Gerry Adams today hit back at “anti-republican elements” pursuing him over the death of Jean McConville at the hands of the IRA and said he would not give details of his role during the armed group’s campaign.
The Sinn Féin leader claimed critics were trying to stop the development of the party and said he was proud to have been part of the “struggle”.
Former senior IRA commander Brendan Hughes has given an interview claiming the West Belfast MP ordered the death of mother-of-10 Mrs McConville in 1972 for allegedly informing to the British authorities.
Mr Adams told an Easter commemoration in Belfast today: “During this phase of the struggle some of us had to leave our families and homes, go on the run, adapt many ruses, go under false names. We relied totally on the support of the people to protect us.
“And we, in turn, protected the people as best we could. We did not divulge their names, their roles, their actions.
“That is still my position. That was the bond of comradeship and loyalty which was forged between us.”
He added: “And let no one think that I will bend to the demands of anti-republican elements or their allies in a hostile section of the media on this issue.”
Mr Adams has consistently denied claims that he was involved in the murder of Mrs McConville.
The IRA has admitted killing and burying the woman, whose body was only found in 2003.
The allegations against Mr Adams, and others, were made in a series of interviews Mr Hughes gave to a researcher for Boston College in 2001 and 2002. He spoke on condition that the material would not be published until after his death.
Mrs McConville lived with her children in Belfast in the early 1970s.
She was taken from her Divis home by IRA members after being accused of being an informer. She was interrogated, shot and secretly buried in Co Louth.
Her family has rejected claims that she was an informer. In 2006 an investigation by Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan found no evidence that Mrs McConville had passed information to the security forces.
Mr Adams added: “I am also very conscious of the human cost of the war and the great hurt inflicted by republicans.
“I have acknowledged this and my regret for this many times. And I do so again today.
“There are victims and citizens who want to know the truth about what happened to loved ones during the conflict.
“That is their right. I cannot demand truth for victims of British terrorism, collusion or unionist terror without supporting the same right for victims of republican actions.”
He said that is why Sinn Féin supports the establishment of an effective independent and international truth recovery process.
“I certainly would be prepared to be part of such a process and I would encourage others to participate,” he added.
He said republican involvement in the conflict cannot be permitted to be criminalised or retrospectively delegitimised.
“This is bigger than me. This is about us as a republican community, especially in this city of Belfast,” he said.
“This is about our integrity and the just nature of our cause.
“That is why the Irish Republican Army – Óglaigh na hÉireann- was known as the people’s army. I am proud of that Army and my association with it.
“I am not a militarist and I never have been but without the IRA the nationalist people of this state would still be on our knees.”
He claimed otherwise Catholics would still be considered second class citizens.
“So bear in mind that this relentless campaign against me is not really about me at all. It’s about trying to defeat the struggle,” he added.
At a commemoration in Carrickmore, Co Tyrone, Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said they should resist efforts by revisionists in the media and elsewhere to retrospectively criminalise the IRA and the communities from which it came.
“And we should be under no illusions that that is what is now under way,” he said.
“Long time opponents of Irish republicanism are seeking to damage the struggle and sully the memory of our patriot dead through a vile onslaught of negative propaganda.
“They do this not (just) for monetary gain but also out of hatred for what we have achieved.
“Unfortunately a tiny number of former activists who should know better have allowed themselves to be used in this effort.
“But just as the revisionists in the past sought to demonise the men and women of 1916 and failed, the Irish people will reject the modern day revisionists also.”