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Does Gerry Adams regret getting involved with the Stack meeting? Yes and no

Gerry Adams has a lot of thoughts about how Sinn Féin is treated by the media.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

THE DALAI LAMA and Bobby Sands. What do these two have in common? Photographs of both of them hang in Gerry Adams’ office.

Adams is a little delayed for his interview on Thursday afternoon as his chat with a Dubai news channel has run over. As he breezes through the door, he apologises for being late – and from the start, it’s clear he’s in fighting form.

It’s been a busy beginning to the year so far for the party leader, but his sights are set firmly on Sinn Féin’s future, both north and south.

The Louth TD won’t be drawn on whether there is a possibility that two women could be taking the helm of the party in the not too distant future, and he is also firmly on the fence as to whether Sinn Féin will one day be in coalition with Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.

But the new year does give Adams pause for reflection on 2016, a year in which some of his personal decisions brought controversy for the party, with critical headlines splashed across the newspapers –  coverage he takes serious issue with.

The Stack meeting 

It was the beginning of December when Austin Stack, the son of murdered prison officer Brian Stack, burst into a Dublin hotel to confront Gerry Adams at a Sinn Féin party press conference.

Brian Stack was shot by members of the Provisional IRA as he left a boxing match in Dublin in 1983. No one was ever convicted of his murder.

Austin Stack accused Adams of lying about what he knows in relation to the killing of his father. He called on Adams to hand over any information he had to the gardaí.

Adams utterly rejects suggestions that he has told lies on the issue.

Brian Stack murder Austin Stack (left), son of Brian Stack, a prison officer murdered in 1983, confronts Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams (right) during a Sinn Fein press conference at the Davenport Hotel in Dublin last December. Source: Brian Lawless/Rollingnews.ie

In 2013, Austin Stack travelled with Gerry Adams to meet a former IRA commander who said that members of the IRA had killed his father. The man said that the killing wasn’t sanctioned by the leadership and that the people involved had been disciplined.

The situation escalated when Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell used Dáil privilege to call for two Sinn Féin TDs to make a statement about the killing.

Having regrets 

In light of last year’s events does he regret getting involved in the Stack case?

“Yes and no,” replies Adams.

“It was 2013, this is now 2017. I think we spent about six months [on it] and at the end of that little process the Stack family said they’d got some closure and I was pleased to be part of that. As far as I was concerned I did my best and kept all my commitments, and it was over. Obviously the family needed to continue their campaign and that is their entitlement.”

But then it came back during an election, two years later, and then it came back again [in December] so that is regrettable.

My biggest regret is that many people who were victims of the conflict were well served by processes like that – I can’t see there being any way of that working [again] in the future.

When asked if past events would make him hold back from providing that kind of assistance again, he is firm:

No it isn’t even that, but why anybody would cooperate with me given how that process was turned on its head. There was an agreed process, it was turned on its head and exploited by our political opponents.

Previously, Adams accused the government of using the murder in a “ridiculous way” to “get” him and Sinn Féin. This, he said, was in contradiction of the Stormont House Agreement.

National Ploughing Championships Gerry Adams at the Ploughing Championships last year. Source: Niall Carson

Media coverage

The events in December fed Irish media outlets daily front page content.

When asked by TheJournal.ie if he thinks there is unfair media coverage of Sinn Féin, he says that there is – but mainly from one newspaper.

The Independent [INM] newspapers are fairly straightforward – they are anti-Sinn Féin. That’s their editorial line, that affects how they cover Sinn Féin. That’s their entitlement, but they shouldn’t pretend to be an independent newspaper, they are an anti-Sinn Féin newspaper. A number of them are quite decent journalists who watch Leaders’ Questions and will write their colour piece and the Sinn Féin speaker might as well have not been in the chamber.

There is a need for fair coverage even if we only have two TDs. I would be critical of the general media, and I don’t mean journalists – like plumbers, politicians, joiners and nurses, there’s good ones and bad ones, lazy ones and very dedicated ones. The general sense of the media, broadly speaking, the establishment media, reflects the establishment values. All we want is fairness. We are not looking for Independent group of newspapers to turn into An Phoblacht… You asked the question, it is not something I would be raising with you.

