Referral of case to prosecution service takes heat out of issue

Charging Adams or unconditionally freeing him would have sparked fury

Loyalists gather outside Antrim PSNI station after it was announced that Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams was to be released without charge following questioning over the Jean McConville murder on. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Loyalists gather outside Antrim PSNI station after it was announced that Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams was to be released without charge following questioning over the Jean McConville murder on. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Mon, May 5, 2014, 01:00

As Gerry Adams was driven from Antrim police station yesterday one observer among the camera crews, reporters and also some angry loyalists there to greet him observed that “a nil-all – or maybe it’s a one-all – draw is probably the best result, all things considered”.

All things considered, that probably is a fair summary. The police had three options and the one they took – referring his case to the Public Prosecution Service – is what in politics is called a soft landing, although neither Adams nor Sinn Féin would agree obviously.

But right now a cushioned landing is what Northern Ireland needed.

Had Adams been charged in connection with the 1972 murder of Jean McConville the political temperature, already at a dangerously high level, would have been pushed beyond boiling point. Keeping the lid on republican anger would have been difficult.

Had Adams been freed unconditionally, the firing of the “political policing” charges would have switched direction and started blasting from the unionist and loyalist side – rather than from republicans as has been the case for the guts of the past week.

Serious questions would have been asked, such as how come the Public Prosecution Service isn’t even going to be asked to determine is there a judicial case that could hold up against the Louth TD.

In such an eventuality, the PSNI and its real or imagined “dark side” would have been asked how come Adams didn’t face further scrutiny by the prosecution service when it is known at least two people went on the record – Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price – and accused him of ordering the murder of Ms McConville.


Boston tapes
It is understood and generally accepted from the Boston College oral history of the Troubles that another former senior IRA figure has also claimed Adams gave the “execution” order.

It is also known that there are about a half-a-dozen more of the Boston tapes in the hands of the PSNI that contain references from former IRA members about the murder of Jean McConville.

Adams has emphatically denied all these claims and has argued with justification that, certainly in the case of Hughes and Price, they were deeply antipathetic to him and to the peace process.

Equally, there is a large question mark over the value of taped evidence from two dead people, Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price.

Could such a case carry weight in a court of law?

Adams and Sinn Féin don’t think so.

They may well be right. But at least it is for the learned lawyers in the prosecution service to determine that.


Marching season
That will take time. It should surely bring us past the elections later this month and it may even bring us past the summer marching season to the autumn months when passions are not as volatile.

This is a complex case, as is generally known, and it could take time for the PSNI to complete its file before it is sent to the prosecution service.

An interesting side issue is the North’s Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory, who heads the prosecution service, was Adams’s solicitor. However, he will hand over responsibility for this file to a senior colleague.

The McConville family, as Jean McConville’s son Michael said, want justice for their mother.

That is still going to take time and it remains uncertain whether they will ever achieve that justice.

At least they know this case is not over.

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