Book review by Rob Butler
Malachi O’Doherty: Gerry Adams: An Unauthorised Life, Faber & Faber Ltd., London, 2017. (368 pages)
O’Dwyer is a journalist, author and broadcaster, based in Belfast. His latest book is not just a biography of Gerry Adams. It is much more than that. It delves into his personality and details his ambiguous association with the Provisional IRA.
The author hardly disguises his dislike for Adams in this analytical approach to the portrayal of this divisive figure, acknowledging his political skill but alleging a number of character weaknesses. His criticism suffers somewhat by his heavy reliance on Adams’ detractors for much of his account and he gives wide and somewhat gratuitous coverage to details of scandals involving Adams’ family members. A number of critical references are made to descriptions in Adams’ autobiography which O’Doherty contests, alleging exaggeration or distortion. Some of these are hardly deserving of comment and are of very minor significance, such as Adams’ flattering description of the quality of the desserts served during a period of his internment and the contrast with a less enthusiastic description of this food by one of Adams’ detractors.
Notwithstanding this apparent bias, the book still manages to portray a man who possesses a strong self-belief and a powerful ability to influence. His dedication to the pursuit of a political solution to the situation in Northern Ireland is acknowledged and contrasts with that of the IRA. His powerful ego is outlined, almost as if merely a weakness, although this strong ego is seen to be very much relevant to his successful leadership of Sinn Féin and his skill as a negotiator. Adams is shown as one who had to tread a difficult path in his progress in achieving peace in the troubled northern counties while having to keep the Provisional IRA happy enough to keep a ceasefire. The book describes where he has had to be somewhat disingenuous in dealing with these militant allies in disclosing all details of his negotiations.
The everlasting debate about the nature of the association between Adams and the IRA is very much an ongoing examination in this account. While Adams has always denied ever being a member of this organisation and has espoused a political rather than a military solution to the resolution of the situation in Northern Ireland, his involvement with the Provisionals constantly raises the same old question. There are numerous occasions detailed where Adams seems to act with some authority in representing the IRA position and, indeed, as was seen in the Good Friday Agreement, exercising some control in achieving their ceasefire. O’Doherty notes also that, when imprisoned in Long Kesh, Adams took the salute in parades of IRA prisoners. The author usually concludes examples of this association with an acknowledgement of Adams’ membership denial, although he seems to suggest more than a note of scepticism with the claim rather than any belief in it. However, he fails to produce any proof to back up this cynicism.
This biography, written by one who is certainly no fawning acolyte of Adams, nevertheless adds to the understanding of one of the most important figures in peace in our time. The criticisms of his character do not diminish his achievements and the Adams of this book emerges as a man of strength, dedication and outstanding qualities of leadership. He has had an unwavering commitment to a peaceful solution to the situation in Northern Ireland and his achievements in this process cannot be disputed. Those who detest him will enjoy the slurs on his character and the allegations of his IRA involvement, while his supporters will dismiss these as either unproven or irrelevant. This book will do nothing to alter the polarised opinions about Gerry Adams.