Adams's hypocrisy yet again knows no bounds
The SF leader condemns Niall Collins yet his own party engineered de facto pardons for killers, writes Eilis O'Hanlon
'It isn't a letter that I would have sent," insisted Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams last week when asked about the controversial letter sent by Fianna Fail justice spokesman, Niall Collins, to a judge requesting leniency for a widowed father of four who was convicted of possession of cannabis.
Adams's attitude to this issue appears to be in stark contrast to his statements about the letters supplied by the British to almost 200 suspected IRA terrorists known colloquially as OTRs ('On The Runs') guaranteeing them immunity from arrest and prosecution from their crimes.
Despite the refusal of the party to co-operate with hearings of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster into how this scheme was operated, it's now known that Sinn Fein not only knew about these secret letters but actively acted as intermediaries between the British government and the OTRs, to the extent of personally delivering letters into the hands of some of those involved.
When this became public knowledge in March, following the collapse of the trial of alleged Hyde Park bomber John Downey, it caused a political row in Stormont, with First Minister Peter Robinson threatening to resign unless the scheme was halted, and the North's Justice Minister, David Ford of the Alliance Party, calling it a "shabby backdoor deal" about whose existence he had been unaware.
Far from denouncing such attempts by elected politicians to secretly interfere with the judicial process, Gerry Adams at the time actually defended the scheme, saying that the process had to be "invisible" because Unionists would have scuppered it otherwise. He also called for John Downey to be released, adding that he was a "good guy".
Ann Travers, whose 22-year-old sister was murdered by the IRA as she walked home from Mass in Belfast in 1984 told the Sunday Independent: "How can Adams say he wouldn't send such a letter when SF arranged for men and women suspected of murder and attempted murder to receive OTR letters and perhaps also Royal Pardons?" It has been confirmed that 16 Royal Prerogatives of Mercy were issued by the last Labour government in the UK.
The SF leader's position seems to be that he would not send a letter on compassionate grounds to have a man spared prison on drug charges, but that he does consider it appropriate for SF to make representations behind the scenes to have men and women spared prison on much more serious charges.
Indeed, far from taking a principled stand on the independence of the justice system, Sinn Fein even threatened to withdraw support from the PSNI if Gerry Adams, who was arrested and questioned about the abduction, murder and secret burial of Jean McConville, was charged.
It was Niall Collins himself who chastised SF deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald on that occasion for alleging that Adams's arrest was politically motivated. "By moving so quickly to criticise a police investigation and question the motives of the officers involved," he said, "it is Deputy McDonald who has introduced politics into this inquiry." Now suddenly, the party is stoutly defending the separation of powers.
Ann Travers is particularly struck by the contrast of Sinn Fein refusing to co-operate with ongoing Westminster hearings into the OTRs scheme, which are being held in the open, while agreeing to contribute to the judicial review into the matter which is being conducted in private.
"Families are left not knowing who these letters were sent to and if it was due to a letter that their loved one's murder remains unsolved," she said. "When SF start to be completely transparent and accountable, then families can take them seriously."