Sinn Fein and the IRA

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are often quoted in the US media as spokespersons for Sinn Fein. However, most Americans only have a dim idea who they are or what the history is. Sinn Fein was and is the aboveground legal political arm of the IRA. The IRA itself is an underground paramilitary, currently in a ceasefire, but often engaged in open warfare against the British in Northern Ireland. Even if you despise what they stand for, it’s clear that Adams and McGuinness are battle-hardened veterans of decades of military and political struggle.

Gerry Adams  He currently is president of Sinn Fein.

Adams has stated repeatedly that he has never been a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), but British and Irish state papers released under the “thirty year rule” named him as a senior IRA figure in the early 1970s. Following the introduction of internment without trial in 1971 under the Special Powers Act, Adams was briefly interned in 1972 on the Maidstone, a British prison ship.

He was released in order to take part in peace talks in 1972, but was again arrested and interned from 1973 to 1977 at Long Kesh internment camp, and again briefly in 1978.

Adams remains the all-Ireland head of Sinn Féin, with Caomhín Ó Caolain serving as Sinn Féin parliamentary leader in Dáil Éireann, and Martin McGuinness the party’s chief negotiator and effective party head in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Martin McGuinness

For many years, leading unionists have labelled Martin McGuinness a member of the IRA’s Army Council and, on one occasion, the “IRA godfather of godfathers”.

The one-time IRA commander went from the riots of the Bogside during the 1970s to the very heart of government, having become one of Sinn Fein’s two ministers in the first power-sharing deal.

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He joined the Provisional IRA in the 1970s, and negotiated along with Gerry Adams in 1972. He was convicted by a Republic of Ireland court in 1973, after being caught with a car with 2500lb of explosives and 50000 rounds of ammunition. He was sentenced to 6 months, and refused to acknowledge the court. Throughout the 1970s he was convicted of multiple murders and bombings throughout Northern Ireland.

After his release, and another conviction in Ireland – this time for being a member of the PIRA, he became increasingly prominent in Sinn Féin, the political wing of the IRA.

He had become Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator in the time leading to the Belfast Agreement. He became MP for Mid Ulster in 1997, and after the Agreement was concluded, was returned as a member of the Assembly, and nominated by his party for a ministerial position in the power-sharing executive. He was re-elected to the Westminster Parliament in 2001, but along with the rest of his party has refused to take his seat, because it would mean swearing an oath of alliegance to the Queen.