The continued insistence by Sinn Féin that the arrest and detention of party leader Gerry Adams in connection with the murder of Jean McConville was politically motivated is beginning to wear thin.
At a press conference in Belfast yesterday afternoon, Martin McGuinness said there had been “political interference in the policing and in the justice system” in the North. He said there had been a “very deliberate attempt to have an impact” on the local and European elections.
The party’s deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, has been especially strident in claiming that “unionist elements”, combined with the “old guard” in the PSNI, helped bring about the arrest of Mr Adams.
This is a conspiracy theory too far. It would mean that those elements within unionism colluded with high-ranking members of the North’s police service to cause maximum damage to the party in the run-up to the May 23 elections.
Yet Sinn Féin has, up to now, been a cheerleader for the PSNI, and the decision to replace the RUC, which was a highly militarised force, with a new police service was part of the Good Friday Agreement.
Its creation has also been credited with playing a major part in bringing about peace, something that Mr Adams repeatedly takes credit for when he speaks about how he helped take the gun out of politics. What he fails to admit, though, is that one of those guns was his own.
To smear the PSNI now, by asserting that there are rogue elements within it, is to damage not just the North’s police service but the peace process itself.
But, perhaps, the arrest was politically motivated, after all, although not in the way Sinn Féin alleges.
It is hardly stretching credulity to see that it could all have been set up as part of a strategy by Mr Adams and the Sinn Féin leadership to get the McConville murder dealt with once and for all.
If Mr Adams can convince the authorities in the North that he had nothing to do with it, that would be a monkey off his back and would remove a major stumbling block to Sinn Féin’s lofty political ambitions.
The party has been masterful in its political strategy in the south. It now stands level pegging with Fianna Fáil, which means that the traditional parties will have to ‘get over themselves’ and reconsider their avowed reluctance to go into coalition with Sinn Féin.
Like it or not, Sinn Féin is now a major political force in the Republic and Mr Adams is a hugely successful party leader and has shown himself to be a brilliant strategist.
It is worth noting that it was he who largely dictated the timing of his arrest by approaching the PSNI two months before the elections.
This would, of course, represent the biggest gamble of his political career.
But Mr Adams is nothing if not a gambler. He took a gamble in 1972 when he became involved in ceasefire talks. He took another in galvanising support for peace, and a major one in abandoning politics in the North for a seat in the Dáil.
Perhaps he is the most cunning Irish political leader of all.
In any event, to present Mr Adams as a victim of political skullduggery is to ignore the real victims — Jean McConville herself, and her 10 children who ended up in foster homes.
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