By Sabina Clarke
We knew it was bound to happen… that Gerry Adams President of Sinn Fein since 1983 would eventually hand the baton over to the younger generation but it still comes as a shock…the moment still stunning.
On the heels of the loss of Martin McGuinness, whose sudden premature death at sixty-six resonated around the world, Adams departure marks yet another poignant chapter in Irish republican history—living history which is disappearing before our eyes but will be forever etched in the minds and hearts of the people for whom they fought and their many supporters around the world.
Before a packed crowd of about 2,500 people—some in tears--Adams gave an emotional address referencing his 10 year plan for Sinn Fein that he said was formulated by himself and Martin McGuinness stating that they both agreed when it would be the time for each of them to step down.
He opened his address in Irish greeting friends and comrades all over the globe and expressing solidarity with the people of Palestine and the Gaza Strip and the people of Catalonia—and particularly to the widow of Martin McGuinness--Bernie McGuinness—whom he later introduced and embraced onstage –to a thunderous standing ovation.
His opening lines were “This is our time. Republicanism has never been stronger. We will grow stronger in the time ahead. But leadership means knowing when it is time for change. That time is now.”
Adams made it clear that “Contrary to the bogus argument being put forth by some, it is evident that Sinn Fein is fully committed to the power sharing institutions agreed to in the Good Friday Agreement but there will be no return to the Assembly in the North without a ‘Stand Alone Irish Language Act’ and agreement on the resolution of other outstanding issues.”
He criticized the “conservative republicanism” of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin which he called “a million miles away from the vision of the 1916 Proclamation” and compared Varadkar to the late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher—saying “Our legacy lives on in our Taoiseach”—adding that “He needs to be more like Michael Collins and less like Hugh Grant.”
He promised that if Sinn Fein is in government they will hold a referendum on Irish unity within five years.
He concluded his remarks by thanking his wife Colette and mentioning how they survived the many ups and downs—such as his incarcerations on the Prison Ship Maidstone, Belfast Prison, Long Kesh and the H-Blocks, and his years of being ‘on the run’.
The event was historic. I watched it live. It opened with a moving musical tribute to Martin McGuinness whose face was on a large screen-as if he were watching as the crowd stood up and cheered their departed courageous Chieftain.
So, it seemed as if Martin was there in spirit as Adams mentioned him several times in his address—at one time saying, “None of us knew that Martin would be terminally ill and that we would meet this year without him. We don’t have time now to reflect on these mysteries of life and death or on the loss of such a wonderful comrade and leader.”
What Adams and McGuinness accomplished for the cause of peace at the risk of their own lives and personal fortunes will long be remembered
We will not see their likes again.