Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Gerry Adams sold defeat as victory in a career based on illusion... he’s no nearer to achieving a united Ireland than he was at the start of his journey

Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams
Carrying the coffin of McGuinness last year
With colleague Martin Ferris at Sinn Fein Ard Fheis last November
With Brendan Hughes in Long Kesh
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

In the hard, brutal world of Irish republicanism, careers are often short-lived. Of the six senior IRA figures who met Secretary of State Willie Whitelaw for secret talks in London in 1972, four are dead.

While Martin McGuinness is a household name to this generation of young nationalists, the others are not.

In the years after the Cheyne Walk negotiations, Daithi O Conaill, Sean MacStiofain and Seamus Twomey lost their leadership positions and are today largely forgotten.

Gerry Adams and Ivor Bell are the only two republicans involved in that clandestine meeting who are still alive.

And what different experiences the intervening years have brought for them.

Bell clashed with Adams and was expelled from the IRA.

The 81-year-old, who is in ill-health, is currently facing charges in relation to the murder of Jean McConville, which he denies.

During his four-year legal battle, Bell's lawyers have argued that he is suffering from vascular dementia and is unfit to stand trial.

Life has been far kinder to Gerry Adams.

He is the great survivor.

Gerry Adams pictured in front of election posters for Westminster elections. Pacemaker Press Intl. 27/5/83.
497/83/BW
Gerry Adams pictured in front of election posters for Westminster elections. Pacemaker Press Intl. 27/5/83. 497/83/BW
Saddle up - a young gunslinger Gerry Adams
PACEMAKER BFST 11-06-2001:Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams can put his feet up and relax after a gruelling few weeks on the campaign trail after a sucessful Westminster Election and local council election. He is pictured at the local election count at Belfast City Hall.
PACEMAKER BFST 26-03-98; Gerry Adams pictured with his wife Collette at Belfast's City Hall.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 23/03/2017 The Funeral of former Sinn Fein leader and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in the Bogside in Derry this afternoon. Mr McGuinness died earlier this week after a short illness. Pictured is Gerry Adams. Photo Mark Marlow/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/04/98 Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness talk to press and media men outside Castle Buildings this morning. PICTURE BY WILLIAM CHERRY/PACEMAKER PRESS
PACEMAKER BELFAST 23/03/2017 Gerry Adams during The Funeral of former Sinn Fein leader and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in the Bogside in Derry this afternoon. Mr McGuinness dies earlier this week after a short illness. At his funeral today Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast-Archive Gerry Adams and Martin Mcguinness Internment Rally in Falls Road 12-8-89
PACEMAKER BELFAST On the first day of the ulster Peace Talks martin took this picture of Gerry Adams and martin McGuinness locked out of the stormont talks. PHOTO MARTIN WRIGHT
Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein president on the platform. Pacemaker Press Intl. 1&2/11/86
PACEMAKER BELFAST GERRY ADAMS CARRIES THE COFFIN OF IRA SHANKILL BOMBER THOMAS BEGLEY AT HIS FUNERAL 27/10/1993
PACEMAKER BELFAST 22/1/99 US congressman Peter King pictured with Gerry Adams outside Sinn Fein HQ on the Falls Road.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 9/12/99 Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams pictured with the Ford Mondeo and Bugging device which he claims were planted by British Intellegance officers as he and Martin McGuniiess were having meeting with the IRA during the Mitchell review.
PACEMAKER BFST 01-07-98;Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams signs in Martin McGuinness and Alex Maskey into the first day of the New Northern Ireland Assembly , Wednesday July 1, 1998, inside Castle Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, Northern Ireland ,on the first day of the new Northern Ireland Assembly.
