SF leader gets standing ovation at election rally in Belfast

About 800 people turn up in west Belfast to welcome Gerry Adams home

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams  delivers a speech at an election rally in Belfast. Photograph:  Reuters/Paul Hackett

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams delivers a speech at an election rally in Belfast. Photograph: Reuters/Paul Hackett


Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams was given a rapturous reception when he addressed a rally in west Belfast last night, demonstrating that the party feels his arrest has primed republicans for the European and local elections in the North and South.

About 800 people crowded into the Devenish complex in west Belfast last night for the election rally which doubled as a reception for Mr Adams after his period in detention in Antrim police station, where he was questioned in connection with the 1972 murder of Jean McConville.

With Sinn Féin Northern Ireland chairman Bobby Storey as master of ceremonies, the party’s Assembly members and MPs were invited onto the stage.

Considerable fanfare
Shortly after, and with considerable fanfare, the North’s European candidate Martina Anderson, TD Mary Lou McDonald, Martin McGuinness and Mr Adams were also welcomed to the platform.

The Sinn Féin president was accorded a loud and long standing ovation. Party activists before and after the rally expressed confidence that the arrest of Mr Adams “had put a rocket under the Sinn Féin European and local election campaign” on both sides of the Border.

Rather than majoring on his four nights and five days being questioned at Antrim police station, Mr Adams in his address concentrated on galvanising Sinn Féin supporters for the election campaigns.

He said, however, that “the sham I was put through” at Antrim station “in terms of the failure to present any evidential link between me and that awful event” [Ms McConville’s murder] sent the wrong signals about policing to the public.

He said Sinn Féin would not be diverted from “the job of building the peace”.

He said Sinn Féin also had a responsibility “to bring genuine civil policing that will respect every man, woman and child”.

Referring to yesterday’s anniversary of the death of hunger striker Bobby Sands he said his “four days [in custody] is no big deal in the scheme of things”.

Mr Adams said Sinn Féin was resolved to work with families who had suffered in the Troubles and to be “very, very sensitive that the McConville family suffered grievously”. He again called for the creation of an international independent truth and recovery process to deal with the past.

‘Tsunami of abuse’
He said that in the election campaign Sinn Féin would be subjected to a “tsunami of abuse”. He cited Independent Newspapers as being particularly hostile to the party.

Mr Adams was also critical of unionism. “We see equality as a right. They see equality as a threat, particularly unionist leaders in this part of the world,” he added. Mr Adams said it was wrong for opponents to depict Sinn Féin as anti-European when Irish republicanism was derived from a European philosophy.

Ms Anderson, Sinn Féin’s only MEP, said it was up to republicans to elect four party MEPs in Ireland, North and South, and then “watch the establishment squirm”.

Ahead of the rally, Sinn Féin reported that the PSNI had warned Mr Adams and Mr Storey of a threat to their lives.

The party’s justice spokesman Raymond McCartney said police had called to the west Belfast homes of Mr Adams and Mr Storey “to make them aware of death threats from criminal elements”.

Meanwhile, DUP First Minister Peter Robinson said he plans to meet Ms McConville’s son in the coming days to discuss whether he can help him and the McConville family.

“Whilst Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin have been playing the victim, it is important to remember that the real victims are the McConville family. Ten children were left orphaned and have never received justice. This was a horrific and brutal crime,” he said.