BELFAST, Northern Ireland — Sinn Fein party leader Gerry Adams was released without charge Sunday after five days of police questioning over his alleged involvement in a decades-old IRA killing of a Belfast mother of 10, an investigation that has driven a dangerous wedge into Northern Ireland’s unity government.
Addressing reporters and supporters at a Belfast hotel, Adams said he wanted his party to provide help to the children of Jean McConville, the 37-year-old widow taken from her home by the Irish Republican Army in 1972, killed and dumped in an unmarked grave. He also rejected claims by IRA veterans in audiotaped interviews that he had ordered the killing.
“I am innocent of any involvement in any conspiracy to abduct, kill or bury Mrs. McConville. I have worked hard with others to have this injustice redressed,” said Adams, 65, who has led Sinn Fein since 1983 and won credit for steering the IRA toward cease-fires and compromise with Northern Ireland’s Protestant majority.
Yet the investigation of Adams is not over. Police said they have sent an evidence file to Northern Ireland prosecutors for potential charges later.
“For all I know I can still face charges,” Adams said. He said he had been interviewed 33 times during 92 hours in custody. “One presumes they would have made a charge against me. But they offered no evidence against me whatsoever.”
The episode has underscored the unrelenting hostility of some Protestants to Adams and his party’s ambitions to merge Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland. His departure from the police’s main interrogation center in Antrim, west of Belfast, was delayed two hours by a crowd of Protestants outside the front gate. The protesters waved Union Jack flags and held placards demanding justice for IRA victims. They roared with fury as a convoy of police armored vehicles came into view, thinking Adams’ car was in the middle.
Dozens of officers — many sporting full riot gear with flame-retardant boiler suits, body armor, helmets and shields — confronted the hardline Protestants, many of whom covered their faces, as they tried to block Adams’ exit by sitting down in the roadway. After a 15-minute standoff, police escorted Adams out via a rear exit that the protesters could not see.
Adams said detectives chiefly questioned him about audiotaped interviews that IRA veterans gave to a Boston College oral history project. Police successfully sued in U.S. courts last year to acquire the accounts, which had been given to researchers on condition that they remain secret until the interviewees’ own deaths. Some accused Adams of being the Belfast IRA commander who ordered McConville’s killing. One former Adams colleague in the Belfast IRA, Brendan Hughes, specified that Adams gave the order that her body should vanish to leave her fate deliberately unclear.
The IRA did not admit responsibility for killing McConville until 1999, when the underground organization defended its action by claiming she had been a British Army spy. Her remains were found accidentally in 2003 near a Republic of Ireland beach. An investigation three years later by Northern Ireland’s police complaints watchdog found no evidence she had been a spy.