PACEMAKER BFST 16-06-2000: Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams at the funeral of close friend and leading republican Terrance 'Cleeky" Clarke who died of cancer. Adams is pictured comforting Clarke's daughter Marie behind the cortege.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 15/2/2000: President Mary McAleese and her husband, Martin share a joke with Gerry Adams, the M.P. for West Belfast, when she visited the Glor na Ghale Irish language centre on the Fall's Road, Belfast today. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/09/2015: Theresa Villiers has told MPs that despite a request from the DUP, the government does not think the time is right to suspend Northern Ireland's devolved institutions. Ms Villiers will be joined by Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan at Stormont House for talks with the Northern Ireland political party. President of Sinn Féin Gerry Adams arriving for the talks. Picture By: Arthur Allison.
4/5/2014 PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. Gerry Adams speaking to the media on being released this evening from Antrim police station after being questioned in relation to the murder of Jean McConville. Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker
PACEMAKER BELFAST archive 2/12/1993 1148/93 Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams & Martin McGuinness at press conference at Conway Mill where they spoke of secret negotiations with the British Government on a peace process.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 13/09/2015 Chairperson of Sinn Féins Six County Cúige, Bobby Storey, speaks to the media today, Sunday 13th September, at 11am in the Roddy McCorley Social Club, Glen Road, Andersonstown, Belfast, County Antrim BT11 8BU, Belfast. He was be joined by Gerry Adams TD, Martin McGuinness MLA. Mary Lou McDonald TD, and Jennifer McCann MLA.Pictured is Gerry Adams. Photo Mark Marlow/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 04/05/2014 Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams speaks at a press conference at the Balmoral Hotel in West Belfast this evening. Adams was released this evening after 4 days of questioning by the PSNI in relation to the murder of Jean McConville in 1972. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Press 23/1/2017 Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams as Michelle O'Neill is announced as Sinn Fein's e new leader in the north. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
PACEMAKER BELFAST 15/09/2014 Gerry Adams signing Ian Paisley Book of condolences Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams TD signing the book of condolences for the late Dr Ian Paisley in Belfast City Hall. Photo Aidan O'Reilly/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Bfst Ltd archive Gerry Adams File pic of him at an IRA Funeral in Derry .
PACEMAKER BELFAST AUGUST 1988 PF GERRY ADAMS WITH ARTIST IN WEST BELFAST JUDGING WALL MURALS, ADAMS PICTURED WITH STICKER SAYING I LOVE WEST BELFAST. ALSO SURROUNDED WITH KIDS. 674/88/BW
10/2/2010 PACEMAKER PRESS INTL BELFAST. SINN FEIN PRESIDENT GERRY ADAMS PICTURED AT THE SINN FEIN OFFICES, STORMONT. PICTURE CHARLES MCQUILLAN/PACEMAKER.
29/1/2010. PACEMAKER BELFAST. GERRY ADAMS TALKS TO THE MEDIAOUTSIDE HILLSBOROUGH CASTLE AS TALKS CONTINUED BETWEEN THE DUP AND SINN FEIN WITH STILL NO AGREEMENT IN SIGHT. PICTURE CHARLES MCQUILLAN/PACEMAKER.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 11/5/09 Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams takes a plunge at the partys photocall in the Water Works in North Belfast. As the partys European Election candidate Barbrie de Bruin (centre) posed for the cameras with party colleagues, Mr Adams was saved by his deputy Martin McGuinness, doing his David Hasselhoff impersonation. Photo Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
12 SEPTEMBER 1992: GERRY ADAMS FAMILY
10/2/2010 PACEMAKER PRESS INTL BELFAST. SINN FEIN PRESIDENT GERRY ADAMS PICTURED AT THE SINN FEIN OFFICES, STORMONT. PICTURE CHARLES MCQUILLAN/PACEMAKER.
Funeral of IRA man Henry Hogan at Dunloy, Co. Antrim. Pictures of Cortege etc. Police argued with the mourners and minor scuffles broke out. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and Owen Carron took control and organised the mourners. Sinn Fein man Martin McGuiness telling police inspector to get his men out of the cemetary. Also picture of Sinn Fein man Pearce McMahon (behind Gerry Adams, the man with glasses on Gerry's left) with microphones talking to the mourners. Pacemaker Press Intl. 24/2/84 153/84/BW
10/2/2010 PACEMAKER PRESS INTL BELFAST. SINN FEIN PRESIDENT GERRY ADAMS PICTURED AT THE SINN FEIN OFFICES, STORMONT. PICTURE CHARLES MCQUILLAN/PACEMAKER.
PACEMAKER BELFAST ARCHIVE 15th May 1981 Funeral of IRA hunger striker Frances Hughes in his home town of Bellaghy..\ Gerry Adams carrys the coffin flanked by masked IRA men
