Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams is under questioning by police in Belfast in connection with the 1972 murder of Jean McConville, a 37-year-old widow and mother of 10.
Adams is being quizzed by Northern Ireland’s serious crimes unit in relation to the murder of McConville, who was shot by the Irish Republican Army and secretly buried. Adams, who voluntarily turned himself in yesterday, hasn’t been charged. He remains in custody, a police spokesman said.
“While I have never disassociated myself from the IRA and I never will, I am innocent of any part in the abduction, killing or burial of Mrs. McConville,” Adams said in a statement on Sinn Fein’s website. “I believe that the killing of Jean McConville and the secret burial of her body was wrong and a grievous injustice to her and her family.”
Adams is grappling with questions about his militant past, even as he leads Sinn Fein to greater influence on both sides of the Irish border. His party shares power in Northern Ireland and has become one of the most popular political groups in the Republic, where he is a member of parliament.
“There’s been absolutely no political interference in this issue,” U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters today in London. “We’ve an independent judicial system both here in England and also we do have one in Northern Ireland.”
Adams has “concerns about the timing” of the arrest, according to the Sinn Fein statement. His party colleague, Mary Lou McDonald, who’s a member of parliament in the Republic, told RTE Radio that the arrest had an element of “political malice” as the party prepares for local and European elections this month.
The roots of the arrest may lie in a series of recorded interviews with former militants known as the Boston Tapes, McDonald said. Prosecutors fought to gain access to the tapes, which were part of an oral history project arranged by Boston College. One of the interviewees, who has since died, said Adams was tied to the killing of McConville.
The individual “was clearly unapologetically opposed tooth and nail to the peace process,” McDonald said. “He was absolutely opposed to Gerry Adams.”
The IRA led an armed campaign against the British presence in Northern Ireland, before declaring a ceasefire in 1997 and later disbanding. While the Republic of Ireland gained independence in 1922, the North remained under British rule.
While leading Sinn Fein for decades, Adams, a native of Belfast, has never said he was a member of the IRA.
McConville, a Protestant from Belfast who married a Roman Catholic, was abducted from her home and killed in December 1972 and then buried, according to ‘Lost Lives’, a 1999 book charting murders during the conflict by David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney and Chris Thornton.
Her body was accidentally found on a beach in 2003, according to Cain, a University of Ulster database. The IRA has said McConville was an informer for the British army, a claim disputed by her family. The suggestion that McConville was an informer was dismissed after an official investigation by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, the BBC reported.
Her son, Michael, said in an BBC News interview that he didn’t think the arrest of Adams “would ever take place.”
“We are quite glad that it is taking place,” he said. “All we’re looking for is justice for our mother.”
The IRA admitted in 1999 to secretly killing and burying nine people called “the Disappeared,” including McConville, according to Cain, the University of Ulster database.