been working on that but the success of the prisoners increased in temperature and arguably was the first real seeds of the peace process.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Arthur Morgan, Former Sinn Fein Politician: When I consider Gerry's achievements and to try and hone them down, so far, because there's probably more to come, clearly its the development of the peace process, the execution of that peace process, to pull all those bits together, to have patience and the fortitude to be able to tolerate the nonsense that was going on , on occasions from the Dublin Government, on occasions from the London Government and other times or almost all the time, from the whole Unionist group, but I thing that's a huge, huge legacy for any person to carry.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Gerry Adams, President, Sinn Fein: “Ireland is very much an island in transition there's an ongoing transition in the North because of the peace process and the outworking involved in that and people trying to reconcile and deal with the legacy of conflict and politicians trying to make friends, or at least to build a working relationship and then in the South because of the economic upheaval and all of the great developments after a very, very greedy, corrupt elite destroyed the wealth that had been developed in the Celtic Tiger era.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Arthur Morgan, Former Sinn Fein Politician: “It was frustrating for everybody at the time I think, but particularly for Gerry because from the very beginning of his strategizing in relation to the development of a peace process, he knew that one of his greatest challenges would be to try and get a Nationalist consensus or pan-nationalist agreement, that was described at the time, which involved the SDLP and luckily enough, John Hume was at the head of that Party and a very powerful leader at the time and he agreed readily to it, and, but even John Hume was critized very sharply by political commentators and politicians here in the South, people who were part of the political establishment, but in any event John Hume worked with Gerry and Martin McGuinness to roll out the peace process and the other strand of that pan-nationalist element was that of course, the Dublin Government and it was very difficult to get them on board because, as I said, they had a very narrow view of what was required, but nevertheless, Gerry persisted.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Gerry Adams, President, Sinn Fein: “There are certainties in life here, which have now been removed and to a large extent I think that a good thing, I know, I think that the cost of removing them has been too high, you know, but I still think it’s a good thing that people are potentially more liberated and more free thinking.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Arthur Morgan, Former Sinn Fein Politician: “I have no doubt that some of the frustration that Gerry experienced during that challenging time is probably still there when we see the mishandling of the economic crisis that's prevailing in the country here at the moment because the Government are so hand fisted that its probably going to take considerable, a considerable greater number of years to build our way out of this crisis, this economic crisis, than is necessary.”

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [English], Gerry Adams, President, Sinn Fein: “So the question is this, the motion, can it be taken tonight in Government time .... Fainna Fail has indicated their desire to support it, can the Government support it and can it be taken in Government time so that we..”

SOUNDBITE [English], Gerry Adams, President, Sinn Fein: “They're doing it this time, exactly what the last Government did and in total contradiction of what they promised to do during the election, so during the election they promised not to put one red cent in to bad banks, they're putting three billion Euros every year for the next ten years into bad, toxic banks, They promised not to cut social welfare, they're clearly going to do that, before Christmas I will, depend on who you talk to, take upwards to four and perhaps as many as 6 billion Euros out of the budget and most of that will come from health and frastructure and other necessary public services, so, when the likes of me or some of my colleagues jump up and challenges this, then you get a lot of heckling and messing.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Gerry Adams, President, Sinn Fein: “It’s economically counter-productive, cos there is a social consequence if you have to cut education, health, you know, social welfare, that, that will bring about an increasingly polarised society, it will deepen the recession. You don't cut your way out of recession, you, you know, you have to grow the economy and that essentially means that you have to get people back to work. Sein Fein always had a view that the economy should serve the people so you, you have to use your surplus to build a society, which is holistic and which can be inclusive and which is based upon the rights of citizens, so if you're a citizen, you have certain entitlements, you have an entitlement to access, to education, to a home, to being treated equally, whether you.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Denis Donaldson: “My name is Denis Donaldson. I worked as a Sein Fein Assemblt Group Administrator in Parliament Buildings.”

