Martin McGuinness has indicated that Sinn Fein would review its support for policing in Northern Ireland if party leader Gerry Adams is charged by detectives investigating the murder of Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville.
Stormont’s Deputy First Minister and Sinn Fein veteran said he and colleagues would not be making a “knee-jerk” decision but suggested they would “reflect” on their endorsement of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) if such a situation came to pass.
Mr McGuinness raised the spectre of what would be a huge blow to the peace process in the region as he said it was his understanding police were applying to a judge to extend the period of time they can question Mr Adams at Antrim police station.
Asked if Sinn Fein would withdraw support for policing if Mr Adams is ultimately charged, Mr McGuinness said: “We are very thoughtful and we are very reflective but I think if such a scenario does develop then we will sit down and we will reflect on what will be an even more serious situation than the one we face today.”
With the initial 48-hour deadline looming for officers to either charge or release Mr Adams after his arrest on Wednesday night, the PSNI is to apply for an extension, the Deputy First Minister claimed.
Adams, 65, who vehemently denies allegations levelled by former republican colleagues that he ordered Mrs McConville’s murder and secret burial in 1972, could potentially face a third night in custody.
Mr Adams, a former MP for West Belfast and now an elected representative for Co Louth in the Irish Dail, voluntarily presented himself for interview at the station by prior arrangement with detectives.
The Deputy First Minister said: “Yesterday I said that the timing of the arrest of Gerry Adams was politically-motivated.
“Today’s decision by the PSNI to seek an extension confirms me in my view.”
Sinn Fein’s decision to sign up to support the police in 2007 is viewed as a major milestone in the peace process and prompted the return to devolved rule in the region, with the republican party and the Democratic Unionists entering government together.
Mr McGuinness has accused a “cabal” within the PSNI of being behind the arrest of Mr Adams with the intent of damaging the peace process and inflicting political scars on Sinn Fein in the month of an election.
Asked if Sinn Fein’s support for policing could potentially be withdrawn, Mr McGuinness told a media conference at the party’s headquarters in west Belfast: “Obviously in the context of the scenario we find ourselves in at the minute we will have to, on an ongoing basis, monitor this situation where our party leader is being detained and I think you can draw your own conclusions.
“Depending on what happens this scenario will either be resolved in a satisfactory way, in which case we will continue to press on, continue to support the reformers within policing who have made, I think, such a massive contribution to the change of the policing arrangements that we have enjoyed in the course of recent times or the situation will not work out in the way we believe that it should.
“If it doesn’t, we will have to review that situation and we will have to review that situation in the context of continuing with our very positive and constructive role within what is a vitally important peace process.”