The End of the Adams Era

Today The Pensive Quill carries an article by guest writer Tommy McKearney

The End of the Adams Era by Tommy McKearney

However reluctant he may be to go, Gerry Adams’s leadership of Sinn Fein is surely coming to an end. Having survived perilous times for over four decades, the Sinn Fein president is being brought down unexpectedly by a domestic issue not strictly of his own making. The Adams presidency will end under a cloud of disquiet generated by a failure to deal adequately with allegations made by his niece against her father.

During the years he led Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams accomplished much and his achievements remain significant. Under his influence, republicans began to emerge from a sullen sense of inferiority that too willingly accepted suppression and ill treatment as their natural lot. Crucially, he understood the imperative of gaining political influence and that this did not always grow from the barrel of a gun. Even before the public emergence of an electoral policy during the 1980s’s hunger strikes, Adams strongly advocated the need for his movement to extend its scope. He insisted that republicanism proactively assert itself as a bone fide component of Irish society and that its adherents and agenda be accepted as such.

His personality and presence was the decisive element in creating modern Sinn Fein. Under his dominating influence, an often sceptical and sometimes fractious movement was forged into a formidable and disciplined political machine. That he was able to do so without precipitating a major split or fratricidal bloodletting was little short of miraculous. And it was his towering personality that allowed for the development of a highly regimented organisation that could contemplate making a series of difficult decisions over a protracted period of time.

There is little doubt that Gerry Adams was instrumental in bringing about an end to the Provisional IRA campaign. Nor is there any reason to question that his was the decisive voice guiding Sinn Fein through a process that eventually had his colleague Martin McGuinness elected Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. An astonishing journey that saw his party move from applauding the attempted assassination of a British Prime Minister in 1984 to sipping tea thirteen years later in Number 10 Downing Street.

Although criticised by traditionalists for compromising on what was seen as bedrock principles, Adams’s role in bringing and end to the IRA’s armed campaign was welcomed by a majority of northern republicans. After a quarter century of pitiless struggle, there was a feeling in those communities that the war had run its course and its end was timely. Also appreciated by activists and supporters alike was the view that the IRA campaign had not ended as on previous occasions, in dejection and defeat. The Peace Process did not remove partition or the union but the hard-pressed republican grassroots believed Sinn Fein’s president had delivered a tolerable démarche.

Gerry Adams has taken his party to a position of real significance over the past twenty-five years. Few would seriously deny any longer that Adams and his party have played a large part in undermining the old Orange state. Sinn Fein is now the major voice within the North’s nationalist population. The party’s view has to be taken into account on all matters in the 6-Counties and in many instances the party exercises real influence over the direction of local affairs.

Such remarkable achievements came, though, at a price to the party. In order to maintain a unanimous position on all major issues, iron discipline was imposed throughout the movement. Although required to prevent rupture around divisive issues, this has led to intellectual and political rigidity, giving way in time to obedience and eventually acquiescence. Under Gerry Adams Sinn Fein has developed as a hierarchical party, a trend reinforced by his constant referral to ‘leadership’ and ‘leadership led initiatives’. The ability to impose his will on his party has been a double-edged weapon. Although facilitating difficult political manoeuvring, a dominant leadership culture has undermined many old ideological certainties substituting political managerialism in their place. This has brought about a situation that actively discourages political debate within the party and prevents the cultivation of alternative positions and personalities.

As with so many other powerful politicians, Gerry Adams has remained in office too long. As a consequence he has failed to provide for a successor or even for a process that would allow one to emerge naturally. He has moreover, due to his very tight hands-on style of managerial leadership, left the party ill equipped ideologically. It is almost impossible to tell what the party holds as non-negotiable any longer. Such pragmatic flexibility can be advantageous but only for so long as the leader knows where he is going and how to get there. It is, though, a risky strategy when the pilot falters or if he is forced to depart.

The end of the Adams era will not of course mean the demise of Sinn Fein although the nature of his going will cost the party much of the authority it has enjoyed through his presence. Who or what will emerge to fill the vacuum and from where or indeed from which constituency is an intriguing question.

