The thought of Gerry Adams “walking off into the sunset” to enjoy retirement after a career defending the IRA is “outrageous” said the sister of a Birmingham bomb victim.
At his party’s annual conference on Saturday he announced his intention to stand down as Sinn Fein president after over three decades in the role, and afterwards said he has “a particular affinity with those who were victims of the IRA because obviously throughout my political life I have defended the IRA”.
Julie Hambleton, who was just 11-years-old when her elder sister Maxine died of horrific injuries in the Birmingham pub bombings of 1974, said: “This is my question for Gerry Adams and this can be his leaving present for us. Who murdered our loved ones?”
Alex Bunting, a taxi driver from Belfast who suffered serious injuries after a booby-trapped bomb exploded under his car on his way to work in 1991, said Mr Adams had “used victims as a political football”.
However, Mr Adams said he understands the feelings of IRA victims.
Speaking to RTE after announcing his intention to stand down as Sinn Fein president, Mr Adams said he has “a particular affinity with those who were victims of the IRA because obviously throughout my political life I have defended the IRA”.
He added: “But I understand how people feel.”
The Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann, meanwhile, said that Mr Adams was a godfather of the republican movement who had failed to achieve his goal of a united Ireland.
According to the Press Association, Mr Adams is second only to Robert Mugabe in terms of the length of time they have led their respective political parties, and DUP MP Sammy Wilson drew a parallel between the outgoing leaders in a scathing statement.
Ms Hambleton said: “He’s managed to lead a full life, free of illness. He’s managed to find his way in, God only knows how, to the hierarchy of government. How he’s managed to do that, with Martin McGuinness, God only knows.
“Who in their right mind would put those two in government? Can you imagine if the Americans decided to put the Boston bomber into government? Do you think they would tolerate that? Of course not.
“Gerry Adams has managed to lead a full life and is going to get a gold-plated pension which, by the way, we are all paying for.
“Even though he claims he has never been in the IRA, which no one believes, he has been the leader of its political wing. He is being paid by the very people the IRA was trying to kill for decades. It is taxpayer funded.
“We are paying for him to lead a very generous and long life which our loved ones and so many others in Northern Ireland never had the opportunity to have.
“And those who survived in places like Enniskillen are in agony and pain and can’t get sufficient funds to survive, whereas he is being paid for by us, the people the IRA tried to kill. He is walking off into the sunset here we are paying for it.”
She added: “It is more than unfair, it is outrageous.”
Mr Bunting, meanwhile, said that while he was glad to see Mr Adams step aside, he is not hopeful Sinn Fein will change a great deal, regardless of who takes over as party leader.
“I would have had more dealings with Martin McGuinness as a member of the Victims and Survivors Forum when he was the deputy first minister,” he explained.
“Not that I liked dealing with him, but we had at least a working relationship. Gerry Adams was a different kettle of fish. He would not have been as forthcoming. Gerry Adams has always denied even being in the IRA but nobody buys that.
“The things that he says and the way he says them, for me as a victim, is really not good. Senior republicans don’t apologise to innocent victims.
“I think it would go a long way to all victims, on all sides, to hear him give a public apology. Gerry Adams would tell you it’s nothing to do with him, or so he would say.
“I think he is holding us all back and my estimation of him is that he uses victims as a political football. It’s about time he went. He has held the whole process back.
“You would think better of Gerry Adams as a so-called statesman – because that’s how he thinks about himself – if he was to stand up and say ‘what the IRA did was wrong’, but he won’t do that. He would deny he was even in it. He is living a lie.”
Regarding the future of Sinn Fein, Mr Bunting said: “Whoever takes over from him, I don’t think there will be much change in Sinn Fein anyway. The way Sinn Fein works, from my experience, is that there are elected representatives and then there are the people who have the power. That’s the way it works and operates. The old army council or whatever you want to call them, that’s who still rules the roost.”
The two largest unionist parties, the DUP and the UUP, issued statements condemning Mr Adams’ legacy following the announcement.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson compared Mr Adams to the Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, saying: “There will be no tears from anyone in the unionist community at his going it will be a case of good riddance to this man and his past and, during recent talks, this blocker of democracy.”
Mr Swann MLA condemned Mr Adams’ legacy and called on him to use his remaining time in the role to get the republican movement to hand over any information that could potentially lead to the recovery of the remaining Disappeared and bring closure to their families and thousands of others.
Mr Swann said: “He now has an opportunity to show some compassion and I reiterate my call for him to take it, and tell the republican movement to hand over any information they have in relation to the remaining Disappeared – Captain Robert Nairac, Columba McVeigh and Joe Lynskey. All these men deserve a Christian burial.”