Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, was arrested last week.
The arrest was in connection with the 1972 abduction and killing of Jean McConville. Jean McConville was a widow and mother of ten alleged by the IRA to have been an army informant.
She was a Protestant in a mixed marriage who had moved to the Lower Falls area after loyalists drove her and her husband out of east Belfast.
Adams, former MP for Belfast West and now a member of the Irish parliament, denied any part in the killing.
Tory Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers said, “We believe in the rule of law and that people who committed terrorist crimes must face the consequences if the evidence exists to prosecute.”
The Tories are keen to move away from investigations into state terror and British involvement with sectarian murder. Villiers said there would be a “fresh approach” to the past. It will focus on “the wrongdoing of paramilitaries” and move away from reckoning with the “activities of the state”.
Villiers announced a day before Adams’ arrest that she would block an independent review into the 1972 murder by British paratroopers of 11 unarmed civilians—including a mother of eight—in Ballymurphy.
Unionist politicians have long complained that too much attention has been paid to state violence.
There is a convergence of interest over the Adams arrest. Unionist politicians are looking to shore up support. The Tories want to rewrite the history of the Troubles. The Southern Irish establishment is happy for Sinn Fein to be taken down a peg in the run-up to elections.
And while Sinn Fein has made its peace with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the reverse is not the case.
For more than a quarter of a century the full power of the state was applied to suppressing a popular nationalist insurgency in the North.
Tens of thousands of young men and women were jailed and interned. Substantial numbers were tortured or killed in an effort to shore up a repressive and sectarian state.
As Socialist Worker’s sister paper in Ireland put it, “The British state’s selective approach to the past is not just about maintaining its control over a staggering peace process that requires permanent life support in order to survive.
“The kind of stability that they seek to preside over for Northern Ireland requires a rendering of the past that casts them as a neutral party presiding over warring tribes, and in many ways it is Sinn Fein’s complicity in this charade that has allowed them to get away with it.”
Allegations against Gerry Adams are included in taped interviews with former IRA members, recorded as part of an oral history project for Boston College in the US.
The British government poured huge resources into bringing a
high-profile court case in the US to win access to the transcripts.
The former paramilitaries were told that the tapes would not be made public until after their deaths.
Ivor Bell who gave interviews to the Boston project, was charged in March with aiding and abetting the murder of Jean McConville and membership of the IRA.
The Boston recordings include testimony alleging that Adams ordered the abduction and murder of Jean McConville.
Reballots have opened the way to bigger struggle