Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has been arrested in connection with the 1972 disappearance and death of Jean McConville. Despite much political handwringing about never returning to the dark days of the past, pre-peace accord toxicity continues to pollute the present and some, the PSNI among them, are intent on ensuring it remains that way.
Sinn Fein had hoped to play it cutely by having Mr Adams make himself available to meet the PSNI so that the unseemly spectacle of an arrest could be avoided which would surely project the image of the party president as an official suspect at the centre of a police investigation of an action widely regarded as a war crime. The party would have sought to spin the ‘meeting’ as their leader ‘putting manners’ on the police. Any chance of seizing that initiative was lost the minute Mr Adams presented himself at Antrim PSNI station where the PSNI duly placed him under arrest.
The party, stung by the turn of events, has taken to accusing the British police of interfering in the electoral process. Prior to his arrest Adams said he was suspicious of the timing in the midst of an election campaign. It was a line repeated by Gerry Kelly and Mary Lou McDonald last night following his detention and again this morning by Conor Murphy. McDonald in particular is in something of a bind as she had previously welcomed the arrest of Mr Adams’ fellow negotiator at 1972 truce talks in London between the IRA and the British government, Ivor Bell. Sinn Fein is also hoist on its own petard, having agreed to the process of evidence based prosecutions for past conflict activity, even going as far as to abandon a long standing republican demand for amnesty.
Given that the PSNI has since March been arresting others in connection with the McConville investigation, had it postponed the arrest of Gerry Adams until after the elections it could have been accused of political policing.
Yet the detention of Mr Adams is a political arrest for which the PSNI should be robustly rebuked. Its pursuit of the Sinn Fein president oozes political motivation through its pores although not for the reasons stressed by his party. One day before the arrest which was part of an ongoing British police inquiry into IRA activity, the British government slapped down, on the grounds of it contravening public interest, a demand for an inquiry into the 1971 British army massacre of civilians in Mr Adams’ then neighbourhood, West Belfast’s Ballymurphy.
This suggests that even if there is evidence of some sort against Mr Adams, it is not the existence of evidence per se that fuels the drive to prosecute. There is unlikely to be material evidence any more substantive than has previously been available. At the same time the PSNI and British government know the identity of every single member of the British security establishment who killed Irish civilians while on duty. They know the police, prison service and army torturers. They know the state personnel who colluded with loyalist deaths squads in killings such as that of the lawyer Pat Finucane. They are also in possession of the material evidence to prosecute many of these people. In the case of the Ballymurphy massacre they have had the evidence for 43 years and have shown not the slightest inclination to use it.
The family of Jean McConville have every right to know the
story behind the abduction, death and disappearance of their mother. All
victims of the North’s conflict have the same right to know what happened to
their loved ones. The tragedy is that few will get it courtesy of the PSNI
making this type of vengeful political arrest.