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Tuesday, May 19, 1998 Published at 18:56 GMT 19:56 UK

Profile - Gerry Adams

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams led republicans into the Stormont all-party talks

By BBC News online's Gary Duffy

Few politicians in recent Irish history have divided opinion as much as Gerry Adams.

To his followers he is regarded as one of the best leaders the republican movement has ever had, to his unionist critics he is nothing more than an apologist for IRA gunmen.

A former barman, Mr Adams comes from a strongly republican family. In security circles it is believed he has held senior positions in all branches of the republican movement, including the IRA, but he has never been convicted of membership of that organisation.

Interned by the British government in 1971, he was considered important enough to the republican movement to be released in July 1972 to take part in secret talks in London with the then Secretary of State William Whitelaw.

In 1984 he was shot and wounded when loyalist gunmen opened fire on his car in Belfast city centre.

Mr Adams has been the key figure in developing the political strategy of the republican movement along with his close colleague Martin McGuinness.

In 1979, he said that the aims of republicans could not be achieved simply by military means. Following the 1981 hunger strike in which 10 republicans died, Sinn Fein's base was given renewed strength, and from this point on the republican movement would place increasing emphasis on its political strategy.

Mr Adams was elected party President in 1983, and under his leadership the party took the historic step of abandoning its policy of abstention from the Irish parliament.

Mr Adams began a series of contacts with the SDLP leader John Hume which were eventually to form a central part of what became known as the peace process. At the same time the UK and Irish Governments continued with intensive negotiations which led to the Downing Street declaration in 1993.

The first IRA ceasefire came the following year. Mr Adams eventually led his party into the multi-party talks at Stormont which concluded this year with the Good Friday Agreement.

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In this section

Key events since the Good Friday Agreement

Splinter groups threaten peace

Punishment beatings: A grip of fear

LVF link to Red Hand terrorists

The long search for peace

Two centuries of tradition

Inside the Orange Order

Continuity IRA - the struggle goes on?

Northern Ireland facts and figures

A fond farewell to Northern Ireland

The Good Friday Agreement in full