Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Adams' legacy is the many questions left unanswered

Editor's Viewpoint

He hasn't gone away, but he has promised to do so next year. Gerry Adams, the most controversial political figure in Ireland in the last 40 years, is to step down as President of Sinn Fein and will not seek re-election as a TD.

It is difficult to believe that a man who has shaped modern republicanism to his own image will, in a relatively few months time, no longer be setting out the path for the party to follow.

He is the man most publicly recognised as the face of republicanism. His claim never to have been in the IRA does not chime with the perceptions of many, or the recollections of some former members. Why for example, they all ask, was the young Gerry Adams released from internment in the early 1970s to take part in ceasefire negotiations with the British Government representatives along with senior IRA members?

For make no mistake, he was a hugely influential figure in the republican movement. Not only was he able to wrest control away from the older Dublin leadership but he also brought the hard men of the IRA wedded to violence to a position where they were prepared to forsake the Armalite for the ballot box.

And he was able to seize the political momentum created by the hunger strikes in the early 1980s to ultimately make Sinn Fein the overwhelming nationalist voice in Northern Ireland and a significant player in the more difficult political climate in the Republic.

However, there is a coldness in him as a person which means that he has no shortage of detractors, or even those who downright loathe him.

But then no one occupies his pivotal position in republicanism for more than three decades by being some kind of sentimentalist. Gerry Adams is an unapologetic republican, and many people feel he does not really appreciate the chasm of hurt and hatred that the IRA campaign of violence created.

Relatives of those bereaved by the IRA, speaking to this newspaper, show how deep their antipathy is to him.

It can be argued that Sinn Fein would not be the political force it is on both sides of the border were it not for Gerry Adams. But there is an equally valid contention that his very presence at the head of the party is limiting its growth in the Republic - he is the hate figure with the baggage of history which his political opponents can rail successfully against.

As he prepares to step down, what are his private thoughts on the republican campaign of violence and Sinn Fein's emergence as a political force across this island?

His hopes that the party would be in government in both jurisdictions in 2016 - the centenary of the Easter Rising - never materialised. Will a party not led by him be more acceptable to voters - and the other political parties - in the Republic in the next general election?

What of the party in Northern Ireland? Will it be overshadowed by the likely future Dublin leadership, especially if devolution continues to wither on the vine? Are we becoming as weary of politics as we were of conflict?

And most of all, will Gerry Adams reflect that the principle of consent which is enshrined in legislation - stating that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK until a majority of its citizens say otherwise - now makes a united Ireland a more distant prospect than ever it was, in no small measure because of the republican mayhem which he never disavowed.

Belfast Telegraph

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