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2011 Liam Adams pictured in the back of a PSNI prison van as he arrives at Belfast Laganside court this morning. Mr Adams, brother of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams is arrested on 18 warrants, including charges of rape, gross indecency and indecent assault. Photo:Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 04/05/2014 Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams speaks at a press conference at the Balmoral Hotel in West Belfast this evening. Adams was released this evening after 4 days of questioning by the PSNI in relation to the murder of Jean McConville in 1972. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Commemoration of Bloody Sunday march in Derry. Gerry Adams and Martin Maguiness are pictured. Pacemaker Press Intl. 30/1/83.
18 FEBRUARY 1992: FUNERALS OF KEVIN BARRY ODONNELL AND SEAN FARRELL TWO OF THE FOUR IRA MEN KILLED BY THE ARMY IN COALISLAND AFTER AN ATTACK ON THE LOCAL POLICE STATION.
PACEMAKER BELFAST ARCHIVE 1984 Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams pictured canvassing with Martin McGuinness, Alex Maskey and Danny Morrison shortly after he was shot and injured in a UDA gun attack in Belfast city centre.. 14/12/2006
Pacemaker press 20/2/08 Gerry Adams carries coffin of Former IRA hunger striker. Pic Colm Lenaghan / Pacemaker
PACEMAKER BELFAST 26/3/2007 Democratic Unionist Party leader The Reverend Ian Paisley (left) and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams speak to the media during a press conference at the Stormont Assembly building in Belfast after power-sharing restored.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 11 AUGUST 1991. Gerry Adams at 20th anniversary of internment.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 9/12/2005 Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness pictured at Stormont with Denis Donaldson who was shot dead in County Donegal, months after being exposed as an agent who worked for the police and MI5 for 20 years.
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. Gerry Adams in Belfast Offices of Sinn Fein. 14/12/82. 1230/82/bw
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 12/7/2005: Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams gets pushed by riot police as protesters trying to stop Orange parade on the Crumlin road. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER BELFAST. Gerry Adams at Connally House addressing the media about the IRA ceasefire. 31/8/94. 684/94/c
PACEMAKER BELFAST A Sinn Fein delegation arrive at Stormont for talks with the then Secretary of State Mo Mowlam (date 6/8/97) Among the delegation are Martin Ferris (left) the now North Kerry TD, Martin McGuinness (2nd left) and Gerry Adams (right) the Sinn Fein leader. PHOTO STEPHEN DAVISON/PACEMAKER
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST. Gerry Adams at Sinn Fein Press Conference. 452/89/bwc
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. Gerry Adams shooting in Belfast City Centre. Scene at Wellington Place where the three gunmen were captured one of which was injured. 14/3/84. 213/84/bw
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. Gerry Adams shooting in Belfast City Centre. Scene at Wellington Place where the three gunmen were captured one of which was injured. 14/3/84. 213/84/bw
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. Gerry Adams shooting in Belfast City Centre. Scene at Wellington Place where the three gunmen were captured one of which was injured. 14/3/84. 213/84/bw
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. Gerry Adams pictured in a confrontation with the police and the army on the Falls Rd after an arrest by the police. 13/2/84. 111/84/bw
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. Security forces guard the ward in which Gerry Adams was in at the RVH after being shot three times. 15/3/84. 214/84/bw
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. Security forces guard the ward in which Gerry Adams was in at the RVH after being shot three times. 15/3/84. 214/84/bw
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. Gerry Adams Sinn Fein. 25/5/84. 452/84/bw
PACEMAKER BELFAST ARCHIVE Alfredo "Freddie" Scappaticci (extreme left of picture/side faced) pictured at the 1988 funeral of IRA man Brendan Davison. Gerry Adams is pictured carrying the coffin. Scappaticci was later named as 'Stakeknife' the Army's top informer/mole inside the IRA. PICTURE COPYRIGHT: PACEMAKER PRESS
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. Danny Morrison pictured with Gerry Adams arm in sling in West Belfast canvassing for the EEC Elections. 13/6/84. 497/84/bw
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. Gerry Adams shooting in Belfast City Centre. Scene at Wellington Place where the three gunmen were captured one of which was injured. 14/3/84. 213/84/bw
