Shadow of Jean McConville murder still hangs over Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein
THE dark shadow of Jean McConville's murder will continue to hang over Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams as he leads the party into the forthcoming elections.
Mr Adams was released from police custody last night following four days of questioning in relation to the abduction, torture and murder of the widowed mother of 10 in 1972.
But while he was not charged, a file is to be sent to Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service (PPS), which will decide whether criminal charges should be brought.
The party leader's arrest and latest spell in custody means Sinn Fein now faces three weeks on the campaign trail with details of the shocking treatment of Ms McConville and her family at the hands of the IRA fresh in the public's mind.
The party is also under pressure to deal with the fallout from Martin McGuinness's claim about "dark forces" and an embittered "cabal" within the PSNI. His claim led to accusations that the party was "trying to blackmail the police" over Mr Adams' arrest.
Sinn Fein has now been warned that the process of delivering the file to the prosecution service must be allowed to continue unhindered by political interference.
A series of unanswered questions will hang over the leader throughout the elections, as it will take some time for the PSNI to compile the file for prosecutors, who are expected to take an extended period to assess whatever evidence is presented.
The family of the late Ms McConville vowed last night to continue the fight for justice after Mr Adams was released from custody.
"The McConville family is going to stay to the bitter end until we get justice," said Michael McConville, a son of the murdered woman.
Mr Adams was released amid heated scenes in Antrim, where he had been held in the PSNI's serious crime suite since Wednesday. He was forced to sneak out the back door of the complex as more than 100 loyalist protesters had gathered when news of his impending release broke.
Mr Adams later held a press conference in West Belfast, flanked by his deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald and Mr McGuinness.
He appeared relaxed and frequently grinned and cracked jokes despite the tensions of recent days and the simmering anger of the McConville family.
Mr Adams insisted that he was innocent of “any involvement in any conspiracy” to abduct, kill or bury Jean McConville. He claimed that his decision to go to the police followed a spate of media speculation, which he said was part of a “sustained, malicious, untruthful and sinister campaign” against him.
“I make the case that those who authorised my arrest and detention could have done it differently,” he said.
“They did not have to do this in the middle of an election campaign. Remember that I contacted them two months ago.”
He added: “I want to make it clear that I support the PSNI, I will continue to work with others to build a genuinely civic police service.
“The old guard, which is against change, whether in the PSNI leadership, within elements of unionism or the far fringes of self-proclaimed but pseudo-republicanism, they can't win.”
The public face of Sinn Fein gathered with the party president, including Martin McGuinness, Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse Doherty.
Also in the room were those who were part of the IRA “war” and who had been critical to the making of the IRA “peace” – figures such as Sean Murray, Bobby Storey, Seanna Walsh, who read the IRA endgame statement in 2005, and the last of the jail leaders, Jim McVeigh, now leader of Sinn Fein on Belfast City Council.
Mr Adams asserted his republican beliefs and said the IRA was “finished”.
He said: “ I have never dissociated myself from the IRA and I never will. But I am glad that I and others have created a peaceful and democratic way forward for everyone. The IRA is gone, it is finished.”
He confirmed that much of the police questioning concerned the so-called Boston Tapes – recordings undertaken in Boston College in the US.
Republicans interviewed as part of the oral history project had implicated Gerry Adams in the murder of Ms McConville, who was dragged “squealing” from her home in front of her children in December 1972 and was never seen alive again.
For decades she was one of the ‘Disappeared’ before her remains were discovered by chance on Shelling Hill beach, Co Louth in 2003.
The late Belfast IRA commander Brendan Hughes and Old Bailey bomber Dolours Price both alleged that Gerry Adams had ordered Ms McConville's killing – claims the Sinn Fein leader always denied.
Ms McConville’s son Michael last night called for an independent investigation by a team from outside Northern Ireland.
“We would like to see all the investigations taken out of Northern Ireland, we would like an independent body to do this so there is no political pressure on the police,” he said.
He expressed confidence in the police, but said: “We think there has been interference in different cases and we don't want any interference in this case by any political party.”
While Mr Adams was in custody, senior Sinn Fein politicians delivered a series of inflammatory remarks regarding the PSNI.
Mr McGuinness issued an ultimatum in warning the party would review its support for policing if Mr Adams was charged and claimed that “dark forces” and a “cabal” were at work in the PSNI.
First Minister Peter Robinson starkly warned against “blackmail” of the PSNI and said the process must be allowed to continue without interference.
“The publicly conveyed threat to the PSNI, delivered by the highest levels of Sinn Fein,
that they will reassess their attitude to policing if Gerry Adams is charged is a despicable, thuggish attempt to blackmail the PSNI,” he said.
David Cameron and Taoiseach Enda Kenny had spoken earlier in the day to discuss the situation surrounding Mr Adams' arrest.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore warned that no politician was beyond the law and that the work of the police must be respected.
“I think what needs to happen here is that everyone in public life respects the independence of the PSNI to investigate that crime, to interview whoever they want to interview,” he said.
“If that happens to be someone who is a politician, then the law shouldn’t apply differently because they are a politician, a leader of a political party or anybody else.
“So let the police service of Northern Ireland do their job and we’ll see where it goes,” he said.