May 7, 2014 at 10:47 a.m.
Briefing / On the global news radar

Briefing: Old wounds reopened with arrest of Gerry Adams

Briefing: Old wounds reopened with arrest of Gerry Adams
Briefing: Old wounds reopened with arrest of Gerry Adams

By Simon [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

The arrest of Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams last week has sparked fresh fears for the future of the peace process in Northern Ireland. 

Mr Adams was arrested last Wednesday in connection with the 1972 murder of Jean McConville and quizzed for four days before being released without charge. 

But his arrest has reopened old deep wounds and again unearthed a murky era in the country’s history.

Why is Gerry Adams recent arrest significant?

Gerry Adams has led Sinn Féin, Northern Ireland second biggest political party, for the past 31 years. He’s one of the most recognisable and controversial figures in Irish politics, and his arrest has captured worldwide attention. 

To some he is hailed as a peacemaker, for leading the republican movement away from its long, violent campaign towards peaceful and democratic means. To others he is a hate figure who publicly justified IRA murders.

What have police been questioning him about?

Mr Adams spent four days in custody being quizzed about one of the most notorious murders of the Northern Ireland Troubles — the kidnapping, killing and secret burial of Jean McConville in 1972.

Who was Jean McConville?

Jean McConville was a mother-of-ten who lived in West Belfast with her family. She was abducted from her home by the IRA in front of her children in December 1972 and later shot dead.

Why was she killed?

There was speculation that she was taken after being seen by neighbours helping an injured British soldier. 

Others claimed she was an informer, but this was dismissed after an official investigation by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman. 

Mrs McConville is one of a group of people, who have become known as the ‘Disappeared’ who were abducted, murdered and secretly buried by republicans during the Troubles.

Who killed her?

In 1999 the IRA admitted that it had murdered and buried at secret locations nine of the Disappeared, including Jean McConville. 

Her body was finally found on Shelling Hill Beach in County Louth in the Republic of Ireland in 2003. 

Irish police confirmed that she had died from a bullet wound to the head. 

In the days that followed, the IRA issued a statement apologizing for the grief it had caused the families of the Disappeared and that their suffering had continued for so long.

Has anyone been brought to justice for Jean McConville’s murder?

No, no one has faced charges in connection with her murder.

What is the importance of the ‘Boston tapes’ in the murder investigation?

A key part of the investigation into the abduction and murder of Jean McConville are tapes that were held in a US college. 

The ‘Belfast Project’ was launched in 2001 and was designed to become an oral history of the Troubles. 

Former loyalist and republican paramilitaries gave a series of candid interviews that chronicled their involvement in the Troubles. 

In one such interview the former IRA commander Brendan Hughes named Gerry Adams as overall commander of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade. 

He also claimed that Mr Adams had controlled his own squad within the IRA, known by the organisation as “the unknowns”. 

This, according to Hughes, was the group responsible for the ‘Disappeared’, those who were kidnapped, murdered and secretly buried by the

What has Mr Adams’ response to the murder accusations been?

Mr Adams has always denied being part of the IRA and he has repeatedly stated that he had nothing to do with the murder of Jean McConville. 

Speaking before his detention last Wednesday evening, Mr Adams said he was “innocent of any part” in the murder. 

He has questioned the timing of his detention and said police had unnecessarily used “coercive” legislation to detain and question him.

What about Mrs McConville’s family?

The McConville family has vowed that regardless of any criminal prosecution they will take a civil legal action to sue Mr Adams and take him to court. 

“I am gutted he is out but this is far from over, either for him or me”, said Helen McKendry, the eldest surviving daughter of the murdered West Belfast woman, reacting to Adams’ release.

What happens next?

The decision whether to charge Mr Adams with any offence will be made by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) at a later date after reviewing evidence presented by police. 

In the meantime, Adams will refocus on election campaigning. Sinn Féin held a European election rally in Belfast on Monday, with a similar event planned in Dublin on Tuesday, as Adams resumes the canvassing activities he claims his detention was designed to thwart. 


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