McConville said he was pleased that Adams' arrest had achieved "a worldwide focus on our mother's cruel and inhuman treatment by the IRA." He said seven other families in Northern Ireland still were waiting for the IRA to identify the unmarked graves of their own long-lost loved ones.
Sunday's outcome for Adams — freedom but no official exoneration, with evidence bound for the Public Prosecution Service — suggested police do believe Adams was an IRA commander, but do not have strong enough evidence to charge him with this. Police last charged Adams with IRA membership in 1978 following a firebomb attack on a hotel near Belfast that killed 12 Protestants, but those charges were dropped.
British state prosecutors in Belfast are expected to give a second opinion. They can tell police whether the existing evidence is sufficient to file charges, or recommend new avenues of investigation to strengthen the chances of a successful prosecution. Typically however, when such evidence files are sent by police to prosecutors for complex terror-related cases, charges do not follow.
Trying to prove membership in the IRA, a crime punishable by five years in prison, is notoriously difficult, particularly against commanders who did not handle weapons or take direct part in attacks. The IRA traditionally tries to kill any witnesses against them, a threat that Michael McConville believes continues today. He says as a boy, he recognized some of the IRA abductors as his 1972 neighbors, but still would never tell police for fear of reprisals against him or his children.
While all credible histories of the Sinn Fein-IRA movement identify Adams as an IRA member since 1966 and a commander since the early 1970s, Adams has always denied this. His arrest weeks ahead of elections in both parts of Ireland infuriated his Irish nationalist party, which represents most of the Irish Catholic minority in Northern Ireland and is a growing left-wing opposition force in the Irish Republic.
During Adams' detention, other Sinn Fein leaders warned they could withdraw support for law and order in Northern Ireland if Adams was charged. The Protestant leader of the province's power-sharing government, First Minister Peter Robinson, condemned that threat.
Speaking hours before Adams' release, Robinson accused Sinn Fein of mounting "a despicable, thuggish attempt to blackmail" the police into dropping charges.
"I warn Sinn Fein that they have crossed the line and should immediately cease this destructive behavior," Robinson said, suggesting that the future of Northern Ireland's government was at stake.
Robinson's Democratic Unionist Party agreed to share power with Sinn Fein in 2007 on condition that the IRA-linked party accepted police authority. A former IRA commander, Martin McGuinness, serves as the government's deputy leader. Such cross-community cooperation following four decades of bloodshed was the central goal of the U.S.-brokered Good Friday peace accord of 1998.
Robinson accused Sinn Fein of hypocrisy by demanding criminal investigations of killings committed by Protestant militants, the police and British Army, but rejecting any such investigations into the IRA, which killed nearly 1,800 people during a failed 1970-1997 campaign to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom.
Adams stressed at his press conference that Sinn Fein would continue to support the police — but he did make one formal complaint while in custody.
"The food is un-eatable," he said. "I just wasn't able to digest it."
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