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. Gerry Adams shooting in Belfast City Centre. Scene at Wellington Place where the three gunmen were captured one of which was injured. 14/3/84. 213/84/bw
Gerry Adams inside the Maze with Brendan Hughes. Pacemaker Press Intl. 1/7/83. 589/83/BW
Gerry Adams canvassing in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast. Pacemaker Press Intl. 29/5/83. 482/83/BW
Gerry Adams after winning West Belfast seat at Westminster. Pictured at Belfast City Hall. Pacemaker Press Intl. 10/6/83. 532/83/BW
Gerry Adams winning West Belfast seat,at count, Belfast City Hall. Pacemaker Press Intl. 10/6/83. 531/83/BW
Gerry Adams (Sinn Fein vice President) after winning West Belfast seat at Westminster. Pictured on Falls Road after result. Pictured waving from window in Sinn Fein Belfast office. Pacemaker Press Intl. 10/6/83. 532/83/BW
Gerry Adams at Press conference in Lake Glen Hotel. Pacemaker Press Intl. 26/4/79. 99/79/BW
Gerry Adams cleared of all IRA membership charges in 1978. Pacemaker Press Intl. 6/9/78. 347/78/BW
H-Block demonstration on Falls Road. From Dunville Arms to Busy Bee. The crowd is being addressed by Sinn Fein spokesman Gerry Adams. Pacemaker Press Intl. 30th Nov. 1980. 1032/80/BW
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. Sinn Fein Conference at Lake Glenn following end of Hunger Strike. It was announced that it was hoped that all blanket and dirty protests would also end as the Government brought in new regulations. (L-R) Danny Morrison, Gerry Adams, Kieran Nugent, Joe Maguire. 19/12/80. 1088/80/bw
PACEMAKER BELFAST 13/12/200 Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness take part on the Mexican Wave in the Odyssey arena this afternoon before Bill Clinton's speach. PHOTO STEVE WILSON/PACEMAKER
PACEMAKER BELFAST Sinn Fein leader gerry Adams (left) as a 15 yearold bar man in the York Bar in Belfast
PACEMAKER BELFAST Bobby Sands (right) pictured in Long Kesh with Gerry Adams (front) and Brendan Hughes (left).
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. Sinn Fein Election Posters for Gerry Adams who ran for West Belfast seat for N.I Assembly. He Won. 2/11/82. 1102/82/bw
PACEMAKER BELFAST 13/12/2000 US President Bill Clinton is introduect to Sinn Fein MLA members by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams during his visit to Stormont this morning.
PACEMAKER BELFAST SINN FEIN PRESIDENT GERRY ADAMS AS A MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL H/BLOCKS COMMITTEE
PACEMAKER BELFAST SINN FEIN PRESIDENT GERRY ADAMS (RIGHT OF PICTURE) AT BOBBY SANDS FUNERAL MAY 1981
Gerry Adams (Sinn Fein vice President) after winning West Belfast seat at Westminster. Pictured on Falls Road after result. Pictured on shoulders of supporters. Pacemaker Press Intl. 10/6/83. 532/83/BW
Sinn Fein Press Conference announcing Manifest. Included in picture are Gerry Adams, Danny Morrison and Owen Carron. Pacemaker Press Intl. May 1983. 537/83/BW
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. Gerry Addams Sinn Fein pictured at the City Hall after his election win in West Belfast. 25/10/82. 1073/82/bw
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 14/9/98: DUP leader Rev Ian Paisley was face to face with Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams during the first meeting of the new Assembly at Stormont today. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein. Pacemaker Press Intl. 1st Oct. 1981 1010/82/BW
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. Sinn Fein Election Posters for Gerry Adams who ran for West Belfast seat for N.I Assembly. He Won. 2/11/82. 1102/82/bw
PACEMAKER BELFAST, 22/10/2001: Gerry Adams chats with veteran IRA man Joe Cahill after telling the Sinn Fein party faithful in Conway Mill, Belfast today that he has recommended to the IRA that they start to decommission their arms to save the peace process. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER BELFAST Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams pictured outside the party's HQ on the Falls Road in January 1984
PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/04/98: Ulster Unionist Party leader, David Trimble and Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams pass within touching distance outside Castle Buildings, Stormont during a break in the negotiations before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
PACEMAKER BELFAST, 22/10/2001: Gerry Adams tells the Sinn Fein party faithful in Conway Mill, Belfast today that he has recommended to the IRA that they start to decommission their arms to save the peace process. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER BELFAST 12/01/98 Gerry Adams, John Hume and Albert Reynolds historic meeting at Government Building in Dublin 06/09/94

