Gerry Adams Retirement?

Mick Hall from Organized Rage with a piece arguing that If they linger to long, there's a tipping point for all party leaders when they become a hinderance not a help.

There is little doubt Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Féin is in many ways a remarkable if controversial man.

The fact he has led his party for over 30 years in the most turbulent of times speaks volumes about his tenacity and commitment to his cause. Few would doubt he's been the driving force which has turned SF from a tiny marginalised political party, which was little more than the talking head of the PIRA, into a major player both north and south of the Irish border. In the north SF is firmly embedded as the lead nationalist party, having long surpassed the once dominant SDLP. In the south it's on an upward trajectory and if it can overcome a number of obstacles, some of them internal, it could become the lead party on the Irish soft left, replacing the Irish Labour Party.

English: Gerry Adams, at a book signing at the...
Gerry Adams, at a book signing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 In both jurisdictions Sinn Féin has a cadre of able politicians who given the chance have the ability to take the party forward and into a new era. They overwhelmingly come from working class backgrounds, which makes them unique in this neo-liberal age. Their incorruptibility and commitment cannot be equalled within the UK or Ireland. While I may not agree with their methodology, politically most, but not all, are centre left democratic socialists, and are amongst the more impressive working class political activist I have come across in my life time.

Gerry Adams can claim a great deal of credit for this. Although this is not his greatest achievement, out of defeat - and make no mistake the Provisional Republican Movement suffered a major defeat when it agreed to allow the British State to decommission its military hardware - Adams has managed to keep his movement intact, bar the odd periodic resignations which all political parties experience, and avoided the spiral of demoralisation and despair that infected Irish republicanism when previous generations of republicans suffered similar set backs. For example, in the years which followed the Irish civil war and after the failure of Operation Harvest, 'the border campaign' which took place between December 1956 and February 1962.

Indeed if anything Sinn Féin is a more vibrant and confident organisation today than at anytime in its history, bar the years 1918-23.

However, increasingly it is Gerry Adams longevity as a leading figure in Irish politics which is preventing the party from gaining ground. While he may not yet be a stumbling block in the North, he may soon become one in the South, which if SF is to make progress is the more important of the two, and it raises questions about whether it's time for him to retire from the daily grind of front of house politics. No one stays in front line politics for as long as Adams without making a shed load of enemies. The problem he has today is these enemies now stretch way beyond his more obvious foes within the mainstream media, the British and Irish state apparatus and the unionist parties in the northeast of Ireland.

Today he also has former comrades snapping at his heals who believe he betrayed the ethos of Óglaigh na hÉireann, its former volunteers, and dead. These are not the usual suspects who left the party in 1986 to form Republican Sinn Féin, when Sinn Féin's Ard Fheis voted to drop the policy of abstentionism if elected to Dáil Éireann. These are mainly men and women who finally broke with Adams in the 1990s and later. Some had served under him within the IRA, thus they know him well and more to the point his modus operandi, which they had come to despise. Almost, if not all, have accepted the days of armed struggle had reached the end of the road, certainly for the foreseeable future and they are not affiliated with any of today's micro armed republican groups.

They're mainly former republican prisoners, notably Blanketmen, who spent five grim and tortuous years on the Blanket protest, demanding they be recognised as political prisoners, which culminated in the 1981 hunger strikes in which ten of their finest comrades sacrificed their young lives.

The veil which once shielded Adams from the controversy which has raged in republican circles over the outcome of the hunger strikes has gradually been lifted with the passing of the years. Whatever his motivations were at the time, in the cold light of today Gerry Adams does not come out of it well. His friends have only made matters worse by denying facts which have emerged into the public arena, and to put it bluntly in some cases telling outright lies.

This whole brouhaha erupted after Richard O'Rawe wrote the book, 'Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-block Hunger Strike'. A prisoner in the Maze at the time of the 1981 Hunger Strike, he acted as PRO and an unofficial aide-de-camp to Brendan "Bik" McFarlane, the O/C of all IRA prisoners in the Maze. His book contradicts Adams often made claim that the hunger strikers were masters of their own destiny.

O'Rawe confirms as IRA volunteers the hunger strikers were expected to follow the orders of their commanders within and without the jail. He has also all but proven that Margaret Thatcher far from being intransigent made an offer which McFarlane, as O/C, felt was enough to call the hunger strike off. However when he sent his opinion to Gerry Adams for verification, Adams allegedly vetoed it for political reasons; and failed to pass it on to the hunger strikers, denying them the opportunity to make their own decision on whether to live or die. The implication being if the hunger strikers had been allowed to accept the offer a further six men may not have died.

