Gerry Adams arrest raises tensions in N.Ireland

1st May 2014, Comments 0 comments

The British and Irish governments denied Thursday that the arrest of republican leader Gerry Adams was politically motivated, as Northern Ireland police questioned him over a notorious IRA murder.

The Sinn Fein president, who played a leading role in the peace process in the troubled British province, was arrested on Wednesday night over the killing of mother-of-ten Jean McConville in 1972.

Adams, 65, strongly denied involvement in one of the most infamous incidents of the so-called Troubles in Northern Ireland, and questioned the timing of the arrest before local and European elections.

"While I have never disassociated myself from the IRA and I never will, I am innocent of any part in the abduction, killing or burial of Mrs McConville," Adams said.

Police must charge or release him by Friday night.

McConville, 37, was snatched from her home in west Belfast in front of her screaming children, becoming one of more than a dozen so-called "disappeared" of the conflict. Her body was found, shot in the back of the head, in 2003.

Sinn Fein was once the political arm of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the now disbanded paramilitary group which waged a bloody campaign over three decades for Northern Ireland to become part of Ireland.

The party now shares power with its old foe, the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), in a devolved government in Belfast, and Sinn Fein member Martin McGuinness is deputy first minister.

McGuinness, a former IRA commander, accused a section of the police of trying to undermine the party with the "malicious" allegations.

The arrest was a "deliberate attempt to influence the outcome of the elections in three weeks time", said McGuinness.

The British and Irish governments, which worked together on the 1998 Good Friday peace accords that largely ended the violence, tried to calm rising tensions.

"There has been absolutely no political interference in this issue," British Prime Minister David Cameron said.

His Irish counterpart, Enda Kenny, added: "All I can say is that I hope the president of Sinn Fein answers in the best way he can, to the fullest extent that he can, questions that are being asked about a live murder investigation."

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, leader of the DUP, said the arrest proved that "no one is above the law".

"It would be political policing if the police had information and didn't follow it up because of the political profile of an individual," Robinson said.

- Interviews with republicans -

The IRA had wrongly accused McConville of being an informer for the British army.

The group finally admitted her murder in 1999 and her remains were found four years later on a beach.

McConville's son Michael, who was 11 years old when he watched his mother being dragged away, said he was pleased the police were "doing their job".

However, he admitted in a BBC interview that he still refused to name the people he saw, saying he still feared reprisals.

"If I told the police a thing either me or one of my family members or one of my children would get shot by these people," he said.

Nobody has been convicted of McConville's murder, but former IRA leader Ivor Bell, 77, was last month charged with aiding and abetting those involved.

Five others in addition to Adams have also been questioned.

Detectives are using evidence given to researchers at Boston College in the United States, who interviewed a number of former paramilitaries.

A US court last year ordered that the tapes should be handed over to police, and two of the interviewees fingered Adams for McConville's death.

The Sinn Fein leadership, however, say the claims are part of an attempt to discredit them and derail the peace process.

Adams, who has led Sinn Fein since 1983, says he was never an official IRA member although he was detained several times in the 1970s.

He remains a controversial figure but he won respect for his work on the Good Friday accords and for helping persuade the IRA to renounce violence in 2005.

In recent years, Adams has taken on the role of elder statesman.

© 2014 AFP

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