Instead of slugging it over the police, the politicians should take responsibility for the past

Does the conspiracy theory work, that Gerry Adams got himself arrested in order to clear his name? Does it square with Martin McGuinness’ charge that the timing is politically motivated? Or are Sinn Fein stunting synthetic rage about the timing in order to make his release an even bigger triumph?

Ed Moloney speaking Radio 4  believes there was a logic to the timing of the arrest after the evidence of the Boston tapes, quite apart from elections.

However he questions the PSNI’S motivation for starting the investigation in the first place. They had made no attempt to investigate Mrs McConville’s disappearance until Brendan Hughes’ allegations against Adams in the Boston tapes emerged. Moloney says that the police have told the McConville family they could have access to the evidence for a civil action which requires a lower burden of proof and could be used to “ devastating effect.” (Tell that to the Omagh families). A trial has the potential of doing “tremendous damage to the peace process by vindicating the republican sceptics of the peace process ; and the arrest was made on the same week that an inquiry into the Ballymurphy massacre was refused.”

Moloney’s  fairly nuanced theory is not implausible but I think is too narrowly focused. However regrettable it’s hardly surprising that the RUC who were swamped by violence in the 1970s didn’t investigate the disappearance of a woman living in Divis Flats where witnesses were implacably hostile to them. Today, if you look at the recent police record they have taken up prominent cases where plausible evidence has been put under their noses – as in the cases of Bloody Sunday and Mrs McConville.

These cases are impossible to ignore in today’s vacuum over dealing with the past.. To this layman it’s seems there’s prima facie evidence in the cases of Ballymurphy,  la Mon, Loughinisland and many more. But it appears that the evidence needed for conviction is not as readily to hand and the British government is refusing further inquiries.

This throws the entire  burden onto the police and is wholly unsatisfactory. It leaves them open to sort of charges of political motivation, bias and negligence that we’ve heard today – and this over just one case!  Theresa Villiers may lecture the badly divided local politicians about facing up to their responsibility but she offers little guidance from the sovereign government about how to exercise it.

The implication of all this is that the Stormont parties should hold a comprehensive inquiry into Troubles, telling the story as far as it can be told, from the archives. So far they continue to behave like  opposition    politicians. You’d never guess that they’re actually responsible for justice and policing,

A new understanding is needed of the public interest over prosecutions.   The alternative is endless and debilitating whataboutery that indeed could shake the foundations of the political system.

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