Narration: Since it was founded in 1905, the Sein Fein party has been known for its strong Republican character with the objective to end British rule in Ireland, the revelation of a British spy in their midst was bound to make breaking news across the world, but rather news of Denis Donaldson's life as a double agent may have surprised the world, the Sein Fein leader states. Denis was not the central figure in Sein Fein that he sometimes is portrayed as, and you know, to my certain knowledge, the investigation into his killing, has yet to be pursued with the type of vigour that is required and there is lots of questions around his killing which have yet to be answered. Believe it or not, you, you become used to working in an atmosphere where you know there are agents and you know that there are spies, and you have to be, you, you know, careful who you can trust because you could be killed, your friends could be killed, you could be in all sorts of difficulties, or you could be in prison for long periods. What we had decided to do was to do a press conference that he would attend and make a statement of his involvement with the British and my conversation with him was very limited to that, I remember passing him on the corridor and he said hello Gerry and I said hello Denis and I felt very sad for him because I know, that was him finished, you know, with Republicanism, with his Republican family, with you know, he was a very popular figure around the place, very affable sort of a guy, and in terms with his involvement with the British, obviously, he has to take responsibility for his own actions and arguably he did that by admitting to what happened, but the fact that he was killed in the end, of course, he was a fatality of the conflict.

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

SOUNDBITE [English], Gerry Adams, President, Sinn Fein: “I heard about this just after six o'clock. I want to condone without reservations, this very brutal killing. I want to extend condolences to the Donaldson family. I want to dissociate Sein Fein and all of those scores of thousands, of hundreds of thousands of Irish Republicans who support the peace process for this killing. I think the peace process is ample evidence that you can do the impossible or what seemed to be impossible, you know, even the imagery of my friend Martin McGuinness being in Government with Ian Paisley, you know, people would never have believed that and for them to become friends in the course of that, and similarly with Peter, Peter Robinson, and to have cease fires and the IRA removed from the scene and the other and British army of the scene and you know, all that has been developed, even though it has, is an ongoing process, shows that people in this island are quite capable and intelligent and resilient and willing to, to do big things. For a long time Republicanism was depicted as being the IRA and while, you know, I have supported the IRA and would see it as a legitimate response to what was happening, and wouldn't stand over all of its actions, and indeed am very critical of it, if you are at war you have to dehumanise your opponent, your enemy, in order to be at war, so the Republican become terrorists, they become gangsters, they become criminals, all of this sort of shorthand of nonsense that used to demonize people. But now if you are going to talk to someone and listen to them, then you have to start, you know, you just, even civic nicety and say hello to someone, then all of that changes and then people start to see things from a different perspective and I think that's what's happened with I'm going to get to where ever I want to go and I have to take you then with me, then I have to figure out how to do that and, and why they wouldn't do it and all of that I think is, is at the core of that's been happening in Ireland for certainly for the last twenty, twenty five years and if I have any regrets, is that there was a conflict and that it went on for as long as it did. I'm glad that I survived it, I'm glad that many people will never ever have to live in those conditions again, I'm particularly delighted, some people say to me, young people take all this for granted, and I think it’s great that they do so.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Gerry Adams, President, Sinn Fein: “I don't really have any great personal ambitions to tell you the truth, I would like to be an opera singer, I haven't had the opportunity to. I would like to write more. I would like to cook more. I'd like to garden more, I have volumes of books and all sorts of things from building stone walls to growing organic vegetables. I love planting trees; I would love to plant four or five firs in this time. I have and I, I absolutely love music, I couldn't imagine life without music and, so there's lots to be done, but there's also lots of politics to be made and struggles to be pursued and, I consider myself lucky, I remember Martin McGuinness one time saying in an interview, he never thought he live beyond twenty five and I never thought I'd live beyond twenty five, so it's good to be sixty three. It's brilliant to be able to run, walk, talk and enjoy yourself.”


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