International Law

Gerry Adams arrested in connection with IRA murder of widow in 1972


Gerry Adams.
Image from EML /

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has been arrested in connection with the 1972 kidnapping, murder and secret burial of Jean McConville, a Belfast woman thought to be a spy for the British.

The Washington Post reports that Northern Ireland police took Adams into custody on Wednesday, where he’ll be questioned about McConville’s murder.

“I believe that the killing of Jean McConville and the secret burial of her body was wrong and a grievous injustice to her and her family,” Adams said in a prepared statement. “Well publicized, malicious allegations have been made against me. I reject these. While I have never disassociated myself from the IRA and I never will, I am innocent of any part in the abduction, killing or burial of Mrs. McConville.”

The Post reports that Adams has always denied holding any position in the IRA, despite the fact that most historians have stated that Adams was a commander in the paramilitary group. According to the Post, the IRA did not claim credit for the abduction, murder and burial of McConville, a 38-year-old widow with 10 children, until 1999. Her remains were discovered in the Republic of Ireland in 2003 with her skull showing a single bullet wound near the back.

The arrest of Adams has been expected for months. Adams had been implicated in the McConville’s murder by two IRA veterans, who consented to interviews in connection with a 2001-2006 Boston College project chronicling The Troubles, the name given to the near four decade-long conflict over Northern Ireland. Belfast police tried to get the interviews and waged a two-year legal fight in the United States to do so. The Boston College Subpoena News blog has kept a chronicle of the legal battles. One of the interview subjects, Brendan Hughes, was Adams’ reputed deputy in the IRA and stated that Adams gave the order to murder McConville. Hughes also said that Adams was in charge of a unit that sought out potential British spies and executed them.

Adams has been a key figure in the truce which has been in place since 1998. Commentators told Fox News that Adams’s political clout could suffer as a result of his arrest. However, those commentators doubted he would be charged.

“Unless Gerry Adams actually breaks down and confesses and says ‘I did it,’ I think it’s very unlikely they’ll be able to charge him,” said Ed Moloney, an IRA expert who wrote the 2010 book Voices From the Grave, which sprang from the Hughes interview and others in the Boston College project.

“I have been very close to the peace process over 20 years and in my opinion Gerry Adams is the single most important person in bringing about the transformation, which has taken us to where we are today,” said Martin McGuinness, fellow Sinn Fein party member and the deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, in a press statement after the arrest. “In that context I view his arrest as a deliberate attempt to influence the outcome of the elections due to take place all over this island in three weeks. … There are people on the dark side of policing and this is an attempt to flex their muscles.”

See also:

Chronicle of Higher Education: “Secrets From Belfast: How Boston College’s oral history of the Troubles fell victim to an international murder investigation”

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