The release of Gerry Adams felt a bit like the old days. A Unionist protest outside the police station, a rally of a press conference at a Republican club with Adams, Gerry Kelly and Martin McGuinness on the podium. Whether or not Adams will be charged with involvement in the 1972 murder of Jean McConville we do not know. But he is denying any involvement in the murder.
He repeatedly said that ‘the past is the past’. He also said: ‘The future is about children…equality and justice for everyone.’ Yet he talked of his questioning as ‘the old guard using the old methods’ and of ‘dark’ forces at work. He said that the decision to detain and question him was not ‘the right decision for policing.’ Evidence used against him was ‘hearsay’ and he repeatedly rejected what now turns out to be the accounts of more than a few Republicans given to the Boston college project (the release of which material kicked off this latest investigation). Otherwise it was the usual thing. Anyone who makes an allegation against Adams, as with other senior Republicans, is an ‘opponent of the peace’. Adams, McGuinness et al representing peace, you see.
Doubtless there will be criticism of this process in the coming days. So I do think it worth stating now – whether or not Adams is charged – what a positive step this investigation was. The Sinn Fein narrative is that the past is the past (apart from when it comes to the actions of British soldiers). I have always thought that a durable and lasting peace is all but impossible if alleged murders are left un-investigated and allowed to walk about un-harassed by the law.
A healthy society does not draw arbitrary or convenient lines under the past. A healthy society ought to ensure that no one can put a bullet in the back of a woman’s head and be allowed to get away with it. The past is not simply the past. It is the only foundation block we have to build the present and the future. For that reason it is not only right, but just, that the dead and disappeared should keep coming back to demand answers of us. Again and again.