“This is not 1981, it is not 1972. There can be no going back”
Released without charge from a four-day period of custody and interrogation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president said that his party “remains wedded” to the Northern Ireland peace process, and the policing dispensation that is a part of it.
His assurances that the peace process would not be derailed by his arrest were made along with assertions of his innocence. “This is not 1981, it is not 1972. There can be no going back,” he told a press conference after his release from custody. “The IRA is gone, it’s finished.”
Mr. Adams has always maintained that while he was associated with the Irish Republican Army, he was never its member. “Let me be very clear,” he reportedly told the press conference. “I am innocent of any involvement in any conspiracy to abduct, kill or bury Mrs. McConville,” the woman whose murder in 1972 he is accused of having masterminded.
A suspected informer, the 37-year old mother-of-10 was dragged out of her flat by masked men of the IRA in front of her horrified children, taken across the border and shot dead. One of the 15 “disappeared” in the conflict, her body was discovered buried in a beach in 2003.
End to ‘Troubles’
The 65-year old republican leader’s arrest led to widespread concerns that the peace process — anchored by the Belfast Good Friday Agreement of 1998 — would be undermined. Mr. Adams was the chief architect of the agreement that brought to an end the “Troubles” – the 30-year bloody conflict over the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.
The Sinn Fein — the second largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly — had warned that if their leader is charged with murder, it would withdraw support to the police, which is a key strut in the agreement.
Mr. Adams’ arrest came after several testimonies by Brenden Hughes and other former associates of Mr. Adams to researchers from Boston College who were documenting the 30-year conflict.
Mr. Adams, who was questioned on the allegations made in the Boston Tapes, has maintained that the testimonies were discredited as they were based on hearsay, and would not stand as evidence in court.
In Northern Ireland, the peace process is still finding its way. In Belfast, for example, walls still separate Catholic and Protestant areas; most schools remain segregated on religious lines; and symbols like flags, insignia, and route-marches are matters of deep contention.
In fact, political differences on how to resolve outstanding peace issues resulted in the Northern Ireland Executive drawing up the Haas Proposals in December 2013. Under these proposals, ex-paramilitaries and former British security service operatives would be given “limited immunity” from prosecution, provided both sides abide by the other terms of the agreement. The British Government has not signed up to the Haas Proposals.
Demand for retribution
If the towering figure who crafted the peace agreement, and who is perceived as a public guarantor of its success, is convicted of murder, it is bound to see the Good Friday Agreement unravel.
At the heart of the peace process lies the difficult task of addressing the legacy of hate and the demand for retributive justice from those who suffered the loss of loved ones in a conflict that took 3,600 lives.
In Northern Ireland, those working the peace process on a day-to-day basis know that the peace process must not involve itself with settling scores of the past as that would only reopen old and unforgiving wounds. The conviction of Mr. Adams would threaten to do just that.