Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams Released by Police Probing 1970s Murder

Tensions run high in Northern Ireland, where Adams sits in parliament for Sinn Fein.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams arrives at the funeral of veteran British Labour politician Tony Benn at St Margaret's Church, Westminster Abbey in London March 27, 2014. Reuters

Northern Ireland police released Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams on Sunday and sent a file to the public prosecutor after four days of questioning over his role in a 1972 murder in a case that has rocked the British province.

Police arrested Adams on Wednesday over the abduction and murder of Jean McConville, a killing he said he was "innocent of any part" in. His detention has raised tensions among Northern Ireland's power-sharing government and its fragile peace.

"A 65-year-old man arrested by detectives investigating the abduction and murder of Jean McConville in 1972 on Wednesday 30th April has been released pending a report to the PPS (Public Prosecution Service)," police said in a statement.

Adams' arrest over the killing of McConville is among the most significant in Northern Ireland since a 1998 peace deal ended decades of tit-for-tat killings between Irish Catholic nationalists and mostly Protestant pro-British loyalists.

The Sinn Fein leader, who is a member of parliament in the Irish republic, has been dogged throughout his career by accusations from former IRA fighters that he was involved in its campaign of killings, a charge he has repeatedly denied.

Northern Ireland's Director of Public Prosecutions will now review the police report. The head of the prosecution service, Barra McGrory, is a former solicitor for Adams, a spokesperson for the PPS was quoted as telling Irish media last year. The PPS was not immediately available to comment.

Under the 1998 Good Friday agreement, which drew a line under 30 years of sectarian strife in the British province, those convicted of paramilitary murders during the conflict would have life sentences reduced to two years.

No sign of trouble

Sinn Fein has repeatedly said the arrest was a deliberate attempt by "dark forces" in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to undermine the peace process and timed to hurt the party in European and local elections later this month.

First Minister Peter Robinson, whose Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) share power with nationalist Sinn Fein, on Sunday accused his partner in government of a "thuggish attempt to blackmail" police through its criticism of the arrest.

"The publicly conveyed threat to the PSNI delivered by the highest levels of Sinn Fein that they will reassess their attitude to policing if Gerry Adams is charged is a despicable, thuggish attempt to blackmail the PSNI," Robinson said in a statement.

"The threat now means that ordinary decent citizens will conclude that the PSNI and the PPS have succumbed to a crude and overt political threat if Adams is not charged. I warn Sinn Fein that they have crossed the line."

Deputy first minister Martin McGuinness stopped short of saying Sinn Fein would remove its support for the PSNI, a move that would spark a major crisis. But he added that it would wait to see if the situation was resolved satisfactorily.

However he said prior to Adams's release on Sunday that the peace process was not at risk over the crisis, nor was the power-sharing government under threat from Sinn Fein. Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford urged both side to take a step back and let the police do their job.

The investigation of former militants on both sides of the conflict have stirred protests in the province in recent years, but there have been no signs of trouble since Adams' arrest.

Some 50 pro-British activists protested outside the police station as media waited for Adams to emerge. One protestor raised a union flag from a nearby lamp post.