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Sinn Fein Leader Declares His Innocence; Arrest Raises Concern for Peace Process; Truth and Justice in Northern Ireland; History Project Makes History; Imagine a World

Aired May 5, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

It was an historic peace deal that ended 30 years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland and it's since been hailed as a blueprint for conflict resolution around the world.

But 16 years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreements, its facing one of its toughest tests. That is after the arrest last week of one of its main architects, Gerry Adams, in connection with the unsolved execution-style murder of a woman more than 40 years ago.

Yesterday, Adams, the leader of the Sinn Fein party, was released without charge from police custody and in just a moment, he will join me for his first one-on-one interview about this case as well as renewed accusations that he once was an IRA commander.

The 1998 peace deal may have ended the open warfare and bloodshed between the IRA, the British army and Northern Ireland Unionists, but it didn't help its victims or their families find truth and reconciliation.

To this day, many violent crimes of the past remain unsolved and unresolved. The victim in this particular case was 37-year-old widow Jean McConville. In 1972, the mother of 10 was abducted by the IRA. She was falsely accused of being an informer, dragged away as her terrified children looked on and later she was shot.

After the Good Friday Peace Accords, the IRA admitted to her murder.

So why was Gerry Adams hauled in for questioning now, so many years later? And what will that mean for the future of peace in Northern Ireland?

And I asked Adams, president of Sinn Fein, in an exclusive interview from Belfast why he was shot by his own side?


AMANPOUR: Gerry Adams, welcome to the program. Thank you for joining me.

GERRY ADAMS, SINN FEIN LEADER: Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Let me quote something that you said about the murder of Jean McConville a few days ago when you were first taken in for questioning, quote, "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."

So you condemn that murder.

Can you categorically say that you had absolutely no association with any aspect of her disappearance and eventual execution?

ADAMS: Yes, I reject absolutely any allegation made against me. I am innocent of any involvement whatsoever in any conspiracy or in any of the events, including the abduction, the killing or the burial of Ms. Jean McConville.

And incidentally, I went voluntarily to the PS (ph), and I -- and furthermore, when this became a matter of public speculation 10 months ago, I contacted the PS (ph) and actually my solicitor and said I was available to talk to them because there has been a sustained vicious, untruthful and sinister malicious campaign against me going back some considerable time.

So I wanted (INAUDIBLE) from these issues.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Adams, you say that these were malicious lies.

Is it ominous for you, though, that these lies, as you put them, this story was told by members of the IRA themselves? It wasn't by the British; it wasn't by Ulster Unionists. It was by Republicans to IRA members; Brendan Hughes (ph), who was an IRA commander, told this journalist that Jean McConville was killed by an IRA group called the Unknowns and that you, quote, "had control" over this particular squad.

And then Dolours Price, who was a convicted IRA bomber, claimed that your role was officer commanding of the IRA's Belfast Brigade and that you ordered her to drive McConville to the Republic, the Irish Republic, where she was executed.

You deny it, but it's inside the Republican movement that is saying that about you.

Why are they saying that?

ADAMS: First of all, both of these individuals are deceased. They made these remarks as part of a very dubious project called the Belfast Project, which was the brainchild of a university lecturer, Paul Bew, a former adviser, political adviser to the Unionist leader, David Trimble.

A teacher, another former IRA volunteer, Anthony McIntyre and the journalist, Ed Moloney, both of whom are very hostile to the Sinn Fein leadership and to Sinn Fein's strategy (ph), both the late Brendan Hughes and the late Dolours Price have said that I and others in the Sinn Fein leadership should be shot.

They've said they're against a peaceful test. They've accused us of betrayal, of sellout (ph) and they particularly have -- when they were about railed against us and me particularly, for our support for policing and our support for the Good Friday Agreement, of which I was one of the people who helped to put that agreement together.

So these aren't -- these aren't, you know, anything other than totally disaffected and very, very hostile, hardly peaceful says former IRA activists.

Now the other issue around all of this is in terms of the PS and I and its interrogation of me on these matters.

You know, it's just -- it's just absolutely ridiculous that in 2014 I need new dispensation that they should be using old coercive legislation that removed from a citizen by his rights that they have discretion in these matters.

It's also, as I said to you earlier, I can't act a damn (ph) two months ago. They waited until we were in the middle of an election before they made this very dramatic intervention.

So I reject absolutely any allegation, no matter who it's coming from or any assertion no matter who it's coming from. It's ridiculous.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Adams, you -- and I've asked you many times and many other people have asked you whether you were in the IRA, whether you were commander, whether you were a member of the IRA and you've always denied it.

But recently, including last night, you said, "I have never disassociated myself from the IRA and I never will."

Are you moving finally towards admitting that you were in the IRA?

