Northern Ireland police free Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams

Northern Ireland police free Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams

BELFAST - Agence France-Presse
Northern Ireland police free Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly leaves Antrim Police station in Antrim, Northern Ireland, MAy 4. AP Photo

Northern Ireland police on May 4 freed Gerry Adams after four days of questioning over a notorious IRA murder, but the republican leader could still face charges when a file is sent to prosecutors.

"A 65-year-old man arrested by detectives investigating the abduction and murder of Jean McConville has been released pending report to PPS (Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland)," said a statement issued by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

The PPS must now decide whether there is enough evidence to charge the leader of the Sinn Fein political party, or whether prosecution would be in the public interest.

Adams, a key figure in the peace process, was arrested on Wednesday in connection with the death of Jean McConville, a mother-of-ten abducted from her home in 1972.

He strongly denies any involvement in the murder, just as he denies ever having been a member of the IRA.

Loyalist anti-Adams demonstrators, who want the province to remain British, waved Union Jack flags as they gathered outside Antrim police station, where the republican leader was due to emerge after his questioning.

Tensions in Northern Ireland have risen since Wednesday's arrest, with around 400 republicans attending a march on Saturday in west Belfast, Adams's former constituency, raising fears that it could damage the still-fragile peace process.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, the top Sinn Fein member in the government, warned of implications for the U.S.-backed Good Friday accords in 1998 that largely ended three decades of sectarian violence.

"I think there would be huge unease amongst all of those who negotiated the Good Friday agreements", including American politicians, if Adams were to be charged, McGuinness told RTE.

A statement on Sinn Fein's website called the arrest "evidence that there is an element within the PSNI, who are against the peace process and who hate Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein.

"They are - what the reformers within the PSNI have described to us as the Dark Side," it said. "They are small in number but very influential."  

Case 'mishandled': Sinn Fein

The nationalist party, the political wing of the now-defunct IRA, also claimed the arrest was politically motivated, with European elections taking place later this month.

Sinn Fein lawmaker Gerry Kelly said after visiting Adams that his party leader was "fine" but that the case had been "mishandled."  "He is doing fine, he looks well," he told reporters.

"He believes that the timing of this was political, that the extension of it was political." "He is worried about the damage it may be doing to the image of policing as well and that it's been mishandled in that type of fashion."  Hundreds of Sinn Fein supporters rallied on May 3 at the unveiling of a new painted mural of Adams.

Sinn Fein's support for a reformed police force in Northern Ireland, after long accusing the police of collusion and anti-Catholic bias, was a key part of the Good Friday agreements. Sinn Fein shares power in the Northern Ireland assembly with the Protestant conservative Democratic Unionist Party of First Minister Peter Robinson.

Robinson said Adams's Sinn Fein was "despicable" for hinting it could review its involvement with policing. Northern Ireland's devolved government was suspended on several occasions between 1998 and 2007 due to political disagreements, but has operated uninterrupted since 2007.

McConville's children watched as she was dragged screaming from their Belfast home in 1972 after the IRA accused her of being an informer. Her remains were found buried on a beach in 2003 and tests found she had been shot in the back of the head.

Around 3,500 people died in three decades of violence in Northern Ireland known as "The Troubles."