News, Off Campus

Belfast Project Tapes May Link Sinn Fein Leader To McConville Case

Editor’s Note: This story is part of an ongoing series about the subpoenas of the Belfast Project.

Sinn Fein party leader Gerry Adams was arrested by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) on Wednesday night in connection to the 1972 murder of Jean McConville.

Adams, who has been president of the Sinn Fein for more than 30 years, was detained for questioning regarding the abduction and murder of McConville. Developments in the case, which occurred during the conflict in Northern Ireland commonly known as “The Troubles,” have been linked to interviews collected from former paramilitary members as part of Boston College’s Belfast Project.

Having long been the subject of accusations regarding affiliations with the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) leadership during the 1970s, Adams has consistently denied ever having been a member of the paramilitary organization. Despite numerous claims asserting that Adams held a position within the IRA, the 65-year-old has continued to refute any involvement in McConville’s death, per reports from The Boston Globe.
According to a report from USA Today, upon being detained, Adams confirmed his own arrest through a prepared statement describing his questioning as a voluntary interview. A personal statement from Adams released on Sinn Fein’s website reads:

“As a republican leader I have never shirked my responsibility to build the peace. This includes dealing with the difficult issue of victims and their families. Insofar as it is possible I have worked to bring closure to victims and their families who have contacted me. Even though they may not agree, this includes the family of Jean McConville.”
According to public statements from the Sinn Fein’s website, Adams agreed last month to conduct a meeting with the PSNI to discuss the case.

”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 reported by The Boston Globe. ”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.”

Following the questioning of two unnamed, publicly unidentified arrests by the PSNI in April, and the release by BC of subpoenaed audiotapes of former IRA commander Brendan Hughes that alleged Adams had orchestrated the disappearance and death of McConville, Adams’ arrest marks the fourth known arrest related to the case in a period of one month.

In late March, ex-IRA chief of staff Ivor Bell, 77, was arrested and charged for aiding and abetting the murder of McConville, according to BBC Northern Ireland.

Reportedly suspected of being an informant for the British army, McConville, a 37-year-old mother of 10, was taken from her home in west Belfast by a group of about 12 IRA members, and subsequently shot in the back of the head, according to a report by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

McConville’s death and secret burial was not admitted to by IRA members until 1999, and her remains would not be discovered until August 2003 in Shelling Hill Beach, approximately 50 miles from her home, according to The Guardian.

The audiotapes of interviews used for the project were housed in BC’s John J. Burns Library, but a number were later turned over after being subpoenaed by the PSNI. Contracts between interview participants and the project’s organizers originally stipulated that the tapes would be sealed until each individual’s death due to their sensitive nature, but were unscreened by lawyers, according to a report by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

A U.S. federal judge issued the subpoena that ruled that BC had to turn over all tapes relevant to the death of McConville to the PSNI on the basis of a mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) between the U.S. and the UK that maintains both countries act in full compliance with each other during criminal investigations.

The project was ended in 2011 after the U.S. Department of Justice issued subpoenas on behalf of the PSNI ordering the University to release tapes including those with interviews conducted with Hughes and Dolours Price, two former Northern Irish Republican militants, by interviewer Anthony McIntyre.

“We are not privy to the actions of British law enforcement and have had no involvement in the matter since the U.S. Court issued the order to remand portions of the archived interviews last year,” said University spokesman Jack Dunn in an email. “As a result, we have no comment on this issue.”

May 1, 2014