News / Europe

IRA Leader Arrested Over 1972 Murder

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams arrives at the funeral of veteran British Labour politician Tony Benn at St. Margaret's Church, Westminster Abbey in London, March 27, 2014.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams arrives at the funeral of veteran British Labour politician Tony Benn at St. Margaret's Church, Westminster Abbey in London, March 27, 2014.
Al Pessin
The leader of the political wing of the Irish Republican Army has been arrested in connection with a murder 42 years ago, during the region’s conflict.

The arrest of Gerry Adams followed several hours of police questioning Wednesday.  Police called him in to answer questions about the murder of widowed mother of 10, Jean McConville, in 1972, when Northern Ireland was embroiled in violence.

The arrest is apparently linked to interviews with former Irish Republican Army fighters for a history project at Boston University in the United States.  The interviews were to have been kept secret until all the interviewees died.  But last year, a U.S. court ordered the university to hand over the tapes to the police in Northern Ireland.

One of the interviewees was arrested in March for alleged involvement in the killing.  At least one of the interviews implicates Adams.

The leader of Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army’s political wing, Adams has always denied involvement in the incident.  Over two decades, he has become a key figure in the region’s reconciliation efforts.  

In a statement Thursday, the 65-year-old politician said he is “innocent of any part in the abduction, killing or burial of Mrs. McConville,” which he called “wrong and a grievous injustice.”

Three years ago, he made this statement about the period called “The Troubles.”

“I regret very much that anyone was killed as a result of conflict in our country. And there is a lot of work to be done by all of us as part of a healing process in the time ahead,” said Adams.

During “The Troubles,” “Republicans” [mostly Catholics] wanted the British territory to re-unite with the rest of Ireland. “Unionists” [mostly Protestants] wanted it to remain part of Britain.

Members of the radical Irish Republican Army carried out a violent campaign to try to force Britain to withdraw from Northern Ireland.  

In 1972, its leaders suspected 37-year-old Jean McConville of informing the British Army about its activities. A gang abducted her from her home, in front of her children, and she was never seen again.

Nearly 30 years later, as part of reconciliation efforts, the IRA revealed the location of her grave, at a beach 80 kilometers from her home. She had been shot in the back of the head.

The Northern Ireland peace accord that Adams helped finalize in 1998 has been largely successful, but there still are occasional flare-ups of violence. The most recent was just over a year ago, in a dispute over removing the British flag from the city government building in the region’s capital, Belfast.

Adams’ arrest comes in the midst of campaigning for local and European Parliament elections. He questioned the timing of the arrest, and his party called it “politically motivated,” a charge the British Prime Minister’s office denied.

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