Tommy McKearney, 7 January 2010


  1. With due respect to Tommy Gerry Adams has turned PRM into the SDLP at the cost of many lives.

    Take a look at the Sunningdale agreement and you'll see no difference to the GFA...

    Part 5: If in the future the majority of the people of Northern Ireland should indicate a wish to become part of a united Ireland, the British Government would support that wish.

    Part 7&8: The Conference agreed that a Council of Ireland would be set up...

    Part 14: Accordingly, the British Government stated that, as soon as the security problems were resolved and the new institutions were seen to be working effectively, they would wish to discuss the devolution of responsibility for normal policing and how this might be achieved with the Northern Ireland Executive and the Police.

    Oh and Brian Faulkner was Chief Executive while SDLP leader Gerry Fitt was Deputy Chief Executive.

    The Brits sold Adams the Sunningdale Agreement with a new coat of paint and he bought and sold it to his party as a victory.

  2. There is no doubt that Tommy McKearney is the most astute critic of both the achievements and the failures of Gerry Adams. What is most refreshing about Tommy McKearney's evaluation is that there is no hint of personal bitterness. No attempt to find chap shots or engage in personal abuse. Just a calm and honest assessment of the Adams era.

    It goes without saying that Gerry Adams has made a remarkable contribution to the development of modern Republicanism. It is also axiomatic that he should have retired long ago. The fact is he never developed even the slightest insight into the politics of the working class or the labour movement in the 26 counties. True, he was ill advised by the so called 'left' in the party, composed of a few left romatics and a handful of trade union bureaucrats who turned star struck in his presence, and in the end became little more than toadies and sycophants.

    The pressure for Adams too go won't come from within a Sinn Fein party which has lost the ability to develop to an open internal debate. As a result of a leadership strategy diligently pursed in the last two General Election's in the 26 counties the party is in total meltdown in the Dublin, strategy of coalition with Fianna Fail having come home to roost.

    Again the 'left' in Sinn Fein bear responsiblity for providing cover for to the leadership. Instead of protesting the drift to the right in search of coalition with Fianna Fail they attacked the Labour Party for considering coalition with Fine Gael. People are not blind. nor are they deaf. The can see and hear people who try to talk out of both sides of their mouth at the same time. Such hypocrisy does not go unnoticed.

    The Sinn Fein fiefdom amongst the nationalist community in the 6 counties may continue for some time, as the party becomes more and more a pale imitation of the old SDLP. But as the 26 counties are concernedall the prevailing evidence would suggest that the party's over.

  3. Some astute observations. I think Adams will indeed bow out quietly by the end of the year...but his achievement will be more complete than it appears today. There are signs that Adams' legacy will include delivery of P&J, as the DUP leadership has been forced onto the back foot by events and Governments alike. (There's a certain logic for the DUP in allowing a wounded, exiting leader like Robinson to deliver an unpalatable agenda).

    We are entering a period that will demand radical transformation at the head of all the major political parties here....not least, a regular transition in leadership based on electoral performance.

    I have long held the suspicion that those who delivered the GFA and St Andrews Agreement would not necessarily be the individuals to deliver on their promise....

    New mindsets are demanded, not least a greater openness to uncertainty....

  4. tommy should have added one more sentence to his piece: 'And when Gerry goes and Sinn Fein are casting around for another leader well, you know, I have never been one for political ambition and office but if enough people think I have something to offer then, reluctantly of course, I may allow my name to go forward.'

  5. A nice tribute to Gerry by Tommy but I fail to understand what Gerry Adams brought to this island other than mayhem and misery, he along with others refused to listen and threatened to kill people involved in The Sunningdale Pact of 74, which is now called The Good Friday Agreement. Other than a chance to administer West Minister rule Ive no idea what Gerry Adams has done for the cause of Irish freedom.

  6. I feel this is a great article, it said things that needed to be said and who better to say in than an unbowed socialist and republican like Tommy McKearney.

    For some time it has seemed to me far to many republicans have still been fighting the last phase of the struggle instead of laying the political groundwork for the next.

    Would it really benefit republicanism or its core working class support base if Gerry Adams were to leave the political stage in a similar manner to Petter Robinson. Surely not?

