If Gerry Adams was ever immune, that immunity has now been lifted. What next?

The Adams arrest raises acute questions about a comprehensive approach to dealing with the past I discussed just before the news broke. Depending on the outcome, the prospects could go either way. The cry of selective or one sided justice from one side produces an inevitable echo. Justice all round is unlikely to become better served, neither are truth or political relations.

If the PSNI draw a blank, we’re where we were. If they don’t, we enter the unknown. A heavy burden is placed  on the  operational  independence of the police, greater, I believe than they should be asked to bear. Gerry Adams is not just another suspect. He was effective precisely because of his links with the IRA. not  in spite of them, even though his  denial of membership exposed him to the bitter criticism of some old comrades which Sinn Fein is having  difficulty in shrugging off.  Perhaps now, his reason for coyness is clearer. The challenge is to prove it.

In purely IRA terms, was the “execution” of Mrs McConville a valid part of the armed struggle? Where is the evidence that she was an informer? The balance of evidence which public opinion seems to have  endorsed, is that she wasn’t. Should whoever was responsible  pay a penalty or continue to be forgiven? Gerry Adams’ reputation with his own supporters is being tested as never before.  Nobody will deny that  he and Martin McGuinness were  granted de facto immunity  in order to negotiate the Good Friday Agreement.  Granted that this was part of constructive ambiguity but it was clear enough. On its own the public line on membership may hold but linked to the McConville  murder it has become a different matter. If Adams was ever immune, that immunity has now been lifted. The next question is whether it is in the public interest to go after others. It can be argued that the very success of the Agreement makes immunity no longer necessary. On the other hand, should tacit  understandings once reached, ever be broken?

I’m glad to see that  the local media haven’t gone into complete purdah over of the arrest.  Courtesy of Newshound, I see the US media have been prepared to speculate on the fall-out. The Boston Globe makes the link with the Boston tapes and carries comment from Ed Moloney:

Moloney said the arrest of Adams was inevitable after Belfast authorities questioned a number of people about McConville’s death in the last couple of months. It was no surprise that this has happened; in fact, I was surprised that it had taken so long,” Moloney said Wednesday in a telephone interview. As for other men and women interviewed by authorities recently about McConville’s death, Moloney said they would have been in their early teens at the time of the killing, too young for the IRA to have trusted them with significant roles.

“The PSNI seem to be plowing fairly sparse ground,” said Moloney.

Adams’s name nevertheless carries significant weight and changes the tenor of the investigation, Moloney said, though he doubts the head of Sinn Féin will face charges. It’s going to be very difficult to level a charge against him, because all the evidence is indirect,” Moloney said. The greater issue for Moloney is that surrender of the oral history tapes will chill similar research in the future.

“The damage is done,” he said. “The whole process of conducting academic research in the United States of America on sensitive subjects with confidential sources has been dealt a death blow by the Obama Department of Justice.”

He later added: “It’s a disaster in Ireland, as well, because it means people are not now willing to sit down in front of a tape recorder and tell the truth about what happened. “

This may well be true foreseeably unless the former IRA belatedly split into factions, one of which turns on Gerry Adams. History suggests that they’ll rally round, whatever happens.

The Washington Post carries “five key questions” from Henry Farrell a political scientist at Georgetown University, beginning with:

What are the consequences for peace in Northern Ireland?

Very hard to say. A lot will depend on how Sinn Fein and the IRA (which is intimately associated with Sinn Fein) react.

You can say that again…and he might have added, on what happens to Mr Adams.

The influential Irish American journalist and lobbyist Niall O’Dowd jumps in at the deep end without any doubts, it seems.

Thanks to the ill-conceived Boston College oral history project the spooks now have another ream of tapes full of allegations from long ago that cannot possibly be proven, mostly from people who are now dead.

Take a bow BC, Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre – you have done a wonderful job on behalf of British spookdom allowing them to whip up a whole new round of empty charges.

Meanwhile, nothing on the nationalist side. The Pat Finucane murder? No action.

The Loughinisland Massacre during the 1994 World Cup game between Ireland and Italy? No action.

And so the charge of one sided justice has surfaced already over the Adams case. It will be interesting to see if the Irish American lobby (if such a body still exists) will follow O’Dowd in offering him virtually unconditional support support.

At home, the potential for divisive impact hardly needs stressing.



Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London