Gerry Adams arrest was right - peace without justice is pointless


The arrest and questioning of Gerry Adams by the police in Northern Ireland sent one or two commentators in the U.S. (we won't mention names!) into paroxysms of rage.  

However, the fact is that most people here are not bothered about it at all.  Typical reactions were: 'What took them so long?' and 'They're never going to pin anything on him anyway!'

Gerry, emerging after his terrible ordeal (four nights in a police cell!) with the big toothy grin still in place, seemed to confirm this.  Don't hold your breath for the Crown Prosecution Service to charge him with anything based on the four days of interrogation. Gerry has plenty of experience in dealing with questioning and is unlikely to have let anything slip under pressure.

Most of the questions, according to him, were based on what's contained on the Boston College Oral History Project tapes, and he has had plenty of time to rehearse his answers on that.  

Whether you believe his main explanation – that the tapes are the testimony of unreliable witnesses who were out to get him – is beside the point because as far as we know they don't amount to conclusive evidence that will convict him in a court.  

But as well as inflated outrage from some people, Adams’ arrest also raised a number of conspiracy theories which varied from the somewhat believable to the completely bizarre.  

Sinn Fein were torn between two theories, one being that this was the work of "dark" elements at a very senior level in the police service in Northern Ireland (the PSNI), the other that the whole business was politically inspired.  Simple dislike of Adams by "dark elements" in the PSNI is unlikely to be the reason he was arrested.

It's probably true that there are some people in the PSNI, including some very senior officers, who would not be big fans of Adams.  It's also true that you could say the same thing about some senior Garda police officers in the south, given what the IRA got up to down here over the years and the way, in cases like the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe, senior Sinn Fein people lied through their big teeth at the time, denying any involvement by the IRA. It only took Adams 17 years to apologize for that one.   

Sinn Fein's other theory – that the whole thing was politically inspired – seems more likely, and quite a few people down here who would not be friends of Sinn Fein think that the timing so near to an election is too much of a coincidence.   

We are just two weeks away from the vote in the European and local elections.  Sinn Fein, who of course are running in both the north and the south, are likely to do extremely well. 

In the North, the arrest of Adams and all the publicity and controversy about it is likely to strengthen the Sinn Fein vote even more. Which begs the question – if you were a senior PSNI officer who hates Adams, why would you do something that you knew would have that effect?  

In the south Sinn Fein is also doing well, which raises the possibility of "political inspiration" from the south.  

This theory suggests that someone very senior here in political and/or Garda circles asked their counterparts in the North to arrest Adams and hang on to him for a few days so that the shocking details about the Jean McConville murder would play out in the media again and damage Sinn Fein as much as possible, particularly among all the angry middle-class voters who might be contemplating giving their vote to Sinn Fein, this time as a protest.      

The votes for seats in the European Parliament and in local councils are held here on the same day and are seen as an important mid-term test for the government two years out from the next Dail (Parliament) election in 2016.  

Sinn Fein, flying in the opinion polls, is likely to do very well, taking several European seats and lots of council seats, a result that would seriously embarrass the main parties in the south.  So a scenario in which someone powerful down here gives someone powerful up there a buzz and says, would you ever do us a favor and arrest Gerry, does seem to make sense.

But there are all kinds of reasons why this is extremely unlikely, not least because this kind of direct political interference from the south in policing in the north would not be welcome up there, no more than it would be down here.   

A far more likely explanation of the timing is quite simple.  And over the years I have learned that in matters like this, the simple answer is more often the correct one.  

There really should be no surprise about the timing. The fact is that the Adams arrest a few weeks before the election was more likely a coincidence than anything else.  It was simply the next step in an investigation that has been going on for some time. 

The PSNI reopened their investigation into the McConville murder late in 2010 after two former IRA members had accused him of directing the murder. One of these accusations, from IRA man Brendan “Darkie” Hughes, emerged from the Boston tapes after his death in 2008 (Hughes was a close mate of Adams in the Long Kesh prison camp in the 1970s).