    I am not excusing some of the decisions Adams has made, not least because some appear almost inexplicable to me, but that could be because of my own political beliefs.

    Longevity in politicians almost always ends in tears, not least because as they have been around so long, they cannot but have accumulated a cupboard full of skeletons, both political and personal.

    In the paragraph below Tommy touches on what for me has been one of Adams most important contribution to his cause.

    "Under his dominating influence, an often sceptical and sometimes fractious movement was forged into a formidable and disciplined political machine. That he was able to do so without precipitating a major split or fratricidal bloodletting was little short of miraculous."

    For all his faults, I hope Adams retires soon and goes on to enjoy his days in the sunset.

  7. Gerry adams did more for british counter-insurgency than kitson,or any other tool of the occupation, he is now, a tool of the british occupation,how long more will the republican grassroots put up with his crap,are we that silly that we think only one man can do the job, himself and gerry kelly now are trying to make informers an acceptable part of life,and now he thinks its ok to give shelter to paedophiles as well ???? just who the fuck does he think he is??? sorry comrade tommy,i dont share your analysis.

  8. I totaly agree with ewok,I think Adams and a few others in s/f are not the foward and progressive leaders that they would want us all to believe they are, Adams without the knowledge of the party allowed himself to be courted by the likes of bring back interment Hume,Alex Reid (who does he really work for)and some other strange bedfellows,the outcome was not the new s/f Gandi but rather a dupe for brit intelligence and an aragont one at that, the man is a liar and the top tier of the party is so inflitrated with spies it had no where else to go than into Stormont,which was sworn that there would NEVER NEVER NEVER be a return to, with all due respect to Tommy I suggest he removes the rose tinted specs and take a hard long look at Adams ,what odds would you give that THE LEADERSHIP will be promoting a wee walk down the Garvaghy rd just in the intrest of community relations YOU KNOW sorry Tommy Gibneys job is not up for grabs

  9. The 'achievements' of Gerry Adams could have been brought about years, even decades ago through peaceful means. Gerry's legacy to Republicanism was to bring Armed Struggle to an end but how many brave men and women died while he and others worked behind their backs to do so?

    Six Hunger Strikers died to set PSF down the electoral route. Adams told Kieran Doherty, his parents and the other Hunger Strikers on July 26th 1981 that there was no movement what-so-ever from the Brits while knowing that there was indeed substantial movement from July 5th why did he keep that from them?

    In fact electoralism and Sinn Fein's role in government has brought them to the point where they have revived Thatcher's criminalisation tactics against Republicans and not just those who continue to see Armed Struggle as being the only way forward but against all groups who oppose the Adams' 'strategy.'

    Don't get me wrong I'm now totally opposed to the use of violence as a means to achieving our objectives and see it as a hindrance to the progress of true Republican socialism. In fact it plays into the political hands of Sinn Fein in that people in the North continue to vote for them out of fear.
    Fear that if Sinn Fein are rejected at the polls the IRA will return to war and fear of giving ground to the Unionists.

    Gerry's only real achievement is that he has lying down to a tee, even when no one else believes him he batters ahead anyway.

  10. Really good balanced article from a worthy and respected contributor.

    I do not see how any republican could honestly say that Gerry Adams throughout his teenage and most of his adult life did not make a major contribution to the positive developments for the Nationalist and Republican community in the North.

    I also don't buy the Sunningdale argument because I don't think for a second that Unionists and Loyalists would have allowed that institution to work at that time - when they more or less had the power to do as they liked. By the time the GFA came around, the Nationalist/Republican community in the North were a much stronger and more confident proposition, ormoreover the Orange state was much less recognisable. I personally credit the Provisional Movement en masse for making a major contribution to the creation of that new dispensation.

    Tommy gets it right in paying tribute and giving credit for the many many years of struggle for which it is due - but at the same time points out his own criticisms where he believes the SF leader and his party has got it wrong. I don't see how that could be construed as wearing rose-tinted glasses, unless of course you are wearing a certain shade yourself.

