BELFAST, Ireland – The eyes of the world are once again being drawn to Belfast, Ireland as Gerry Adams, President of the Irish republican political party, Sinn Féin, has been arrested by British authorities for questioning regarding an execution carried-out by the Irish Republican Army in 1972. Adams, now 65, has been likened to the Nelson Mandela of Ireland – a former militant and reputed leading figure in the Provisional Irish Republican Army turned political reformer and peace-maker. But, in spite of the role he has played in negotiating the continuing Irish Peace Process that began in 1998 and the decommissioning of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, Adam’s past as a leading militant continues to haunt his political career.
Sinn Féin (meaning “we ourselves” in the Irish indigenous Gaelic language) is a political party centered primarily on the objective of obtaining Irish national independence from Britain. It was founded in 1905 and predates the formation of the Provisional Irish Republican Army by over sixty years. During the 1960s, an Irish civil rights movement appeared in the six British-occupied counties known as “Northern Ireland”. It was inspired by the civil rights movement calling for equal rights for blacks in the United States. The movement was aggressively repressed by British authorities and pro-British civilian vigilante organizations resulting in outbursts of violence and an increased presence of British soldiers in the troubled areas including Belfast and Derry. In response to escalating violence against Irish Catholics, the Provisional Irish Republican Army was formed in 1969 as both a sort of self-defense organization for the marginalized Irish communities of Northern Ireland as well as a guerrilla organization committed to using the methods of armed struggle to force the British to withdraw all military personnel from Ireland as a step towards Irish independent self-government.
From its inception, the IRA has been a highly controversial organization even amongst those who support Irish national liberation. Specific acts of violence carried-out by members of the IRA have caused some – mostly anti-Irish and pro-British commentators – to denounce the PIRA as a “terrorist” organization. While leading PIRA proponents acknowledge that some actions by former IRA personnel have resulted in “collateral damage” and tragedy, few agree that the PIRA should be considered a terrorist organization as it has never relied on terror tactics and has maintained an expressly military program focusing on British political, military and economic targets.
One such tragedy was the 1972 killing of Jean McConville, a Protestant woman of Belfast who converted to Catholicism and, according to the IRA, had become an informant for the British occupational authorities. As a result, McConville was abducted and shot by a twelve-member IRA squad responsible for rooting-out and executing informants.
It was during this period that Gerry Adams became active in the Irish civil rights movement and later became active in the Irish republican movement with other members of the IRA. Although Adams has never distanced himself from the IRA, he has never fully disclosed the details of his past in the guerrilla organization.
Last month, Adams became aware that he was wanted for questioning regarding his alleged role in the execution of Jean McConville and, on April 30, 2014, Adams voluntarily surrendered himself to the British
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). Adams maintains his innocence and claims that the arrest was designed to marginalize Sinn Féin and Irish republican elected representatives as the party has been steadily gaining support and was poised to win several parliamentary elections. But a former IRA commander and close friend of Adams, Brendan Hughes, provided an interview to the Boston College-Belfast Project history archive detailing his career in the IRA. In the interview, Hughes claims that Gerry Adams ordered the killing of McConville.
According to a British law known simply as the Terrorism Act of 2000, those suspected of participating in terrorist activities can be detained and held in British custody for up to 28 days. Adams is being held under the terms of the act but, according to Sinn Féin spokespeople, including Martin McGuinness, the arrest of
Adams is simply a tactic used to draw attention away from the ongoing issues affecting the people of Northern Ireland, drudging up painful memories and rekindling old grudges to sway voters. McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister of Sinn Fein has been close to Adams throughout the two men’s careers but is renown as being more of a staunch militant than Adams. True to his reputation, McGuinnees had harsh words for British authorities regarding the continued incarceration of the Sinn Féin president during a press conference held May 3, 2014.
At present, tensions in Ireland continue to mount over the controversy as Adams remains in the custody of the British PSNI.