DUBLIN – Sinn Fein chief Gerry Adams, the warlord-turned-peacemaker of the Northern Ireland conflict, was being interrogated today over the grisly slaying of a Belfast widow that has haunted his political career for decades.
Adams was arrested on suspicion of ordering the killing of Jean McConville, a mother of 10 in his Catholic west Belfast power base in 1972. That was the deadliest year in four decades of bloodshed, when the outlawed Irish Republican Army was committing killings daily – and Adams was already a commanding figure.
The IRA branded the 38-year-old woman a British spy but killed her secretly and told her children, who ranged in age from infants to teens, that she had abandoned them.
If Adams, 65, is charged with the murder of McConville – who disappeared without trace until her bullet-shattered skull was found near a Republic of Ireland beach in 2003 – it would be a profound surprise and deal a damaging shock to Northern Ireland’s precariously balanced peace.
Adams’ track record suggests he won’t be.
He was arrested and interrogated repeatedly in the wake of IRA bombings and shootings in the 1970s and 1980s, and even met British government leaders face to face as an IRA representative for failed cease-fire talks in 1972, followed by the IRA’s biggest car-bomb offensive on Belfast. Yet he insists he’s never held any position in the underground army and has been convicted of only one IRA offense, a failed escape when imprisoned without trial.
Adams gave every impression he intended to walk free again, giving TV interviews shortly before delivering himself to a Belfast police station Wednesday to begin an interrogation he has anticipated for months, if not years.
“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 said. “Well publicized, malicious allegations have been made against me. I reject these. 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.”