Friends of Adams made matters worse when they attempted to intimidate Richard O'Rawe into silence rather than coming clean and admit that in the heat and confusion of war a dreadful mistake was made; not least because in the close confines of the Maze prison other prisoners overheard McFarlane discussing the offer in Irish with O'Rawe, and have come forward to support the latter's version of events.

Adams is no fool and he must be aware he is reaching a tipping point when he becomes a hindrance not a help to the party and movement he has given his life to. He must realise from now until he removes himself from the public arena the media will dog him with this issue and his alleged involvement in the death of Mrs Jean McConville, a mother of ten children who was abducted from her Belfast home in December 1972 by the IRA, and 'allegedly' on his orders, interrogated and shot as an informer and her body secretly buried on a secluded beach.

Most if not all former members of the IRA believe Mrs McConville became embroiled with the British security forces. Indeed, I'm told by a source who was close to those who were involved in the sorry affair, she had already been warned if she continues to associate with the British Army she would be shot. She ignored this warning and sadly suffered the consequences. No one comes out of this well, not the IRA nor the British Army. The former should have placed a cordon sanitaire around the unfortunate soul, and if able encouraged her to move to southern Ireland or England. The British army behaved monstrously, knowing full well her life could be forfeited if they encouraged her to continue her activities. It was as if they were willing the Provos to shoot her, in the hope it would discredit them. What they failed to factor in was they would not only shoot the poor woman, but secretly bury her body instead of leaving it by the road side which was the norm in those days.

Finally the Irish media and politicians continue to taunt Adams about his denial of his IRA membership. While he would be a fool to admit it given he is still politically active, many people, myself included cannot understand why he did not simply refused to answer the question when it was first asked. Once he said no, he gave his and Sinn Féin's enemies a gift which keeps on giving.

Is Adams in any position to retire?

The problem Adams faces if he calls it a day, is how to chart a way into retirement which will keep him out of the courts and leave his reputation reasonably intact. He understands better than most the former head of the Ulster Defence Association, Andy Tyrie's maxim that 'there is no voluntary redundancy in my job,' equally applies to him, only more so. In the end Tyrie was left no alternative as he was put out to grass by the rest of the UDA leadership and in truth he now lives a comfortable retirement.

However Adams is a much larger figure than Tyrie, whose longevity as head of the UDA and comfortable retirement had much to do with the fact that organisation fitted the British security services like a kid leather glove. Indeed, when you mention the words UDA and British security services, a glove puppet comes to mind.

Were Adams to retire his critics would not disappear as Tyrie's have. Indeed it might embolden them as he would have lost the protective coating of political office. Nevertheless whilst he remains President of Sinn Féin, he will increasingly come under attack, and be in the unenviable position of being unable to give his side of the story on the aforementioned issues for fear of it damaging the party he has sacrificed so much to build up.

There is a wider historical issue here. At some time Gerry Adams owes it to future generations of republicans, those he commanded and to himself, to spell out the truth about his role in the IRA, the Hunger Strikes, and the Provisional movements relationship, if it can be called that, with the British security services and explain why he took certain decisions. On the plus side, if he were to retire from 'front line politics' he would be one of the few party leaders in the world today who left office with his party in better health than when he came in. In today's world that is not to be scoffed at.

Whether he could publish a tell all memoir in his own life time is doubtful. Some have claimed Adams and McGuiness negotiated a keep out of jail card when they signed up to the Good Friday Agreement. I have no idea, but if they had, I cannot see why the PSNI would have gone to such lengths in the USA to gain access to the interview Dolours Price gave to the Boston College's Oral History Project. They appear to believe she said Gerry Adams was her IRA commander when Mrs Jean McConville was shot dead. Although I doubt this would convict Adams in a court of law, even in what passes for one in the six counties. However, it could be once the PSNI and their political masters gain access to the tapes they intend to leak their contents to their friends in the media, in the hope any revelations will tie Adams up in the civil courts almost indefinitely.

One only had to see how the PSNI pursued the Oral History Project tapes to understand why Adams believes he has no option but to deny his membership of the IRA.

In conclusion I have never believed Gerry Adams is the black hearted villain some of his former comrades believe him to be; but nor is he the faultless human being his party portrays him as. He is a man who led a movement which was engaged in a military conflict with a far more powerful enemy, which along with its allies was firmly embedded on the ground being fought over, and thus could not be defeated militarily. He concluded this before most, and instead of walking away he helped chart a way which enabled republicans to move forward politically. Admittedly he failed totally in achieving his movement's main aim.

