Published on 1 May 2014

The implications of Gerry Adams’ arrest

If Gerry Adams’ questioning remains just that and does not lead to charges, what are the implications?

Could it give a useful jolt to the negotiations between the Northern Ireland parties to move to an agreed process for dealing with the past?

There have been discussions since the talks led by Richard Haas and the parties are due to resume them after the European Parliament elections later this month. Some have seen encouraging signs of progress.

Some might argue that Gerry Adams’ language last night – “I do not disassociate myself from the IRA and I never will” – was a nuanced move towards more openness.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams arrives to the funeral of British Labour politician Tony Benn at St Margaret's Church, Westminster Abbey in London

Sinn Fein spokespeople today deny that, but many who interviewed Gerry Adams over many years think they’re hearing movement in that phrasing.

Will it have any effect on the European Parliament elections?

Sinn Fein elected representatives north and south of the border are saying it’s all a plot to undermine their efforts in those elections. It’s hard to imagine it would have any effect on their core vote. Just possible it could on some first time Sinn Fein supporters in Ireland where they have a chance of getting a seat in each of the four regions.

It was Gerry Adams himself who offered himself up for questioning in March.

Read more: Gerry Adams remains in custody over 1972 murder

His own solicitor was in touch with the PSNI beforehand and his statement to RTE on camera last night, pointedly given in front of the Dail where he leads the Sinn Fein team of TDs, did not go for the PSNI, an institution he helped to shape as successor to the RUC.

There was nothing in his words yesterday to suggest he saw this as a breach of the agreements, an act of bad faith, a trigger to a full-scale crisis.

But what happens if he is charged would be a completely different story.

It might be an unlikely hypothetical. There have long been suggestions that the transcripts sitting in the University of Boston safes of interviews with former IRA (and other paramilitary group) members would not be sufficient for prosecutions.

But if they were, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent side deals there is no exemption for a former paramilitary from a fresh prosecution.

If it happened, if the leader of Sinn Fein were charged with anything in connection with a murder, the convulsion to Northern Ireland politics would be immense. He rejects all allegations of involvement.

Michael McConville, one of Jean McConville’s sons, told RTE Radio 1 this morning that back in 1972 between 10 and 12 IRA members came into his home when he and six of his siblings were with his mother. Some of those abductors were masked, some not. He said he recognised three or four of them as neighbours, his elder siblings recognised more.

Jean McConville’s purse and family rings were later left with the family by an IRA member. It was then, Michael McConville said on RTE’s “John Murray Show,” he knew he’d lost her. He said some of his mother’s original attackers still look him straight in the face as he passes them in the street.

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One reader comment

  1. Jerry Pepin says:

    We seem to have gone full circle with British reporting of the north of Ireland. At the time of Jean McConville’s death the media in Britain never acknowledged a war; republicans were just hooligans, criminals, terrorists. After a brief period of grown-up assessment whilst former protagonists made friends we’re back to the poor and biassed reporting that helped fuel Republican anger – and a determination to take the war to the mainland – in the first place.

    Why are journalists stating that McConville was mistakenly accused of being an informer as if it were a fact ? Gary Gibbon’s own articles on this site reveal that Brendan Hughes’ asserted that she was an informer. Indeed, he claimed to have personally found the British Army radio in her flat on the first occasion. It is Hughes’ statement that is the chief reason Adam’s is currently in Antrim Police station; if journalists find his statement credible they should be informed by the whole thing, not pick the bits they like, the bits that fit the story they have already decided to tell. Poor reporting.

    I suspect journalists are choosing to believe the former NI Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan’s conclusion that there was no evidence of McConville informing. Her investigation was in 2006. She didn’t have the Boston Tapes. By her own admission she didn’t even know about the existence of the main body of written evidence on the British side, the war diaries of the army regiment involved. War diaries which, unlike any other from the period, have had 80 and 100 year prohibitions slapped on them by the MOD. You have to ask what kind of investigation Ms O’Loan carried out if she didn’t even know these existed. You also have to ask what the MOD is so desperate to hide from us. Perhaps journalists are choosing to base their statement on an even older story about McConville, that she tended a wounded British soldier, which was discredited many years ago. Poor reporting.

    Does it matter. I think it does. It doesn’t matter greatly what happens to Gerry Adams, he no represents the active Republican movement. There isn’t a soul in the Ireland of Ireland who doesn’t believe he was a PIRA commander and Army Council member. Neither does it matter that the truth about why, exactly, Jean McConville died. War is gruesome, bad things happen and her children would probably rather remain certain in their beliefs than have them challenged in court.

    Two things do matter. One is the immediate consequence of the British state prosecuting the leader of an army it’s made peace with. It isn’t how Sinn Fein sees things that matters any more. Right now, dissident republicans are able to argue with a wider number of people that they have been right. The peace is one-sided, the Brits can’t be trusted, we won’t make the same mistake. I advocate nothing; I’m simply saying journalists are asking the wrong questions to the wrong people.

    More importantly, or at least with a wider impact is what this reveals about British attitude in the 21st century. The refusal, by most, to see this episode in context and instead to react as if this death had occurred yesterday and no understanding or explanation or rationalization could even be considered in the face of such inexplicable evil is symptomatic of an increasing distance between the mainstream British psyche and the worldwide reality.

    War is nasty. In the front garden of a house in Derry a small section is railed off around a memorial to a middle-aged man dragged from his house and beaten to death by the RUC before the PIRA ever fired a shot. He had children, too. Every British soldier shot was a son; perhaps a father, a brother, a husband. To look back at history and ignore the tsunami of human carnage, forsaking every brutal and brutalizing death for one, arbitrary, isolated soul deserving of our sympathy is a frightening development. Has the British public become so decadent, so amoral, so bereft of a sense of temporal location that we cannot anymore contemplate the really big atrocities ? The media, the political parties and the intelligent, educated, civilized majority can and expect to debate intellectually our government dropping bombs on the villages of the middle east, blowing the arms and legs off children and parents alike, as if it were an exercise in logistics and there were no consequences other than our own democratic deliberations but we cannot abide or understand or turn our face towards those who might take a single life in a different world than ours. I don’t like Gerry Adams, I wouldn’t trust a word he said to me but he’d have to live his life approximately 30 times to be compared with the war criminal Tony Blair and even then Blair’s mass murder was unprovoked, aggressive, gratuitous but it is Blair we are comfortable with.

    It’s frightening when people accept the Goebels doctrine: if you’re going to tell a lie, tell a big one.

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