Republican anger grows over Adams arrest ‘double standard’

Analysis: squaring justice for McConvilles with political stability is the conundrum in relation to the Sinn Féin president’s arrest

As Gerry Adams works through his fourth day in police custody and as the personal and political dramas of the Sinn Féin president and the McConville family unfold, the PSNI continues to insist it is playing a very straight investigative bat in trying to establish who murdered Jean McConville.

All sorts of sub-plots are in the mix, some of them incendiary, and some of which, understandably, are making the British and Irish governments quite anxious, but for the moment senior PSNI criminal investigators plough through a very long list of questions for Adams.

Which is why a judge yesterday granted permission for the police to extend the Sinn Féin president’s period sitting in the “serious crime suite” of Antrim station with his solicitor and his questioners.

Justice Minister David Ford was yesterday dismissive of the Sinn Féin allegation of "political policing", as was one security source who offered: "Why should anyone, whether he is a senior police officer or a chief executive of a multinational company, expect some deviation from normal criminal investigative procedures just because of who they are?"


Queried about why Adams was in custody since Wednesday, he replied: “Anybody who watches TV and thinks you can solve a murder crime in an hour-and-a-half, together with commercial breaks, should live in the real world.”

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, however, continued to be sceptical of the objective policing line. He is trying to manoeuvre the tricky path between allowing for police operational independence, as he is bound to do, while also complaining of “dark” forces within the force. He must also be very mindful of what is happening at grassroots republican level.

Sinn Féin also continued to major on its complaint that the arrest was designed to damage the party’s prospects in the European and local elections.

Opposition politicians reject this claim, but perhaps it is an understandable tactical point for Sinn Féin to argue, a hand they feel they must play.

Effect on performance
But it's far from certain that what is happening to Adams will have any effect on how the party performs in three weeks' time. Sinn Féin has an uncanny ability to make silk purses out of sows' ears and this could yet work to its electoral advantage.

So, in terms of the bigger political picture, the election accusation is almost a diversion because the arrest of Adams could have a far deeper impact than swaying some floating voters.

It’s more serious than that.

There has also been some talk of Mary Lou McDonald or Pearse Doherty possibly succeeding Adams as leader, but in the current context that too is a sideshow.

It mustn’t be forgotten that Adams, with Martin McGuinness, is still the iconic figure within mainstream republicanism. Over the period of the Troubles they were key players in prosecuting a bloody political and sectarian conflict, but they were equally significant figures in securing and consolidating the peace.

What would arise were Adams to fall from grace due to one of the most wretched and awful murders of the Troubles?

Ultimately, therefore, how this unfolds could test whether the glue that has held the broad republican movement together remains binding.

Double standards
You can sense a simmering and escalating anger among mainstream republicans. Martin McGuinness complains of double standards in relation to British state and IRA killings while a politician who helped cement the peace – "my friend and my party leader" – remains in custody.

Were there some sort of overarching mechanism to deal with the past, then we might not be in this dilemma.

But despite efforts by people such as Richard Haass to find a way of addressing the past in a comprehensive fashion, and despite controversial calls from the North’s Attorney General John Larkin and former northern secretary Peter Hain for an effective drawing of a line under the past, no one has had the courage to properly grasp the issue.

British prime minister David Cameron at least appears to see the dangers. He contacted Peter Robinson and McGuinness separately on Thursday night in an effort to calm nerves.

Yesterday, Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers spoke of how Cameron understood the “sensitivity and seriousness” of the situation. Working together on dealing with the challenges facing Northern Ireland “is still the crucially important thing, regardless of the outcome of this case”, she said.

Hard to predict
It's hard to predict where this will all end. Senior republicans themselves don't know what is ahead.

The conundrum is to achieve justice and/or truth for the McConvilles while ensuring that a grand and mostly successful political project doesn’t begin to fray at the edges because Adams remains in the frame.