Ireland faces major political fallout after arrest of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams
Police questioning of Sinn Fein leader over IRA murder 42 years ago is set to cause major political fallout amid campaigning for European polls
Northern Ireland police have arrested Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams as part of an investigation into one of the province's most controversial murders, a move likely to cause a political earthquake in Belfast and Dublin.
Reviled by some in Britain for his role as the spokesman for the Irish Republican Army in the 1980s, Adams reinvented himself as a Northern Ireland peacemaker and then as a populist opposition politician in the Irish parliament.
His Sinn Fein party said yesterday he was being questioned by police investigating the 1972 abduction and murder of mother-of-10 Jean McConville.
Adams, 65, who has always denied membership of the IRA, said he was "innocent of any part" in the killing.
"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 statement.
"Well publicised, malicious allegations have been made against me. I reject these," he said.
The arrest will have major ramifications in the Republic of Ireland, where Sinn Fein is the second largest opposition party, campaigning against the government's austerity policies.
Adams, who had been busy supporting Sinn Fein candidates in European elections on May 23, suggested his arrest could be politically motivated.
"I do have concerns in the middle of an election about the timing," he told Irish television station RTE before he arrived for questioning.
His stance was echoed by Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, also a member of Sinn Fein.
He said Adam's arrest was a deliberate attempt by unidentified "dark" forces to undermine the peace process. McGuinness, also a member of Sinn Fein, said the Northern Ireland police service contained a "dark side" which was "maliciously and vehemently hostile to the peace process".
"I know that we've seen that dark side flex its muscles in the course of the last couple of days," he said.
"I view his arrest as a deliberate attempt to influence the outcome of the elections that are due to take place in three weeks' time, north and south on this island."
McConville's body was found in 2003 on a beach in county Louth, which Adams now represents in Ireland's parliament.
McConville was suspected by the IRA of being an informer, a charge her family has always strongly denied. The investigation into McConville's killing was revived by the release of a series of interviews given by former fighters from the Northern Ireland conflict to Boston College in the US.
The Northern Ireland police service last year asked for taped testimony from former IRA bomber Dolours Price following her death last year.
As head of Sinn Fein - the political wing of the IRA - Adams was a pariah in 1980s Britain and was banned from speaking on British television. He later helped broker a 1998 peace deal that largely ended three decades of violence between Catholic militants seeking a unified Ireland and mainly Protestant militants, who wanted to maintain Northern Ireland's position as a part of Britain.
Since that peace deal, Adams' role as a statesman has grown and he is a regular visitor to the White House.