File Photo Last night Martin McGuinness retired from politics for health reasons. End. Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams in 1998. Source: Eamonn Farrell

However, there is no getting away from Adams’ links to the past and the frequent allegations of his IRA dealings. Controversy follows the party, and no matter how much new blood or fresh faces emerge from the party, issues from the past four decades resurface time and time again.

Deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald has said that the constant jibes from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil about the party’s links to the past and the IRA could be putting voters off from supporting Sinn Féin.

Adams concurs.

I would presume so, as otherwise they [FF and FG] wouldn’t do it.

At the very least it is a huge distraction. Rather than face up to the reality that they are presiding over the worst housing crisis in housing and homelessness, it fills our time and print. Or rather than face up to the awfulness that yesterday there were 631 people on trollies – so it is just dirty politics.

Lately, other issues have been grabbing people’s attention: the process of appointing Michelle O’Neill as leader in the North, and whether one day, Sinn Féin could be a junior coalition partner in the south.

belfast11_90500787

Michelle O’Neill’s appointment

While the party is getting into full election mode in Northern Ireland, the manner of O’Neill’s appointment grabbed some attention, with criticisms levelled at the party for not being transparent enough about how she ended up with the role.

Does Adams think the party should have been more open about how the leader of Sinn Féin in the North gets the job?

All the leaders appoint all of the other leaders. Charlie Flanagan has responsibility for the North, he is appointed by the Taoiseach. Micheál Martin has never got around to appointing a deputy leader. In our case we elect our deputy leader, so it falls upon me, as leader, to make the appointments of ministers and so on. But I do so in consultation with our leadership in the North, and that of course included Martin McGuinness, and then I brought it to the Ard Comhairle. So it was a very transparent process.

Adams says there were half a dozen people to choose from for the leadership, but O’Neill was the right person for the job.

She is a senior minister, so all this nonsense going on, it is interesting to see how the media works it. The media tips people to get the job and then expresses great disappointment or surprise when they don’t. Michelle has been the senior minister next to Martin, and she is post the conflict.

Was that important in the selection process?

“Yes,” replies Adams.

Any organisation that doesn’t regenerate itself and doesn’t reimagine itself and so on is just going to die. We have a multi-generational, collective leadership that is very representative of people across the island of Ireland. In this case, Michelle is the first from the post-conflict generation to take up such a primary position in the North.

O’Neill is steeped in republicanism, stating herself that she comes from a “strong republican family”. Her father is a former Sinn Féin councillor in Dungannon who was imprisoned for IRA membership, while her uncle, Paul Doris, is president of Noraid, a republican fundraising group.

5704 Sinn Fein Irish unity_90500644 Michelle O’Neill, President of Sinn Fein Gerry Adams, and Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald. Source: Leah Farrell

His leadership

With Adams approaching the age of 70, and with his co-leader Martin McGuinness stepping back from politics last month, there is speculation that time will soon be called on his leadership.

While the party has seen a significant boost in numbers and popularity in recent years, there have been frequent murmurings in the media that the party would thrive with a new person in the driving seat, perhaps Mary Lou McDonald.

So when does Adams think he will step aside?

“It is just a matter of when, it isn’t a matter of if. We need to be very, very clear about that. There are a multiplicity of transitions taking place within Sinn Féin.

“We are trying to become fit for purpose, we are trying to grow our membership, we are trying to train and develop our membership, we are trying to ensure we have organisations and credible representatives all over the island. We want to be much bigger than we are at the moment. What we are trying to do is totally unprecedented,” he says.

Stepping aside from politics 

McDonald previously told TheJournal.ie that like many “larger than life” politicians, she thinks McGuinness and Adams will find it difficult to hang up on politics altogether.

However, Adams says he won’t find it difficult at all.

Not at all, not at all. I am very relaxed about that, I have been very relaxed about that.

