Gerry Adams: You Ask The Questions

(Such as: what is the difference between IRA terrorism and al-Qa'ida terrorism? And have you ever considered having therapy?)
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The Independent Online

Born in 1948 in west Belfast, Gerry Adams was the son of a builder and the eldest of 10 children. A successful second stab at the eleven-plus exam gained him a place at the city's St Mary's grammar school. Politically active with the Sinn Fein republican movement since his teens, he has been its undisputed leader through times of war and the peace process. In 1971 Adams was interned in the Maze prison on suspicion of terrorist involvement; he was released the following year. In 1983 he became MP for Belfast West and President of Sinn Fein, and later he played a key role in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement. He is the author of several books, including The Street, Cage Eleven, and his autobiography Before the Dawn. He is married with one son.

Do you ever feel like throwing it all in and retiring to a cottage in the Irish countryside?
Peter Hasted, London

Sometimes, but not yet - not for as long as I can be of service. I would move to northwest Donegal. It's right up in the north-west of Ireland. New York is the next parish. Once there, I would spend more time on my hobbies. I plant trees, growing them from seeds that I collect in the autumn. I also garden, cook, read, write and walk. I have dogs and I'd like to keep chickens and geese.

What is the difference between IRA terrorism and al-Qa'ida terrorism? And do you support the war on terror?
Sean Wheatley, by e-mail

I don't think there's any similarity at all between al-Qa'ida and the IRA. In the first instance, I wouldn't describe the IRA as terrorists. The September 11 attacks were probably closer to Dresden or Hiroshima in that a lot of planning and resources were put into deliberately killing civilians in large numbers. The IRA's killing of civilians is equally wrong, but the IRA would argue that it did so by accident. That is no succour to the victims' families, but the IRA was one of the few guerrilla organisations that gave warnings.

As for the war on terror, I'm against the war in Iraq. I do believe that when a country, such as the United States, is under attack, it does have the right to defend itself. But I think it has to do that within international law, otherwise how do you tell the difference between each side?

Was the IRA right to try to blow up Mrs Thatcher?
Gary Carlyle, Liverpool

Well, you have to see it in the context of the time - the deaths in Ireland, not least the hunger-strike deaths. Notwithstanding that so many people were killed, it was probably seen back in Ireland as what would be called a popular operation. Mrs Thatcher was seen, and would still be seen among the nationalist population, as the woman who presided over the deaths of the hunger strikers in the H-blocks and over many other deaths. But I wouldn't like to go into the rights and wrongs of particular incidents.

Do you ever go to church? Have you confessed your sins of the Troubles?
Ben Hornsby, London

Yes, I do go to church regularly. And of course I confess my sins, but that's between Him and me.

What advice would you give to a young person fired up with Irish nationalism and wanting to join the IRA?
Kerry Sankey, by e-mail

If somebody wants to join the IRA, they will do so, but I would always seek to dissuade them. It's a hard life. Life for IRA volunteers - men or women - is full of the possibility of death, injury or long spells in prison.

If David Trimble invited you round for dinner, would you go?
David Gallagher, Belfast

Yes. Ulster says "bon appetit". I think I might take round a gift. Perhaps I might give him a few CDs of operas that he mightn't have. He's a big fan of opera.

I understand that you decided to work in a bar instead of going to university. Do you regret this? Is it a course you'd recommend to school-leavers today?
Sara Quinn, Leeds

No, I wouldn't recommend it. I had a rush of blood to the head and decided to leave education without thinking it through. When I told my parents, they were very unhappy. I was the only one in the family who was going through grammar school.

But it didn't do me any harm. In its own way, it was an education. I happened to work in two very good places - one was in a small Protestant working-class area where the people were good, decent human beings, and the other was a journalists' pub. When I left in 1969, the boss told me there was always a job for me if I came back. So I have that to fall back on if anything goes wrong.

What makes you cry?
Elizabeth Rains, Harlow

I was in my constituency launching a breast-cancer awareness month and a colleague, Siobhan O'Hanlon, gave a testimony. She had an operation for breast cancer last year and she's been through chemotherapy and all that. I found that made me cry. As for films or TV, John Cleese in Fawlty Towers makes me cry with laughter. I have them on DVD. Even when you know what's going to happen, they are still hilarious.

What's the biggest lie you've read about yourself in the newspapers?
Bob Little, Dublin

That I can't sing. I'm only joking, but I do sing to please myself. I sing all over the place. I might break into an aria or something more folky. However, other people don't seem to like it. Colleagues, people I'm in the car with, or even in the shower, have been known to leave when I start singing.

Your life has been quite traumatic. Have you ever considered therapy? If not, how do you deal with the violence you have witnessed?
Karen Thompson, Haywards Heath

I've never considered therapy, although my opponents would probably advise it. But it is very difficult. I've been shot myself. My home has been bombed. I've lost lots of friends. And you can only deal with that by being grounded and trying to make sure the violence ceases. If you allowed yourself to be swamped by it, of course, you couldn't live your life. But the big thing is to make sure it stops - to work at conflict resolution.

You were caught twice while trying to break out of prison. Why were you so bad at escaping?
Tim Segal, by e-mail

I was very unlucky. One of my attempts involved someone who reputedly looked very like me. He came into the prison so that I could go out in his place. Unfortunately, he was about 5ft 8in and I'm about 6ft 1in. So the prison officer was looking down at him going in and looking up at me going out. But there were dozens of other escape attempts, for which I wasn't caught, even though I didn't get out. It wasn't to be. I wasn't a Steve McQueen and that was it.

If you were offered a large sum of money for charity, would you shave your beard off?
Julia Bridgeman, Slough

I don't know. My beard covers a multitude of sins. I think I first grew it to cover my acne at about 16, but I have it predominantly because I don't like shaving. It would depend on the charity and the amount, but I hope no one takes me up on it.

'Hope and History: Making Peace in Ireland' by Gerry Adams is published by Brandon Books, £20.