May 11, 2006

Adams has ‘unfinished business’ in N. Ireland

By Paul Holmes and Jodie Ginsberg

BELFAST (Reuters) - Gerry Adams stood on the steps of
Stormont, home of the Northern Ireland parliament, and surveyed
the sweeping driveway that looks down on the tiny workers'
houses so typical of Belfast.

For four decades until 1972, when Britain abolished the
parliament at the height of the province's sectarian conflict,
Stormont was home to governments led by Protestants committed
to keeping Northern Ireland part of Britain.

"They must all be turning in their graves to think of us
standing here," said Adams, leader of the Irish republican Sinn
Fein party.

Next Monday, the Northern Ireland Assembly will convene for
the first time since October 2002, when power-sharing between
Protestants and Catholics broke down, to try to agree on a new
executive representative of the two communities.

If successful, the proceedings could mark another big step
on the road Adams, 57, has taken from terrorist to the British
and Protestant "Unionist" establishment to peacemaker.

On Wednesday, Adams swallowed hard and said he would
nominate his mainly Catholic party's eternal nemesis, Ian
Paisley of the staunchly pro-British Democratic Unionist Party,
to lead the executive as First Minister with a Sinn Fein
stalwart, Martin McGuinness, acting as Deputy First Minister.

The DUP, now Northern Ireland's biggest party, did not sign
up to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that was meant to put an
end to a sectarian conflict that killed 3,600 people, half of
them at the hands of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Paisley, now 80, has never spoken to Adams and has always
refused to countenance governing with Sinn Fein, political ally
of the IRA and standard-bearer of the quest for a united

"For his entire adult life he has been saying 'no'," Adams
said in an interview at Stormont just after his announcement.

"But things have changed and things have changed, I think,
in a seismic way so there is some grounds for hoping and making
the effort to create the conditions in which Ian Paisley will
say 'yes'."


Paisley, who was in London when Adams announced his gambit,
has yet to comment. If he were to say "yes," his acceptance
would bring Adams full circle.

Born into a passionately republican working-class family as
the eldest of 10 children in Roman Catholic West Belfast, Adams
says he had little awareness of sectarian politics until 1964.

He was still at school then, when violence erupted over
demands from firebrand Paisley for the removal of an Irish flag
put up in a Sinn Fein election campaign.

Adams helped found the Northern Ireland civil rights
movement, designed to obtain equal access to housing, education
and employment for Catholics and modeled on the black civil
rights campaign under way in the United States.

"I wasn't a civil righter who became a republican. I was a
republican who easily saw that the way to correct things was to
be active on issues that were affecting people," Adams said.

His first job at 16 was serving drinks in a staunchly
Unionist bar where the Protestant customers collected money for
him when the Catholic owner fired him for demanding overtime.

"They were the salt of the earth," he said.

In 1972, with British troops on Northern Ireland's streets
and paramilitary groups active on both sides of the sectarian
divide, Adams was interned on a British prison ship.

He was released within months when the IRA made his
participation in truce talks a condition of negotiations.

"I was quite astonished. I refused to go out of the cage
(because) I thought somebody was joking," Adams said.

Adams has always denied membership of the IRA though he is
widely held to have been on its leadership council until
shortly before the group agreed last year to give up its


The more moderate parties associated with the 1998 peace
agreement have since been overtaken in popular support by the
more radical DUP and Sinn Fein, which Adams has led since 1983.

Power-sharing collapsed in 2002 over allegations of IRA
espionage and the British and Irish governments have given the
108-member Assembly until November 24 to cut a new deal or face
abolition yet again of the parliament.

The timing of the latest session is critical. There are
again rumblings of sectarian violence and five youths were
charged this week with beating to death a 15-year-old Catholic
schoolboy in Ballymena, Paisley's home town.

Adams spoke of the killing three times in the interview,
saying young hotheads could not be blamed for sectarian
violence if their political leaders were unable to work

He remains committed to a united Ireland but says his role
now is to bed down the peace process and then bow out.

"I think part of my job is to get out of this job," Adams
said. "I think that my generation of republicans (does) have a
sense of finishing this phase of the struggle."

Adams still lives with his wife in West Belfast and
dislikes talking about his private life. He has a son, a
schoolteacher, and two granddaughters.

He looks out of the window into the sunshine over Belfast
when asked if there is a life for him outside politics.

"That's a day for gardening, that's not a day for sitting
in here," he said. "That's a day for walking with dogs; that's
a day to prepare a nice meal and have it outside."