ADAMS: No, I'm not. I'm stating a fact. When the war was on, I did politically support the use of armed actions by the IRA as a legitimate response to British representation and British military occupation of a part of my country.

I, for example today, as the anniversary of the death and hunger strike of an IRA volunteer and a member of Parliament, Bobby Sands (ph), the very day we're doing this interview is the day that Bobby died on hunger strike in the H-Block of lawn (ph) case. I'd never want to distance myself from people who I consider to be freedom fighters and heroes.

Of course I disagree with many of the issues and many of the things that the IRA did, including the killing of Ms. McConville and the way that her 10 children were left as they were left.

And it's very interesting, curious, this question issue, because the entire premise and strategy from the people who were interrogating me was to start back in my childhood. I did I think over 30 taped interviews, start in my childhood and then to recount my life's story, including the press of my trial and so on and so forth, because what they wanted to put to me was that indeed I was a member of the IRA. And indeed, not only that, but I was in the management, a managerial role in the IRA.

So surely I should have known about the abduction and killing and secret burial of Ms. McConville.

AMANPOUR: You have just said that you condemn the murder of Ms. McConville. She had 10 children. She was a widow. It turned out that she was falsely accused of garroting.

Her children basically say that they will never give up the fight for justice. And I'm wondering whether you believe that this case should continue to be investigated and what you have to say to the following, that Michael McConville said to our own CNN just this past week, when this issue of your interrogation came up.

Listen to what her son said.


MICHAEL MCCONVILLE, SON OF MURDERED WOMAN: Gerry Adams says to me, "Michael, you're getting a lot of support from the Republican people." He says, "If you're listening to me," he says, "I'll hope you're ready for the backlash."


AMANPOUR: So how do you respond to that? He's saying that he was threatened out and out by the IRA when he was a kid and thereafter. And that's why he won't release the names of those who he recognized or he knew and he saw dragging his mother away.

ADAMS: Well, Michael McConville wants to get names, he should do so. That's entirely his -- that's entirely his right. I've already said to you that Sinn Fein has signed up to; the British government hasn't. The Unionist parties haven't.

Sinn Fein has signed up to the Haass and Meghan O'Sullivan proposals, which include the right to those families -- and many don't want to take any legal redress.

But those who do have absolutely the right to do that, and that include Michael McConville.

AMANPOUR: OK. Then I have to ask you again, this Michael McConville, who just told us that, told the BBC this morning that you warned him several years ago that there would be a backlash. This is what he said.

"Gerry Adams says to me, 'Michael, you're getting a letter of support from the Republican people.' He says, 'If you release the names, I hope you're ready for the backlash.'"

Did you say that and what did you mean by that?

ADAMS: Well, first of all, I didn't say that. I have tried my best -- I can understand absolutely, given what Republicans have done to their family and to their mother, I can understand absolutely why the McConville family feels the way that they feel. So let me say that as a matter of record.

But I am very, very clear -- and they may reject this -- I have been trying my best to support and to help all of the victims.

But I have a particular wish to help the victims of the IRA, because I cannot rail against injustice from unionism or particularly from the British.

And remember, the British government even this week just rejected investigation into the killing of unarmed citizens in Ballymurphy, my home district, by British forces. So they knew the double standards going on here.

But let me be very, very, very clear. I'm particularly moved by the need for Ulster's part of building the peace. Now we ought now to remind ourselves that we're living in an entirely different situation, that we need to keep our eye focused on the future; this is about building a new society.

Of course we need to deal with the past. Of course we need to deal with the issues of victims. But we cannot allow anything to divert us from the peace part and from building the peace. It just plays into the interests of the bigots and the negative, sinister elements who are out there.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Adams, everybody knows that you were the face of peace on your side and that you came forward to make the Good Friday Agreement and that you obviously believe in it very, very much.

How do you think this case is going to affect that going forward, including some of the failures both of Republicans and Unionists who just refuse to deal with issues such as nationalistic parades and flags, you know, the kinds of things that the Obama administration envoy was trying to get an agreement on?

ADAMS: First of all, well, I don't know if you have seen the footage of this, but when I was released last evening at a press conference, I underpinned my support for the PSNI and I underpinned my support for the peace process.

The PSNI visited my family home late last night and said that there was a serious threat to my life from what they described as criminals. So that's the risk that I and others have to take and are prepared to take because the peace process is bigger than us.

This is why we have to be very steadfast and resolute and patient as well. See, we want the maximum change. We want an end to partition. We want a united Ireland, and that can only be brought about peacefully and democratically, and now have a way of doing that.

Others don't want any change. Some in the elite circles are prepared to tolerate minimum change because that's same as the government or because it, you know, they want peace. But others don't. Others see equality, human rights, a citizen-based society, working of the Good Friday agreement has been against our interests.

