Gerry Adams draws unionist criticism on decision to step aside

Unionists highlight militant legacy and fact bombing victims ‘could not plan retirement’

Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams said on Saturday (November 18) he will step down as party leader in 2018.


Gerry Adams is the ultimate Marmite character of Irish politics, loved and loathed in equal measure. His decision to step down as Sinn Féin president next year has provoked strong reaction from his supporters and critics.

His upcoming departure from electoral politics in Ireland, as set out in Dublin at the weekend, signals “confidence in a new generation of Sinn Féin leadership”, according to the party’s former publicity director, Danny Morrison. The writer and former republican prisoner has known Mr Adams for 45 years and says in that time he has seen him “grow in confidence and stature” to become “an immense figure in the republican struggle”.

After 34 years as the all-island party’s leader, the Louth TD announced at last weekend’s “historic” Sinn Féin ardfheis that he would not stand for election again and the top job would go to someone else in 2018.

It is widely expected that Mary Lou McDonald will take on the role, with support from a new vice-president, and Northern leader Michelle O’Neill, who replaced the late Martin McGuinness at the start of the year.

Mr Morrison believes Mr Adams’s influence will continue long after his formal role as president of Sinn Féin ends and that “he will still be there for advice”. Since the ardfheis, his inbox “in terms of invites to speak here, there and everywhere is quite full, so presumably his semi-retirement would also involve fulfilling some of those engagements”.

No puppet master

Mr Morrison rejects any suggestion that Mr Adams will “pull the strings” of Ms McDonald and Ms O’Neill in the background after his departure. “These are people who don’t live in anyone’s shadow,” he said. “They are strong people in their own right.”

Mr Morrison said that while veteran republicans of his generation have total confidence in Ms McDonald and Ms O’Neill and view the change as positive, some are “a little bit nervous ... as the younger generation does not have the same experience of negotiating – but they will grow into it”.

I particularly regret the fact that ordinary people, citizens civilians were killed or injured at the hands of the IRA

“It’s a new break,” he added. “It’s a confidence in the new generation of leadership coming up.”

Sinn Féin has repeatedly rejected the idea that Mr Adams has been a turn-off to southern voters, highlighting the growth of the party during his tenure. Mr Morrison does not believe the Irish media gives Sinn Féin a fair go and predicts press coverage will shift from claims that Mr Adams has inhibited the growth of Sinn Féin to speculation about whether Ms McDonald will be able to continue the growth enjoyed under his leadership.

On possible concerns that support for small, violent dissident republican groups could increase in Mr Adams’s absence, Mr Morrison says the conditions do not exist for them to thrive and that the energy among the vast majority of young republicans is for a democratic route to Irish unity.

Unionist objections

Unionist response to Mr Adams’s imminent departure from Irish electoral politics has included objections to the “glorification of the IRA” at the ardfheis. UUP leader Robin Swann believes Mr Adams’s legacy will be “other people’s tears and suffering”.

Mr Swann called for him to get the republican movement to come forward with information that could lead to the recovery of the remaining men the IRA disappeared – Capt Robert Nairac, Columba McVeigh and Joe Lynskey – to “bring closure to their families and thousands of others”.

He also believes Mr Adams should declare he is to step aside from involvement in any talks process to form a Stormont government immediately.

Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister said IRA victims such as Jean McConville and those who died in the La Mon bombing did not get the chance to make plans for retirement, as Mr Adams is doing, as they had their lives “brutally cut short”, so his thoughts are with their relatives today, he said.

It is no secret that across unionism he will not be missed. This is due in part to his constant denial of being in the IRA

Mr Allister said the lack of government in the North – following a series of failed negotiations between the DUP and Sinn Féin since the spring – is testament to the system Mr Adams helped design in the 1998 Belfast Agreement and “was always merely a tool in his efforts to bring disruption and instability to Northern Ireland”.

“It’s time unionists woke up and rejected the Adams blueprint,” he added.

No love lost

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said: “It is no secret that across unionism he will not be missed. This is due in part to his constant denial of being in the IRA, which maimed innocent people, causing mayhem and destruction.

“Those victims do not, to this day, have justice for the actions believed to be perpetrated by Gerry Adams and others involved in the IRA.

“Many within Sinn Féin still pay tribute to the connection between Gerry Adams and his IRA past, and indeed we saw during the weekend the reception in which Martin McGuinness and his IRA past was met with at the Sinn Féin party conference,” Mr Campbell said.

“It took a long time before Mr Adams realised violence was not achieving his goal. He turned away from the terrorism and entered into politics hoping that he might achieve his goal democratically. Many would argue that he had no alternative.

“We will now wait to find out who his successor will be and what effect they will have on Sinn Féin’s attitude to the past actions of the IRA as well as their approach to the present and future for everyone in Northern Ireland.”

On Monday, Ms Adams told UTV it was political opponents cynically suggesting he will pull the strings after he steps down.

“Whoever is elected to lead Sinn Féin will be the leader,” he said.

Mr Adams said when delegates cheered Elisha McCallion MP’s mention of Martin McGuinness being a proud IRA member, it was a tribute to him and not a glorification of the IRA.

Mr Adams said he would never disassociate himself from the IRA but neither did he agree with all of their actions.

“I particularly regret the fact that ordinary people, citizens civilians were killed or injured at the hands of the IRA.”