Analysis: Arrest of Adams shows another face of SF to voters
McDonald in centre of political storm
It should have come as no great surprise to anybody that the PSNI wants to question Adams about the murder of McConville, given his central role in the republican movement in Belfast in the 1970s. Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
The arrest of Gerry Adams as part of the investigation into the murder of Jean McConville has brought the Sinn Féin leader’s past right into the heart of the European and local elections campaign in the Republic.
The indignant response of party deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald and her accusation that the PSNI was acting out of a political motivation only made matters worse. The attack on the PSNI undermined the arguments she and Adams have been making for the past few months about the need to remodel the Garda on the lines of the PSNI.
The real damage done by her intervention, though, was to associate the slick, modern Sinn Féin operation with the bloody past of the republican movement.
It should have come as no great surprise to anybody that the PSNI wants to question Adams about the murder of McConville, given his central role in the republican movement in Belfast in the 1970s.
What was surprising was the uncompromising attack on the integrity of the police by McDonald as she jumped to the defence of her party leader. That was probably designed to reassure her internal republican audience but it showed the wider electorate a different face of the Sinn Féin TD. The issue dominated the news agenda yesterday with Enda Kenny questioned about it at a press conference to launch the Fine Gael local elections campaign.
Kenny made the point that none of the other parties in the Republic have any connection at all with the investigation into the disappearance or murder of mother-of-10 McConville.
“The most important thing is that Jean McConville was murdered and her body was not found for years later. This is a murder case and a murder case that is not resolved,” he said.
Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins waded into the fray calling on McDonald to withdraw the claim that the arrest of Adams was politically motivated.
“Gerry Adams has been arrested in connection with the murder of Jean McConville. That is an ongoing police inquiry and I do not believe that politicians from any quarter should interfere with or undermine the work of the investigation team.
“In that context I believe the comments of his colleague Mary Lou McDonald are particularly inappropriate and ill-judged and should be withdrawn,” said Collins.
He said that by being so quick to criticise a police investigation and question the motives of the officers involved McDonald was harking back to some of the worst and most divisive rhetoric of the past that could be seized on by dissident groups.
Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Charlie Flanagan also criticised McDonald saying that for the past few months she, and Adams, had been targeting Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and praising the PSNI as an example to be followed.
“This is two-faced at the very least. You can’t hold up the PSNI as an example of a police force free from political interference one day and then accuse it of that very failing when your own party leader is arrested,” said Flanagan.
The big question is what impact the Adams arrest is going to have on the European and local elections which are in full swing with just three weeks to go until polling day.
The early opinion polls have shown Sinn Féin in contention for three of the 11 European Parliament seats in the country and the party is also tipped to do very well in the local elections where it is expected to at least double its representation.
The party has successfully presented itself to the electorate in recent years as increasingly mainstream and is running a number of presentable, articulate young candidates whose faces adorn posters up and down the country. The arrest of Adams is a reminder that there is much more to Sinn Féin than the anti-austerity rhetoric of the past few years. That applies not only to Adams but to many members of his wider parliamentary party as McDonald’s uncompromising stand reveals.
The precise impact on the party’s new-found standing will be revealed in three weeks’ time. People who have voted Sinn Féin before are unlikely to be influenced by the arrest but it might lead more recent adherents of the party to waver in their allegiance. The early opinion polls in the current election campaign have shown Sinn Féin on about 20 per cent of the vote but it should be recalled that the early polls in the presidential election campaign of 2011 showed Martin McGuinness on a similar share.
In the event he got 13.5 per cent on election day, which was a very respectable performance but far short of the party’s aspirations. McGuinness’s standing suffered after he was challenged about his role in the IRA by the son of Pte Patrick Kelly, who was murdered by the organisation in 1983.
It will be fascinating to see if the renewed focus on the republican movement’s actions in previous decades has a similar impact on the Sinn Féin vote this time around or whether the party is so strong that it has developed an immunity from the consequences of past events.