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Friday, May 28, 1999 Published at 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK

UK Politics

Ask Gerry Adams

Send your questions to Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams by clicking here

In the past two years, Gerry Adams has become a pivotal figure in the Northern Ireland peace process.

As president of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, Mr Adams has led his party through delicate peace talks without provoking major rifts or splits.

The Search for Peace
Now, he faces yet another challenge. Since the Good Friday Agreement more than a year ago, the peace process has become stuck on the issue of decommissioning.

Although Mr Adams insists he cannot simply tell the IRA to give up its arms, unionists refuse to sit alongside him in the ruling body of the Northern Ireland Assembly without a start on the issue.

Sinn Fein in turn maintains the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble - who is also the province's first minister-designate - is creating new obstacle to stall progress because of opposition within his own movement.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, the UK Government has now set an absolute deadline of 30 June for a new deal to be struck.

What happens if that target comes and goes without change, like a series of others in recent months, remains unspecified.

Key role

As well as being a Northern Ireland Assembly member, Mr Adams is also a Member of the UK Parliament.

He was first elected in West Belfast 1983 - the same year he became Sinn Fein's president - but has never taken his seat at Westminster, as it would mean swearing allegiance to the Queen.

His key role in Northern Ireland politics had begun more than a decade before.

Although never convicted of membership of the IRA, he was interned - arrested without trial - in 1971, but released the following year to hold secret talks with then Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw.

Having survived a loyalist gun attack in 1984, Mr Adams now faces a new type of danger.

His task is to continue to lead the republican movement away from its history of violence, without capitulating to unionist demands that would provoke an inevitable backlash.

The IRA on Friday revealed for the first time a grave of one of nine people who disappeared during the Troubles.

The move had a profound symbolism. The challenge is to build that into a solid peace.

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