Although arrested and questioned by detectives about the McConville murder, he has never been charged.

Tomorrow, he will bow out as Sinn Fein president against a backdrop of adulation from several thousand party activists in Dublin's RDS.

"I am not caught up in the notions of leadership. I do it through a sense of duty," he has said.

But you don't hang around as head honcho of the Provisional movement for 35 years if you don't enjoy the power.

Adams' iron grip never manifested itself by dominating proceedings through table thumping and hectoring.

Rather, he secured absolute control by isolating opponents and moving the right people into place. That took him decades.

His political ambitions go right the way back to the 1981 hunger strike at least, when he saw what was possible in electoral politics with Bobby Sands' victory in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Unionists see Adams as a destructive force in Northern Ireland politics, but they are wrong. While on the IRA Army Council, he sanctioned some of the worst atrocities of the conflict, yet without him the current peace would not be in place.

It wasn't that John Hume somehow convinced him of the merits of constitutionalism or half-dragged him along.

Former senior IRA colleagues reveal that Adams had long been set on that destination.

"It was obvious where he wanted to go and what he was up to. It was written all over him. Now McGuinness, he was the surprise," one says.

Together the Adams and McGuinness partnership delivered what many people thought was impossible. They brought the IRA to do what it said it never would - ending its campaign without a British withdrawal.

And they kept the movement largely united and intact.

That is Gerry Adams' greatest achievement.

The only threat to his power within republicanism came in 1997 when IRA hardliners led by quartermaster general Mickey McKevitt, who had already lost the internal battle against the Adams' faction, left the Provisionals to form the Real IRA.

With a high-profile series of bombings, the organisation looked set to attract Provisional recruits and disrupt Adams' plans.

But the security services were soon well on top of it. McKevitt was charged with directing terrorism on the evidence of FBI informant Dave Rupert. He was jailed for 15 years.

Today, physical force republicanism is barely existent, with none of the several groups continuing capable of waging a sustained campaign or securing any significant level of support in their own community.

By contrast, Gerry Adams leaves the stage with Sinn Fein as the biggest nationalist party in Northern Ireland on 29% of the vote in June's Westminster election and with 23 Dail seats.

But while Adams has built a powerful electoral machine, he is no nearer achieving what he professes is the foundation stone of his politics than he was at the start of his career.

A united Ireland by 2016 has now become a border poll by 2022. All he can do is to keep postponing the day of the promised land to his followers.

Sinn Fein may well go into office as a junior coalition partner with Fine Gael but it is as unlikely to deliver substantial social change and progress towards Irish unity in Leinster House as it was in a decade of government with the DUP in Stormont.

Adams' genius has been in selling defeat as victory. The politics of illusion has served him well.

He inspires immense loyalty among his lieutenants - many of whom would lay down their life for him in a heartbeat - and among Sinn Fein grassroots. The bonds of affection for Mary Lou McDonald will never even begin to go that deep.

Yet Adams is universally disliked by those outside the nationalist community. It's nothing to do with his politics. Not a single unionist politician would have a bad word to say about Martin McGuinness personally from their dealings with him, even though they initially loathed him.

In Stormont, he won over everybody he met, from canteen to security staff, with his easy charm and down-to-earth approach. The same is not the case for Adams who is seen as arrogant and insincere.

Ironically, that is a view shared by ex-IRA comrades like Brendan Hughes, who parted company with the Sinn Fein president along the way. Like Ivor Bell's, the former Belfast Brigade commander's life worked out very differently to Gerry Adams'.

He spent his last days in a tiny, threadbare flat in Divis. He was haunted by the faces of the dead whom he believed had lost their lives for nothing. The Good Friday Agreement stood for "Got F*** All" he said.

'The Dark', as he was known, survived on disability allowance. The month before he died, he was left without heating until another ex-prisoner lent him an electric fire.

He carried the physical and mental scars from life at the coal-face of the IRA's campaign and 13 years in jail and 53 days on hunger-strike.

Prison had left him with arthritis. He was prone to chest infections and he had started to go blind.

A photo on his living-room wall showed two tanned, smiling young men in Long Kesh with their arms wrapped around each other - Adams and Hughes.

In 2006, two years before he died, Hughes told me: "Gerry wasn't trusted by (IRA) grassroots and I was. He used me to 'up' his own status. I had 100% faith in him. I defended him so many times when I shouldn't have.

"I never saw his agenda. He was far too shrewd, which is why he is where he is today. He was charismatic like Mick Collins but at least Mick Collins didn't just give orders, he fired shots himself. Gerry never did, not even at training camps in the South."

Hughes said he eventually saw "the man behind the mask" when it was too late.

"I thought the struggle was about improving life for the community, not about certain people climbing up the ladder," he said.

"It was never about glory for me. There is no glory in war, there is no glory in killing people. But for Gerry it was about using people to get glory and power. I never met anybody more false."

Gerry Adams has been on a remarkable political journey. Many people died on his watch, yet many lives have undoubtedly been saved by his success in bringing the IRA to call a ceasefire.

He has come a long way from the gangly 23-year-old militant released from prison for those London truce talks. Even he couldn't have believed back then just what was possible for him.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph