Adams events show the fragility of peace and how easily it can fracture
Published 05/05/2014 | 02:30
It has been a bad week for the Northern peace process from almost everyone's point of view. It has starkly revealed its fragility, its susceptibility to pressure and the suddenness with which it can be propelled into spasm.
Allegations that Gerry Adams ordered one of the most shocking murders of the Troubles have, of course, been around for many years in books and TV programmes, and have often been put to him in media interviews.
He has always denied everything, and he has done so again under five days of police questioning.
Police will now send a report to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Martin McGuinness claimed the arrest was "political policing" and the result of some embittered officers seeking to settle old scores. Peter Robinson countered that his criticisms of police amounted to "a despicable, thuggish attempt" at blackmail.
It will take some time for the exact sequence of events to become clear – perhaps it never will – but the whole episode has clearly bruised the powersharing settlement and in particular its policing component, which is so often a fraught issue in Belfast.
Although quite a few advances have been made on the policing front, quite a few policing issues remain issues of major controversy which spark heated protests from either republicans or unionists.
The "on the runs" furore, which Peter Robinson described as rendering him incandescent, was a recent example. Unionists said it was a disgrace while republicans, metaphorically shrugging, said it was to be expected as all part of the outworking of the peace process.
In the Adams controversy, the arguments were the other way round: Robinson said the arrest was simply a matter of the law taking its ordained course, while McGuinness blamed the whole thing on "dark forces" within policing.
SO how did Sinn Fein do last week? Its president walked free from the police interrogation centre after days in the international and domestic headlines.
While his opponents will hope his stark identification with IRA violence will do him damage, the blunt truth is that so far it hasn't, for in both North and South the Sinn Fein vote has for years been on a steady upward path.
It looks as though Sinn Fein was taken aback by the police plan to detain Adams for days rather than hours, but within days their strategists had mapped out a response.
Their "dark forces" spectre probably had an impact, though it has to be said those forces were never in evidence over the years in which all those "on the run" letters were sent out.
The politics of agitprop – angry broadcast interviews, indignant rallies and the new Gerry Adams mural – may well have played a part in influencing public opinion during his detention.
By last night the image of Adams had been, if not transformed, at least softened and blurred.