    Tommy makes the point that Adams influenced the Republican Movement away from armed struggle at a certain juncture. Maybe its time somebody else stepped up to the plate and did likewise with those who seem to think there is something to be gained by pursuing that strategy?



  11. I also don't buy the Sunningdale argument because I don't think for a second that Unionists and Loyalists would have allowed that institution to work at that time - when they more or less had the power to do as they liked....TB

    I've heard this reasoning countless times TB, yet despite having called a ceasefire in 1994 it took countless concessions from the Shinners, decommissioning, support for the police and courts, the removal of the Army Council before they actually got in the door. Even then the Unionists wouldn't give an inch on anything SF wanted.

    Therefore it stands to reason that if PIRA had went down this route in 1974/73 we could have been in the same stand off situation in Stormont say in 1988/89.

    However TB the point is that despite the Adams'/SF Leadership claims that they negotiated the GFA, the fact is the Brits simply took the Sunningdale Agreement down from the attic, blew the dust off, changed a few words and Marty's your Deputy First Minister, or as he would've been called in the 1973 Power-sharing Executive, The Deputy Chief Executive.

    But I do admit it was some achievement selling this to the grassroots as a victory on the road to a United Ireland.

  12. While the ending of widespread armed conflict is a credit to Adams, his political outlook and legacy is questionable. I agree that Sinn Fein are the voice of nationalism and command the support of the nationalist majority but is that the position a "Republican" would want to be in. The voice of nationalism a la Fianna Fail or even Gerry Fitt.
    The real winners in all this long and enduring process remain the brits. They are the victors of the long war at a measure upon which they can hardly believe. Not only a defeated army and a loss of republican ideals but now the losers are their messengers in Stormont.
    Your comments are generous Tommy but perhaps too generous.

  13. TP
    I find your argument that the “Unionists would not have signed up to the Sunning dale Agreement” hard to comprehend. They did sign up it was the Provo’s who wouldn’t. As there was no Sinn Fein of any note then it was up to the Provo leadership to take their people onto the political stage. This didn’t happen instead we had years of misery for our people by the “great Provo leadership. To take your point to another level why do people not give the “Real IRA” more support because they find themselves in the same position as the Provo’s did back in 74 . Am I to believe that they the Real IRA are as The Deputy Minister said along side the Chief Constable and The First Minister traitors and should we be informing on them as the Sinn Fein security spokesman said. The Provo’s were republicans and the Real are not, do you really believe this. Remember back to 74 when the SDLP were saying they were proper republicans and the Provo’s were not.

  14. Interested,

    You comments about Sunningdale totally ignore the reality on the ground in 1974 within the nationalist community; and even worse the sheer bigotry of unionism back then. if you really believe unionism would have entered a coalition with Irish republicans in 1974 you have little understanding of the nature of the beast. For christ sake with all the compromises SF has made today unionism has still refused to sign up fully to devolution.

    To try and use Sunindale as a stick to beat Adams with, is to recreate a stick that never existed. What you fail to acknowledge also is the demoralisation of the nationalist working class after five decades of partition, mass unemployment, etc.

    It is not beyond the realms of reality to claim the main achievement of Adams and others within the leadership of the PRM over the last four decades was to help create a risen generation of people who were not going to accept the second class citizenship of their parents generation.

    I am not a cheer leader for Adams, but unlike some (within SF for example) I want no part in re-writing history. The truth is good enough for me.

  15. well Mike Gerry Adams wouldnt know the truth if it hit him up the bake as we say,ask Arthur Morgan T.D if you can find him, I think Anthony coined the phrase "the good guys lost" very true Iremember thinking at an Ard Feis ,Wheh Gravestone Tom Hartley said that the only principl he had was the principle to win and I thought CUNT, I believe Sunningdale failed not because of loyalist /republican opposition,but rather british intelligence were not ready to end their N.I experiment at that stage they had almost total control of all loyalist groups and a major input into the RM .I think they wanted to have total control of the whole situation here so that they would be able to control any futher problems that may arise,I believe that was their end game 1969 thaught them that,I again put it up to you that take a look how quickly the primacy of politicstook over after the chinook helicopter crash, was the plug pulled ,I agree that any armed actions now is futile and plays into s/f hands we need to work together to restore the dignity of the R.M not the rafia and jobs for the boys clique, I believe Adams legacy when and if the truth is ever told will be a hell of a lot different to what people think of him roll on the darks book

  16. ahem Athony may I ask what that wee bin thingy is that keeps appearing after any post I make ,are you trying to tell me something if you wannatalk about it we could go to the lockkeepers for a bit of orange tart

  17. "well Mike Gerry Adams wouldnt know the truth if it hit him up the bake as we say"


    You may well me right about Adams relationship with the truth, but that does not mean I have to go down that road as thankfully I am not a politician who has circles to square.

