Gerry Adams interview

GEORGE NEGUS: Gerry Adams, thanks for your time.

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It’s good to talk to you again. In 1994 the IRA announced a complete cessation of military operations. Could that be why people are now saying after so many stop-starts, so many accords, so many cease-fires, “So what about this latest announcement. We’ve heard it all before.” Why is this one different?

GERRY ADAMS, SINN FEIN PRESIDENT: Well, people aren’t saying ‘So what.” Even opponents of the IRA are acknowledging that this is a momentous announcement.

GEORGE NEGUS: But why should we be confident that this time it will stick?

GERRY ADAMS: Well you don’t have to be, you don’t have to be. The fact is that this is a process, you know, making peace, coming from conflict and remember it wasn’t that long ago since you were covering atrocities every day. To build a bridge from that situation into an entirely new, peaceful, just dispensation takes a lot of effort and takes a process, and we haven’t got there yet, but last week’s IRA announcement, I think, moves us considerably in that direction, and in years to come, when people reflect on the history of Ireland and the relationships between us and Britain, this announcement will be seen as a seismic watershed moment in our history.

GEORGE NEGUS: Could there be a period, unfortunately, between now and when the decommissioning process is concluded, where killing still continues?

GERRY ADAMS: No, I think, George, we have to go forward and hope. Of course things could happen which are untoward. Of course there could be reverses, but the will of the people is to make this work, and in many ways the IRA’s initiative is responding to that will.

You know, there is a time, unfortunately, when people find there’s no option but to wage war, but there’s also a time when you have to wage peace.

GEORGE NEGUS: Why is the time right now? Is it a post-September 11 reaction to anti-terrorism? Is it the bank robberies, the McCartneys? Have a lot of things come together or is there one thing that’s triggered this now?

GERRY ADAMS: Well, first of all, even in the wake of such an atrocity such as September 11, and, in my view, such atrocities don’t impact upon local disputes or conflicts. Of course there was big controversy at the beginning of the year following the aborted effort to put together an agreement last December which Ian Paisley effectively scuppered and in April this year, because I saw the peace process just going into decline, and wanted to break the spiral, I made an appeal directly to the soldiers, to the volunteers of the Irish Republican Army and pointed out that it was my belief that there was and is a peaceful and democratic way to go forward and they then initiated…

GEORGE NEGUS: You’ve done that before… You’ve done that before unsuccessfully. Why do you think this time it seems like people in the IRA did in fact listen to you?

GERRY ADAMS: It’s difficult to know, and I’m so close to it and we’ve been so busy, it’s been impossible to find the time to actually analyse every turn of this, but I have reflected at other times why didn’t such and such a thing happen much more quickly, or why is it happening now?

Sometimes there are just configurations of events, tides in the affairs of men.

GEORGE NEGUS: You mentioned Ian Paisley. He has described this announcement and the putting down of arms and the acceptance of that by the British Government as surrender to the IRA. Now, if this whole thing is going to work at the political level, you’re going to have to deal with your arch enemy from way back. Can you ever come to any sort of agreement with a man like Ian Paisley who has been so vehemently opposed to everything that you are and stand for?

GERRY ADAMS: Yes, I certainly can because I respect his mandate. I don’t agree with it, but I recognise that he is the leader of unionism. I want to make peace. You know, he’s part of what we are. He’s as Irish as I am, but I was just reflecting on the way to the studio to do this interview, such as the wail of distress from within unionism that you would almost imagine that they would prefer if the IRA hadn’t taken this initiative.

GEORGE NEGUS: Something like 3,700 people have died in the last 30 or 40 years, some of those at hands of the IRA, some of those at the hands of the Protestants. Doesn’t this agreement in a rather tragically ironic way make a farce of all that’s gone on before, that those people died – that ridiculous waste of life – it appears for nothing. If this agreement can be reached now, why couldn’t it have been reached before?

GERRY ADAMS: Well, that’s a question I have asked myself, but I think the answer to that is quite simple and straightforward, and that the British state killed many of those people, including many friends and comrades of mine.

It’s only when we got beyond that and got a bit of sense out of governments, when they started to talk to people, started to look at the root causes of the difficulty, started to look at the partition of Ireland, the discrimination which exists here, the repression that has been used here, the coercion that has been used here, and when we started to unravel that and to address those issues, out of that was built the peace process.

Now, you ask me, do I wish there had been no war? Of course I wish there had been no war. Do I wish that all of those people who had been killed could be brought back? Of course I do, but we can’t bring the people back. What we can do is to ensure that no-one else is killed as a result of political violence or of conflict in our country.

GEORGE NEGUS: What about the Real IRA? They’re saying that this will mean nothing to their activities, that, so far as they’re concerned, nothing has changed, the killing will go on.

GERRY ADAMS: They don’t have any role to play in this situation and part of what we have to bend our will to when we get our own house in order and get the main thrust of these commitments delivered on in the short term, is to turn to those other groups and see if we can persuade them to join the peace process, and so there’s a lot of work to be done here, and it’s dangerous work, it’s risky work.

GEORGE NEGUS: You say it’s risky work. What’s been your involvement? You’ve been called everything from the Nelson Mandela of Northern Ireland to a liar and a killer and a front man for the IRA. How much a part have you actually played in the process recently that got us to the announcement last week?

GERRY ADAMS: Well, I’m the party president of Sinn Fein, but I think the credit for the IRA announcement has to be given to the IRA.

GEORGE NEGUS: Will they remain invisible to the rest of us? You said the credit should go to the IRA. “Who the hell are the IRA?” most people would say. Will we now get to know who these people who have previously been killers, if you like – will we get to know who they are?

GERRY ADAMS: Well, it’s unlikely, but I’m simply trying to make sure that those who took that decision are given credit for it. I don’t mean on a personal or individual basis, but just as an organisation, which, in fairness, fought the British, you know, and brought the British to a standstill.

There are more British soldiers in the north of Ireland than there are in Iraq, and they couldn’t defeat the IRA in 35 years, and I don’t think anyone should glamorise or glorify war, but I think at the same time the duty of politicians and of political leaders and civic leaders and church leaders is to actually be about the job of building peace so that the IRA becomes part of the history, and it doesn’t matter then who they are. Their families will remember and they will remember volunteers and so on.

GEORGE NEGUS: Mr Adams, can I interrupt you there? You’re meeting Tony Blair later this week. The British are talking about demilitarisation, moving the British troops out over the next few years. Is that good enough for you? What are you going to say to Tony Blair? What do you want of Tony Blair at this point?

GERRY ADAMS: Well, I want to commend him. I would disagree with Mr Blair on many issues, but I do think on the issue of Ireland he has shown leadership. I think we helped them remain very focused on making sure this next phase of the peace process actually works and to bring about the union of orange and green on the island of Ireland.

GEORGE NEGUS: You’ve been close to terrorists, if I could put it that way, for a long time now. Could you give him any advice about how…

GERRY ADAMS: I’m surrounded by them. The British Army are still here.

GEORGE NEGUS: Whichever group we describe as terrorists, you’ve been close to them and had to work with them and against them for so long. Would you be prepared to give Tony Blair any advice about how he should be handling the terrorism problem that he’s facing right now?

GERRY ADAMS: I certainly condemn and deplore those recent bombs in London, but if he’s to be imaginative and courageous, he has to get to the root causes of all of this and not just have a security response, although clearly a security response is needed, but there has to be a political response to these matters as well.

GEORGE NEGUS: Mr Adams, good to talk to you again. Thanks for your time.

GERRY ADAMS: Thanks, George, and good luck.