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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 15:10 GMT

Gerry Adams: Between war and peace

Gerry Adams: key figure in the republican movement

By BBC News Online's Gary Duffy

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

The Search for Peace
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, the Sinn Fein president comes from a strongly republican family.

[ image: Martin McGuinness: Close ally of Gerry Adams]
Martin McGuinness: Close ally of Gerry Adams
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 within the republican leadership to be released in July 1972, to take part in secret talks in London with Willie 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.

Hunger strike

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 came to 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.

He was also elected MP for west Belfast in 1983, losing the seat to Joe Hendron of the SDLP in 1992, then regaining it in 1997. He has never taken his place at Westminster.

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 intensive negotiations, which led to the Downing Street declaration in 1993.

[ image: Docklands bomb, 1996: Death, destruction and an end to the first IRA ceasefire.]
Docklands bomb, 1996: Death, destruction and an end to the first IRA ceasefire.
The first IRA ceasefire came the following year.

When this collapsed in February 1996, with a huge bomb attack in London, it raised more questions than answers about the depth of the Sinn Fein president's knowledge of IRA intentions - and his ability to influence the military wing of republicanism.

With the ceasefire restored, Mr Adams eventually led his party into the multi-party talks at Stormont which concluded with the Good Friday Agreement.

He has persuaded his supporters to contemplate steps many people had thought impossible, including taking their places in the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont, which was set up under the agreement.

The astonishing rate of change in Northern Ireland's political climate also made possible a meeting with the Ulster Unionist Party and its leader David Trimble.

In the run-up to the deadline for the formation of a new executive or cabinet for the Assembly in March 1999, he insisted that the IRA could not be persuaded at this point to give up its arms.

He told the BBC if he tried to do so he would be "laughed out of the room".

Despite substantial unease within the republican movement about the direction of his strategy, Mr Adams remains a pivotal figure in the peace process.

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In this section

David Trimble: More enemies than friends

John Hume: Midwife to the peace process

Mo Mowlam: London's eternal optimist

Gerry Adams: Between war and peace

Ian Paisley: Ulster's No man

John de Chastelain: Arms and the man

Mallon: Calling a spade a spade

David Ervine: Leaving the past behind