The reason he says he is so relaxed about it is he says Sinn Féin is going to do something which he says most parties can’t do: change leadership in a seamless way.

When we talk about stepping out of our positions, that doesn’t mean we are riding off into the sunset. I would like to think that as long as my health allows it, as long as my family allows it, I have a role to play.

Martin made that very clear – despite his very serious illness, his intention is to get better. I was in touch with him yesterday, I will be in touch with him later today. He continues to look into what we are doing.

If not leader then, would Adams see himself in a different role, perhaps president? Or continuing on as a TD?

Well, I haven’t thought about that. And it isn’t up to me anyway, but I have said if they want someone to make tea in Parnell Square [the party's headquarters] I am happy to do that. Whatever role they want me to do, I am happy to do it. It is a great honour to be part of this Sinn Féin party and be elected by the people of Louth and previously, the people of West Belfast.

Mary Lou McDonald has long been seen as one of the favourites to succeed him, and Adams says she has his support. “Absolutely, Mary Lou is a wonderful leader.” When the time comes for him to step out of the post, the party will decide who should lead, he says.

Throughout the interview, Adams is keen to get his message across that his is a party that is growing, and one that is not to be underestimated.

Adams is of the mindset that his party is turning a corner and changes need to happen within the party to be able to compete with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Sinn Féin are still building a party so even if we were getting huge opinion polls figures it would be very difficult for us to match them because we don’t have the organisation on the ground yet or we don’t have candidates yet.

“We have made huge strides. We came from a couple of thousand members and we now have 12,000 members and there are very few places in the island that don’t have Sinn Féin representation. I think our track record is good.

“What we want to see is a complete realignment of politics.

“There was a time when Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil felt… there was some divine intervention that entitled them to be in power and every so often there might be a little change –  but the changes that are pending now are going to be a lot more fundamental than that.”

16/7/2015. National Economic Forums Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Gerry Adams at the National Economic Dialogue in Dublin Castle in 2015. Source: SAM BOAL

A party in transition?

Sinn Féin is a party in “transition” – those are the words recently uttered by Mary Lou McDonald.

She told TheJournal.ie that the party is in discussions about its ten-year plan – and that includes their ambition to be in government. The Dublin Central TD said that this involves the party’s contemplation that it may one day be in a coalition partnership.

Her comments sparked a media storm when they were put to the Taoiseach, who was slow to deny that Fine Gael would get into bed with Sinn Féin.

During a media press conference, Kenny was asked on three occasions to rule it out. He didn’t. This resulted in a weekend attack by backbenchers and ministers speaking out against the Taoiseach’s supposed stance of leaving the door open to Sinn Féin.

Eventually, last weekend, the Taoiseach was forced to release a statement clarifying matters and categorically ruling out going into government with Sinn Féin as a junior partner.

“If I understand it properly, Mary Lou did no more than say these issues should be discussed and are being discussed,” says Adams.

Our position is straightforward. If we have a proposition to go into government the Ard Fheis will decide. In order to get that proposition, we need a mandate. We are very clear that there is very grave, serious, severe incompatibilities policy-wise and otherwise between us and some of the other parties. So we want to be in government, of course we do, we want to lead, we want to lead a government.

Does Adams think it is ridiculous that parties rule out doing business with other parties before an election has even been called?

Of course, of course. I think it is quite legitimate for any party to say they won’t go into government with another party because there are incompatibilities on policy.

However, he goes on to say anything is possible.

We are a party of dialogue. We negotiated the Good Friday Agreement with an Ulster Unionist Party that would not talk to us at that time.

The impossible is always impossible until it happens….
Do I envisage us going into power with Fine Gael? No I don’t. Do I envisage us going into power with Fianna Fáil? No I don’t. Are these options we have to look at? Yes, we do.

Next in line: Mary Lou talks McGuinness, great women and ‘cutting the crap’ in the North>

‘This is an absolute joke of a Dáil’: Alan Kelly on sexism, his poisoned chalice and Labour’s future>

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