    The Italian communist Palmiro Togliatti's words spring to mind where Adams is concerned.

    "When he was in power people claimed everything that happened which was good, was down to Stalin, after Khrushchev 1956 speech, the same people claimed all the bad things which occurred were down to Stalin, both were inaccurate."

    (i'm not meaning you here Marty)


  18. lol Mick sorry about mis-spelling your name earlier your post reminds me of that native American chief in Josie Wales the outlaw, he said "dont piss down my back and tell me its raining"

  19. Marty, the wee bin just means you are able to delete your own comment.

  20. hi Anthony I have a cracking wee statuette of a woman with a bin lid and I love it so Iaint got nothing against Bins esp if Mr laden is listening

  21. a fractious movement was forged into a formidable and disiplined political machine. Tommy,s words and taken up by Mick Hall. I suggest my friends that you take a look at who was one of the main organisers of this political machine none other than one Dennis (stand up) Donaldson and we all know who the bold Dennis worked for so you can imagine the type of party that Dennis and the other boyos moulded.

  22. Mick Hall
    I completely understand what happened, I know very well the hatred and bigotry that we as nationalists had to contend with under unionist domination, but my point being that when John Hume was trying to lead by peaceful means the Provo’s revolted against him and his party the SDLP, 11 years later Sinn Fein acquired the assistance of the same John Hume to help them achieve “a peaceful way forward out of the conflict” and that my friend is not rewriting history but merely facts.

  23. we were out of the house most of this afternoon, the cops found a suspicious device in a car down the street, it was later confirmed as a tax disc

  24. aye it has transpired that Gandi Hume would have had us all interned sounds familiar armoured cars and tanks and gun etc..

  25. Interested

    You pose the question and perhaps you can have a go at answering it.

    Why do people not give their support to the Real IRA in 2009/10 as the people gave their support to the Provos throughout the 70s and 80s?

    And we're not talking about a minor difference - we are talking about an entire community as opposed to a very small group.

    As for that legacy support which manifests itself nowadays with SF, unlike many predictions in recent times, I don't share the view that they will suffer too much in forthcoming elections in the North. They haven't got everything right by any means but still command the support of the vast majority of the nationalist/republican communities throughout the North - and surely this is the most relevant barometer of the will of the people in a democratic society?



  26. I have always believed that people followed the Provo’s because they were republican minded and sought to Unite Ireland. It must be remembered that the Provo’s had no truck with Civil rights marches or views other than to use them as a way of getting the British troops into a confrontation. As I have always believed that the minute power was waved in front of the leadership republicanism was kicked out the door. 1921 and now 1998, so to answer why no support for the present crop of republicans, Stormont and who works there might be the answer.

  27. First off Tommy is a gentlemen and I think he is being magnanimous in view of a mortally wounded Adams. But lets be clear. Adams was the political engineer of a pseudo-revolutionary strategy and he played a pivotal role in bringing about the ideological defeat of his own party. What used to be, for many of us, our party.

    What's important here in assessing the Adams' legacy is that fact that there was an unprecedented convergence of interests leading up to and throughout the peace process.

    British intelligence was out to defeat the IRA, not just militarily, but ideologically. Adams was out to form as coalition with FF in the South and become the dominant force within nationalism in the North, which he knew would be impossible with an active IRA. A point made many times before.

    I remember young people put out a magazine in '97 to stimulate debate about what was happening; to demystify the Tactical Use of Armed Struggle (TUAS). Anthony was asked to submit a piece and he kindly did. In it he made the point that British state strategy was based on bringing the IRA to an ideological position, the logic would make it undermine its own existence.
    That basically summed up the so-called TUAS paper.

