Sinn Fein’s Six-County Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness has said that the arrest of party leader Gerry Adams by the PSNI last night was politically motivated.
Mr Adams spent last night at the PSNI’s main interrogation centre and is continuing to be questioned there.
Mr Adams was first contacted by the PSNI on Tuesday and had volunteered to help the investigation into the 1972 death of informer Jean McConville, Sinn Fein said. He presented himself at 8pm last night and within an hour the PSNI announced that a “65 year old man” had been arrested in the case.
Reports have indicated he is being questioned under the Terrorism Act 2000 and can be held by the PSNI for 48 hours without recourse to the course.
Unionists revelled in the development but demanded the Sinn Fein leader face charged. Late last night, celebrating loyalists erected a large British Union Jack outside the police base in Antrim town.
Mr McGuinness said Mr Adams was “the single most important person” in the peace process.
“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,” he said.
“That raises very serious questions about the agenda of those responsible. There are people on the dark side of policing and this is an attempt to flex their muscles.”
A recent poll showed Sinn Fein is on the brink of becoming the largest party in both parts of Ireland in elections being held separately in both jurisdictions later this month.
The Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald blamed “old guard elements” within the PSNI and unionism were working against the party. She said it was wrong to suggest that Adams was a suspect in the inquiry, saying that he had volunteered to travel north to help the investigation.
Ms McDonald said there were people who viewed the growing strength of Sinn Fein with “very considerable alarm” and that there are people “who would wish to do things to stop that” ahead of the elections on May 23rd.
Asked if the arrest had damaged the PSNI’s credibility and the peace process, she said that the PSNI have “questions to answer” but added that the peace process is “fairly robust”.
The arrest of Mr Adams is being reported in the mainstream media in the 26 Counties as a major setback for the party’s chances of a historic breakthrough in the local and European elections there.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny denied charges of political interference, saying that parties in the 26 Counties had “absolutely no connection with this at all”.