However given the situation, what he did help achieve is not trivial and should not be dismissed lightly. For today, no unionist politician or police officer, unlike their predecessors, would dare say publicly, "No Taigs about the place." Those days are gone, hopefully for good, and whatever some may think about Gerry Adams and the organisation he led, that is a major step forward.

Worth dying for? That's debatable. But there are democratic avenues open today which never existed before the formation of the PIRA. And when Gerry Adams steps down as President of his party, which he must, that will be part of his legacy....

As to his Republican critics who condemn him for his role in the Hunger Strike, I would just say this. At the time Adams remit was much larger than the outcome of the hunger strikes alone. He was responsible for the movement as a whole and he would not be the first leader who saw the big picture as being more important than individual lives. In the post WW2 years a controversy broke out in the UK over whether the war time British government had advance warning from Ultra (intercepted German radio messaging) of the Luftwaffe's attack on Coventry. It was alleged that Winston Churchill ordered that no defensive measures should be taken to protect Coventry, lest the Germans suspect that their cipher had been broken. The outcome was hundreds of people were killed and injured in the air raid on the city.

To put it crudely war is shit and generals usually make shit politicians, I think it is fair to say Gerry Adams was a shit general, but a half decent politician. Nevertheless, the greatest art in politics is knowing when it is time to go and few master it. Whether Gerry Adams will be one of the few who do, time alone will tell.


  1. You hear it the odd time from those that oppose Sinn Fein so much
    that it is time for Gerry Adams to leave his leadership position-its a good sign that he is doing a great job in the 32-

    Adams has already said that he still wants to be the leader of Sinn Fein in 2016-apart from the other God above- I cant see anything else stopping this from happening-

  2. michaelhenry:

    "he is doing a great job in the 32-"

    Have I been asleep and missed it all , are we really a 32 county socialist republic?.

    Your so called leader is not fit to even mention any of the ten brave hunger strikers , he used them as pawns in a massive chess game.

    "You hear it the odd time from those that oppose Sinn Fein so much"

    I can assure you , I am not against Sinn Fein , I'm against the leaders who sold out to get into Politics in the wee 6c under British Rule.

    Shame , Shame , Shame.

  3. Interesting article. I have been wondering for a while why Adams didn't just retire. He is definitely a liability in the South by now.

    Never realised that he may face prosecution, just presumed a deal had been done at the time of Good Friday.


  4. Even Fergie has retired, who will be Sinn fein's Moyesy ?

  5. MH
    You seem to think it’s the people who are against Sinn Fein that ask about when Adams should retire. The pure stupidity of the Sinn Fein member and supporter when asked a simple question is to answer the following “these people are against Sinn Fein and the peace process and are dissidents “
    Surely its time to come away from the paranoia of everyone hates us
    The post only asks the question should someone so long the Leader of a political party now consider steeping aside and letting young blood take the reins.
    I would be fairly convinced that none of the other political parties on the island really care about Sinn Fein but from a strategy point of view they would want him to stay put, he is the best opposition any party could hope for, he has so many skeletons in the cupboard (excuse the pun) that are in the general arena that his opponents can rhyme them of with consummate ease
    Whatever the rights and wrongs of other party leaders I can’t recall any of them being asked “did you order the killing of Jean Mc Conville”

  6. Boyne Rover-

    I thought from Mick Hall's point of view he wrote a good article but
    I cant see any reason why Gerry should resign from the leadership-you want him to stay on also-but for your own reasons which you have stated-

    "Surely it's time to come away from the Paranoia of everyone hates us "

    Many thousands support Sinn Fein day and daily-so I know everyone has not got the hate for them like you do-

    "did you order the killing of Jean Mc Conville"

    Gerry has given his answer and is still leader-

    Those other party leaders who were asked-did you order the killing of the Irish economy-well they had no answer and were shown the door-

  7. “Many thousands support Sinn Fein day and daily-so I know everyone has not got the hate for them like you do-”
    This is exactly my point MH when someone questions anything to do with Sinn Fein
    The above answer is the party line for everyone in Sinn Fein.
    Please find any post were I have said I hate Sinn Fein or any person on TPQ,
    If asking a question or pointing out the obvious is hating someone in your little world then so be it.
    Your comparison between the two questions about murder and money really sends out a message that in the Sinn Fein money is more important than life itself
    You are correct Gerry did answer the question about the disappearance of Jean Mc Conville and is still the leader of Sinn Fein but only ye in Sinn Fein believe his lies are the truth

