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The search for peace
Gerry Adams
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Gerry Adams
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• Gerry Adams welcomes IRA ceasefire

• Adams on the Anglo-Irish Agreement

• Sinn Fein

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Gerry Adams

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 fiercest unionist opponents, he is at best little more than an apologist for IRA gunmen, and at worst, a member of its highest command.

A former barman, the Sinn Fein president 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 within the republican leadership to be released in July 1972, to take part in secret talks in London with then-Northern Ireland Secretary William Whitelaw.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, 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. The statement was a prelude to what became known as the twintrack strategy of "the armalite and the ballot box" - pursuing republican goals through both violent and political means.

Following the 1981 hunger strike in which 10 republicans died, Sinn Fein's base was given renewed strength. Mr Adams persuaded the republicans to place increasing emphasis on the political strategy and success of Sinn Fein.

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. He lost the seat to the SDLP in 1992, but later regained 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 in 1993 became the foundation of the modern peace process. He helped deliver the first IRA ceasefire in 1994.

When this collapsed in February 1996, with a bomb attack in London, it raised two key questions. Firstly, if he didn't know, what was his real influence upon the IRA - could he deliver anything at all? Secondly, many unionist critics pointed out that if he did know that the ceasefire was to be broken, was Adams only committed to the peace process when it tactically suited Republican goals.

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.

In the run-up to the deadline for the formation of a new Northern Ireland executive in March 1999, he insisted that the IRA could not yet be persuaded to give up its arms and that the weapons issue should be considered as part of a wholescale "decommissioning of all the guns", including the British security aparatus.

When the process appeared to be floundering in the autumn of 1999, Mr Adams' statement committing Sinn Fein to "all aspects" of the Good Friday Agreement, including decommissioning, was among several key moments following Senator George Mitchell's final review of the peace process, leading to the establishment of a powersharing executive.

But while the peace process has stuttered since then, it appears to have done Gerry Adams no harm. Sinn Fein became the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland after it doubled its number of MPs to four in the 2001 general election - something that analysts have dubbed the "greening of the west".

The question from observers is whether that will become something more, the greening of the north. The question being asked by unionists, is whether Gerry Adamsí strategy remains that of 20 years ago or just purely peaceful means.

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