A decorated war veteran has attacked Gerry Adams for attempting to “justify the unjustifiable”, by suggesting that Jean McConville’s murder was a standard act of war.
Mr Adams has in the past spoken out against the abduction and secret burial of the mother-of-10, and denies any involvement in it.
However, in an interview due to be aired on American television on Sunday night, he said it is simply the kind of thing which any side carries out during a conflict.
Ex-British Army officer Doug Beattie responded by branding his remarks “genuinely shocking”.
Recently-widowed Mrs McConville had been dragged away from her terrified children at their Lower Falls flat in the run-up to Christmas 1972.
She was shot, and her remains hidden at a beach in Co Louth – which is now Mr Adams’ constituency.
“There’s a fundamental difference between that, and a soldier in combat killing the enemy,” said UUP man Mr Beattie, a former captain with the Royal Irish Regiment.
“For [Mr Adams] to make any form of anaolgy between the two is absolutely disgraceful.”
He suggested even to try and justify the crime “belittles the republican cause”, adding that British soldiers had not deployed such techniques during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Right-minded people out there will know this. Decent-minded people – nationalist, republican, loyalist, unionist.
“Right-minded people will know what he is trying to do is justify the unjustifiable.”
He added: “Any soldier who has committed an atrocity in conflict, they should face the courts, and it should be outed as an atrocity.
“If a British soldier committed an atrocity, I would distance myself from him, and bring forward any evidence I had.
“Is he saying that [about republicans]? I take it he is not – but he should be.”
Mr Adams also used the interview to repeat his denial of IRA membership, but adding that he would not “disassociate” himself from the paramilitary network.
Mr Beattie said anyone failing to distance themselves from those who carried out Mrs McConville’s murder is “just as bad as they are”.
It is a year this month since the Sinn Fein leader was quizzed by police over the killing, before being released without charge.
At the time, he had said in a statement: “I believe that the killing of Jean McConville and the secret burial of her body was wrong and a grievous injustice to her and her family. Well publicised, malicious allegations have been made against me. I reject these.”