  8. Mick
    Gerry couldn't have written this better himself. Tenacious, committed, incorruptible the man who managed to keep the movemeant intact. Pity we had to have the down side when the shit general suddenly finds himself playing God with people's lives. Do you think he walked on water whilst altruistically overseeing the betterment of Republican kind and the greater good?
    I'm surprised that you or anyone could seriously arrive at this conclusion Mick. Setting aside the betrayal and ravishing of Republicanism, the disarming of the IRA and his lies about the hunger strikes. Adams left his constituency in West Belfast blighted with social and economic deprevation and much, much worse off than when he was elected, not to be scoffed at either!
    Memoirs from ' A Shit general who became a half decent politican' sounds fine, if only the words lying, cheat and reprehensible didn't keep coming to mind.

  9. Fionnuala

    I understand where your anger is coming from, but I must defend myself. Are you truly saying Adams is not tenacious and committed 'to his cause'?(the words I wrote) I did not say 'he' was incorruptible, what I said was 'In both jurisdictions Sinn Féin has a cadre of able politicians, whose 'incorruptibility and commitment cannot be equaled within the UK or Ireland.' and I stand by that, and you yourself know SF politicians who are able and incorruptible.

    When I said Adams has managed to keep his movement intact,and bar the odd periodic resignations which all political parties experience it has remained so, I am just stating a fact.

    As to Adams walking on water I am not religious so you might know more about that type of thing than me. What I did say was 'in the north SF is firmly embedded as the lead nationalist party.' Nationalist party!

    Hurling abuse, whether at SF or a second rate scribe like myself, may make one feel better but it rarely changes things for the better. That is why people in the north still vote for SF in large numbers despite Adams receiving a torrent of abuse, they see them as the best of the bunch, nothing more, nothing less. (Sadly the best of the bunch is often not good enough.)

    A baggage handler at Minneapolis airport once told me he liked Bill Clinton because the country was no worse off when he left office than when he came in. Disappointing for sure, but given today's politicians I thought it was a far from stupid thing to say.

    You say things are worse now in Belfast than when Adams was first elected as an MP, as far as violence is concerned that is simply not true, as to the social problems, I would guess they are much the same. Besides, you understand better than I real societal change in the north is never going to happen under the current constitutional arrangement.

    ​Still in the piece I wrote that Adams is a controversial man, your comment proves that, the problem with writing about Adams is those who dislike him believe all that is bad lays at his feet, and those who like him believe all that is good.

    Thus if you try to write a balanced piece which includes both good and bad, which I believe I did, you are liable to upset everyone. It's a bit like sitting on the fence when an argument is raging, if your not careful you are likely to get a splinter up your arse.​

    Comradely regards

  10. There is a lot in this article I strongly challenge. Overall, it portrays an agreeable picture of Gerry as a great leader of men with understandable human shortcomings. . The "shit general, but decent politician" description sounds about right in the round. Certainly, his "achievements" are to be found in the world of politics rather than that of the armed struggle. But what was his cause? What motivated this man from the early days of the civil rights movement? Was Gerry a Republican in the tradition of Clarke and McDiarmada or was he was he closer to Goulding as some like McKee suspected he was. When agreeing to recognise the principle of consent, the foundational basis of partition, did he feel the weight of republican history bearing down on him? Or was it as easy as making the required tactical and strategic adjustments in order to set the republican ship on a different course. These important questions can only be answered by looking at his present day position in relation to the stated objectives of Irish Republicanism.

    Why did republicans follow him down the road of retreat from the lofty towers of the Irish Republic into the cul-de-sac of unionist consent? An answer to this question is essential to understanding why a potent oppositional movement settled for a constitutional settlement based on British and unionist interests? What were the dynamics at work within the PRM? Who were the real movers and shakers and, how far did the democratic centralist party model facilitate these outcomes? And more importantly, to what extent were the rank and file in thrall of the cult of the personality?

    I think Mick is far too gracious in his description of the party cadre. Whether they are less corrupt than the general membership of other political parties is debateable. How does he measure this in real terms? I personally know many of them and I can assure him they are not the "impressive working class political activists" he paints. Indeed, one only has to look at the calibre of the Sinn Fein MLAs to see a less than impressive upper crust. Of course, there are the young political sharks north and south like Kearney, Docherty and McDonald, but they are the exception not the rule.

