Gerry Adams freed without charge after questioning over McConville case

Sinn Féin president says his party 'remains wedded' to new policing dispensation after release from police station

Sinn Féin's president, Gerry Adams, has been released without charge after spending four days in custody being questioned about one of the most notorious murders of the Northern Ireland Troubles – the kidnapping, killing and secret burial of Jean McConville in 1972.

The prospect of charges has not gone away as a file on the McConville case has been sent to the region's Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

But at a press conference on Sunday night, Adams reiterated that he had nothing to do with McConville's disappearance and murder, declaring: "I am innocent of any conspiracy."

He stressed that he still supported the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) despite his arrest and detention for almost five days. He said his party "remains wedded" to the new policing dispensation in Northern Ireland.

His remarks indicate that there is no short-term prospect of Sinn Féin withdrawing support for the police – a move that could have triggered the collapse of the power-sharing executive at Stormont.

He singled out journalist Ed Moloney and Boston College researcher Anthony McIntyre – a former IRA prisoner – for pointed criticism. Adams alleged that some of those anonymous IRA members who gave interviews "said we should be shot" for the Good Friday Agreement and policing.

"I reject all the allegations in these tapes", the former West Belfast MP told the press conference at a Belfast hotel.

Repeating his denial of having any involvement in the McConville murder, Adams said: "I extend sympathy once again to the McConville family and all those who have suffered at the hands of Republicans."

The Sinn Féin president and member of the Irish parliament said he had never disassociated himself from the IRA and never would.

Addressing the McConville family, particularly the oldest son, Adams said: "My message to Michael McConville ... we cannot bring Mrs McConville back." He said the murder of their mother "was a grave injustice...I regret very much what happened".

He criticised the food provided to him during his incarceration which he described as "un-eatable." Adams said: "I didn't eat for the first couple of days because the food couldn't be digested."

The McConville family have repeated their promise that regardless of any criminal prosecution they will take a civil legal action to sue 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's release.

"Even if nothing comes from the file being to sent to the Public Prosecution Service, there is going to be a case against Adams. We have received backing from an anonymous donor to take our legal action against him," she said.

McKendry added: "I noted that Gerry Kelly [Sinn Féin minister and ex-IRA bomber] kept referring to my mother's murder outside the police station as a 42-year-old killing. I found that disgusting because it implied that her death, that that crime, wasn't important any more.

"Bloody Sunday was 42 years ago and it still matters and those people in Derry deserve justice, too. So we won't give up on pursuing Adams no matter what happens now. We haven't gone away you know."

At a press conference, her brother Michael McConville said: "The McConville family is going to stay to the bitter end until we get justice."

A spokesperson for the PSNI confirmed that a 65-year-old-man questioned by detectives investigating Jean McConville's murder had been released "pending a report to the PPS".

The PPS will have to decide if it is in the public interest to charge Adams in connection with the McConville murder scandal. The director of the PPS, Barra McGrory, will play no part in that decision because he used to be Adams' solicitor.

Although officially free, Adams remained inside the police station until about 7pm on Sunday night. A small but vocal group of hostile Ulster loyalist demonstrators were standing outside, blocking the station's heavily fortified gates, preparing to hurl abuse when he emerged.

A convoy of armoured trucks was confronted with a phalanx of protesters, some of whom sat in the road, blocking the exit.

However, it then transpired that the security operation was a decoy to divert the loyalists away from the back of the station. Adams and his entourage left by car via the back entrance.

The Adams arrest and Sinn Féin's warnings since Friday that the party would reconsider their support for the PSNI have poisoned the political atmosphere within the power-sharing devolved government in Belfast.

Earlier on Sunday, first minister Peter Robinson described Sinn Féin's behaviour as "bully boy tactics".

The Democratic Unionist party leader said: "The protest action taken by Sinn Féin is unacceptable in any democratic country operating under the rule of law.

"The publicly conveyed threat to the PSNI delivered by the highest levels of Sinn Féin that they will reassess their attitude to policing if Gerry Adams is charged is a despicable, thuggish attempt to blackmail the PSNI.

"The threat now means that ordinary decent citizens will conclude that the PSNI and the PPS have succumbed to a crude and overt political threat if Adams is not charged."

The first minister's remarks were a measure of the bitter acrimony over Adams' detention between the two main parties in the regional devolved government, the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Shaun Woodward, Labour's last Northern Ireland secretary, warned that the detention of Adams for four days had created a "massive test of confidence" in policing and the justice system in Northern Ireland.

Woodward said: "I remain hopeful we can come through this; but a very steady hand is now required to maintain confidence in all the institutions. The release of Gerry Adams has not lessened the tension; tonight it sits in a different place and runs the risk of remaining in such a precarious position for as long as it takes to make a decision. And then we will go into a new phase again."

Ivan Lewis, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, said: "Wise and cool heads are needed amongst leaders on all sides who should tone down the rhetoric and reassure people that they remain committed to reconciliation and a shared future. Once the current elections are over, they must seek an urgent agreement on new mechanisms to deal with the past and parades. The UK government working with the Irish government must now take a proactive role in facilitating such an agreement."

Gerry Kelly, the Sinn Féin junior minister and former IRA Old Bailey bomber, was allowed into Antrim police station to visit Adams on Sunday afternoon.

Kelly said Adams believed his detention was politically motivated and was "worried about the damage that it may be doing to the image of policing as well. This is quite a serious situation".

He said that the Sinn Féin president told him that the police also questioned Adams about books he wrote over the past 40 years and showed him photographs from the Troubles.

The minister's visit was highly unusual because normally only a doctor or lawyer can visit a suspect in a police station anywhere in Northern Ireland.

As well as questions over the killing and secret burial of McConville – one of 16 people whom republicans murdered and then 'disappeared', their bodies not found for decades – Adams was asked about being a member of the IRA.

He was arrested under the Terrorism Act and was held for almost five days in the PSNI's serious crimes suite in Antrim police station.

Adams was the seventh person to be arrested and questioned over the McConville murder. The victim was dragged at gunpoint from her children in west Belfast just before Christmas in 1972. She was driven across the Irish border, shot in the head several days after being interrogated by the IRA and her body buried at a secret location on a Co Louth beach.

The IRA only admitted they had murdered her in 1999 after a long campaign by her daughter Helen and son-in-law Seamus McKendry to highlight her disappearance and murder. Her body was discovered in 2003 by a man walking his dog on Shillington Beach in the Irish Republic.

Adams has always denied having played a role in her murder or have ever being a member of the IRA. However, his former republican comrade Brendan Hughes sparked a major controversy in 2010 when the ex-IRA hunger striker alleged in a posthumous taped interview that Adams gave the order for McConville to be killed for being an alleged informer and then have her "disappeared" or buried in secret.


Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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