    The TUAS was a breathtakingly cynical and sinister exercise, manipulating as it did, the revolutionary collectivist character of the movement to bring it to political place where people would either have to become acquiescent (to defeat) or split. People did split. I don't accept this myth that Adams avoided a major split and that this was a huge achievement of leadership. The bloodletting may have been absent, but only because MI5 had already profiled dissenting republicans with Provisionalism, with the help of Donaldson and company, and were able to place informers close to them, track their movements and arrest them fairly efficiently when they moved from the protection of Adam's wing. They were therefore no threat to the state or Adams' position.
    Granted, many more walked away, disillusioned, bowed and broken. Others stayed and pathetically mouthed the self-deluded, now worn-out idioms of Stormont republicanism, handed down from above. Is this an achievement to be lauded? 'Nothing fails like success' is phrase that comes to mind.

    One of the tragedies of the Adams era was, as Tommy points out, the total lack of critical thought, the abject inability to interpret social reality and devise grassroots political strategies. That's been largely left to people and bodies like Inez McCormack and the Participation and Practice of Rights group, now battling to reinstate that ability within communities.

    There was a convergence of interests and whether astute Gerry was acquiescent to it or whether BMI rode on the back of Adam's political trajectory, doesn't really matter. The legacy remains the same.

    The brutal, grubby point that must really be addressed is why Gerry presided over a party and movement whose upper and middle ranks were seriously compromised without attempting a purge? I can think of several possibilities.

    I remember Donaldson coming into the Felons' Club in 1994 and watching him go from one table to the next, briefing each Cumann on where we were going and what the ceasefire meant.

    He got to my table eventually, sat down and began: 'The army has brought us this far, blah, blah.' When it was time for feedback, Donaldson sat impassively, taking it all in, memorising who said what. We all know where that information ended up. How many more were like Denis, carrying out this crucial intelligence-gathering exercise in that crucial time in the movement's history?

    I'm sorry, even with an acceptance that political pragmatism is necessary and expediency sometimes the only way to survive, I will never forgive Adams' shortcomings. But I don't think having an allegedly paedophilic family member is one of them.

  28. Adams was elected ( I use the term loosely) President in 1986 - 25 years ago - he was popular, bringing the level of struggle to a new level(we believed) However, he is still the Presidenr- where is the democratic process of change? - even George Bush had to give up after two terms. Adams should have resigned decades ago (in a democratic system). Can we finally learn something here or are we so brainwashed by the idea of revolution that we cannot see the truth. Adams is indeed the personification of the Orwellian nightmare - Big Brother. This of course moves on to new levels ( or it illustrates my point) when we consider his brother - the paedophile abuser - whom he protected and promoted as a prospective member of the Dail. Sinn Fein as we know know it is not democratic - it is so far removed from the principles it once upheld that it should change its name - we always referred to the SDLP as the Stoop Down Low Party - what has SF become - Stoop Further??

  29. Poor Tommy. Blinded not by the light, but Gerry's beard. If Tommy is allegedly an 'astute critic of both the achievements and the failures of Gerry Adams' (Vincent D) then god help us all.

  30. Sunningdale wasnt acceptable to Unionists in 74 or to SF and the Unionists more recently didn't enter a Suningdale mk2 with Republicans they entered it with Adams' wee gang who had stolen the SDLP's clothes.

  31. Can't help wonder after the deluge of accusations has finally begun to burst the dam will the attention seekers also see their moment and jump on the bandwagon...those little cheerleaders who couldn't get enoug Provo C$%"ck and caused all sorts of mayhem. The real fun may only be starting.
    Truely sad to see Martin Meehan in the Irish News today. He was an approachable honest man frm my own personal experience and even when he was keeping a block in humerous torment it was never personal. He wasn't the 'career' I only allow myself to be seen talkin to the big boys kind of a Volunteer. Really hope good guys like him don't get trailed through the gutter at this stage. He took some flack after his hunger strike but SOLDIERED on undetered.
    Things could get messy now.