    What gives Sinn Fein the edge is the party machine that is without equal on the island. The cadre are totally committed to the needs of the party and are prepared to go the extra mile in order to see it progress. Every vote counts, every seat increases power, power is the answer to everything. This is the Adams way. The pursuit of power is the means and the end. The rank and file are well attuned to this message.

    I will return to some other point later. My daughter is torturing me to go out.

  11. Mick,
    This was an excellent post but you appear to be writing about a different Adams and a different party that the one I have have come to know.
    'Committed to his cause' No Mick I can't agree with that because realistically I have no idea who or what Adams is currently committed to?
    As for the incorruptibilty and commitment within his party knowing no equal in Ireland or England, I can't agree with that either?
    Many within Sinn Fein are the very essence of corruption, no doubt there are those who are incredibly committed but to what?
    I have seen incredible commitment amongst Eirigi and other socialist Republican parties and I have seen it in equal measures and with a lot more integrity than I have seen within Sinn Fein.
    Nor did Adams carry the Movement with him intact. Adams fragmented the Republican Movement and caused rifts that get deeper by the day.
    What he carried forward in his Movement was a litany of ruptured and rebranded strands of IRA creed that are now finely tuned to fit in with the new dispensation.
    As Brendan Hughes, metaphorically pointed out. 'The boat sailed leaving the people behind standing in the dirt and the muck and the sand.'
    Adams dropped the people who put him where he is today.
    Clinton may have done little for middle America but Adams done less for West Belfast and he will do just as little for Louth.
    Social and economic deprivation soared under his watch and yes we have peace but it came at a sizeable price.
    Adams the prosperous statesman sails on while the people are left with not one single promise Adams made ever fulfilled.

    My response to you was never meant to be a hurling of abuse.
    I still don't know how anyone especially someone who writes with such conviction about so many relevant things could cast a single accolade in the direction of Gerry Adams.
    Maybe like Ms Streisand there are many who view Adams through a well airbrushed lense

    Regards to you also.

  12. Fionnuala

    Like Alec I have to go out, but will return to the thread later.

    However I wish to be clear on one point, when I wrote 'Committed to his cause,'I meant just that HIS cause, as I do not believe he is able to distinguish between the best interest of his party, etc, and his own.It happens to all who linger at the top to long. Its why such politicians almost always end up being pushed out by there own colleagues.

  13. Adams and his sidekick McGuinness are Hume and Fitt with blood on their hands. I've heard it claimed a few times that we have Adams to thank because the bad old days of Unionist rule have gone for ever.

    With all respect that's balls!

    The Orange State was shut down in 1972 and Direct Rule was introduced.
    In 1973 we had Sunningdale which was in effect the GFA, including the...'If in the future the majority of the people of Northern Ireland...etc' bit.

    Gerry Fitt was Deputy - yep Deputy - Chief Executive to Faulkner's Chief Executive.

    And michaelhenry thousands of people were voting for the SDLP.

    I've also heard it said in relation to those times that had Republicans taken the political route back then Unionists wouldn't have accepted them.

    Aye right. Sure the Shinners were left standing in nothing but their Y-Fronts having conceded every Republican principle including the surrender of arms before the Unionists who retained their veto finally accepted them in recent years.
    In fact Unionists keep a leash tightly around SF's neck in that it is demanded they use the old condemnatory verbiage of the SDLP when attacking Republicans.

    They have become the most powerful propaganda weapon in the hands of the British in probably the whole history of Republicanism.

    And they are dependent on British money/ funding to keep the grassroots in the North faithful otherwise we'd see a hell of a lot more abandon ship.

    If Adams is anything he's a carpetbagger who fucked off South leaving West Belfast among the most under deprived areas in the UK.... Yep the UK who haven't gone away.

  14. Mick,

    a thoughtful piece.

    I am not persuaded by the notion that he deserves praise for being committed to his own cause. He should be observed for that not lauded. Harold Shipman was devoted to his but ...

    As for the analogy with Churchill, if I recall Waltzer discusses Churchill's position on Coventry in his book on Just War theory. Placed within the context of what Bomber Harris was doing to German civilians, Churchill was one of a murderous breed. Had he the right to sacrifice the lives of Coventry civilians? I don't believe he had. That said he was operating under constraints of a much greater nature than Adams during the hunger strike. The decision to abandon the hunger strikers and set them up for sure death was done for what? Some political or personal advantage. It was not to the good of the struggle, the Irish people or anything other than blatant self interest.

    We will never agree that there are any extenuating circumstances for what these people did to the hunger strikers. The moment for allowing that as a possibility has long since passed.