And then you know yourself from your own life and I know this myself that any change can be challenging. People maintain that it's threatening or you know, it's something that some people aren't comfortable with.

So you know, for that case since our country was partitioned, some people have been told they are the people, you know, no surrender, not an inch, never, never, never. That was the mantra. Now good people on the Unionist side have come forward. And we are working with everyone that we can work with.

The effect of this controversy, it will not change Sinn Fein's commitment.

And I underpinned this again last night, to keep building the peace and to work in partnership with everyone regardless of their political background and to defend the rights of everyone and to tackle the hard issues of the past and particularly those which affect victims.

AMANPOUR: Gerry Adams, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

ADAMS: Thank you, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: Now while Gerry Adams and, of course, Martin McGuinness are the long-time leaders and globally renowned faces of the Northern Ireland peace process, they are still very much associated with a time of trouble and strife.

And so a generational shift is happening and new faces are appearing, like Mary Lou McDonald, the party vice president, too young to be associated with, quote, "The Troubles."

And after a break, if rebranding Sinn Fein is forward looking, the past in Northern Ireland is not yet really past. How researchers unearth the evidence that had Gerry Adams under a cloud. That's when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. So you've just heard our exclusive interview with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, who only 24 hours ago, was released without charge from police custody for questioning in relation to the 1972 murder of Jean McConville.

The arrest follows the subpoena of interviews with former IRA members, which were done for the so-called Belfast Project at Boston College in the United States.

And it was considered so sensitive that even then-Senator John Kerry fought the subpoena. Participants were sworn to secrecy until their deaths. But the U.K. government wasn't willing to wait. It pressured the U.S. Justice Department to open the files.

Ed Moloney ran the Belfast Project and he fought tooth and nail to keep those records private. And he joins me now from New York.

Ed, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: First and foremost, you just heard Gerry Adams call this Belfast Project the dubious project. And he called the main participants hostile to Sinn Fein, to their strategy; he mentioned you yourself.

What is your response to that?

MOLONEY: Well, the first thing to say is that Gerry Adams has not read this archive. There are 186 interviews in this archive and the only people who have read them are myself, the IRA researcher Anthony McIntyre and Judge Young of the Belfast -- of the Boston District Court, who adjudicated on the first subpoena.

He called the -- he called the project a bone fide academic exercise of considerable intellectual merit. He could find only one interview that was responsive to the subpoena on Jean McConville, which suggests that if this was a get Gerry Adams project, as he and others have claimed, we didn't do a very good -- very good job of it.

And as to Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, their motives -- both of those people certainly did not like the deal that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness had crafted. But they were utterly opposed to the return to violence. They were opposed to disciplined (ph) violence.

And what motivated them was the fact that Gerry Adams was rewriting his own history and therefore disowning them, disowning the orders that he had given them, rewriting entire chapter of Irish history. And I think that angered them and motivated them.

And in a sense, this denial of -- by Mr. Adams of his IRA membership has brought this upon his own head. I don't think that these people would have given these interviews other -- because -- and they only did so because of Gerry Adams' denial of IRA membership.

AMANPOUR: Right. Well, he persists, and you heard him tonight, saying that he is not and never has been a member of the IRA.

But let me ask you this, because Dolours Price did give an interview in which she said revenge against Gerry Adams -- and she used that word -- was a great motivator for her. She said, "I gave the interviews for a kind of score-settling reason. I wanted very much to put Gerry Adams where he belonged," much in the way you've just mentioned, that she wanted and they were angry.

Did that bother you when you were conducting that particular interview, plus the interview with Brendan Hughes?

MOLONEY: Well, you see, it's a very important fact about Dolours Price's interview with Boston College is that -- which is never mentioned or understood properly, I think, and that is she did not mention the Jean McConville affair in her interviews with Boston College.

She talked about them with -- in interviews with Irish papers, with CBS News, with the Sunday Telegraph. But in her interview with Anthony McIntyre, she did not mention Jean McConville or talk about her disappearance at all.

I've always argued that because the subpoenas were based upon the claim that she had, they were, in fact, fraudulent. But that message, I'm afraid, has fallen on deaf ears. She did not talk about Jean McConville to Anthony McIntyre. That's a very important reality which needs to be understood.

AMANPOUR: And let me also ask you this, because obviously these interviews were done many years ago; the main participants -- or at least some of them -- are dead and based on the fact that they were -- they are deceased, you actually wrote a couple of books.

One of the books you wrote in 2002, "The Secret History of the IRA," but in 2010, you wrote a book, "Voices from the Grave," which was based on your conversation with Brendan Hughes, ex-IRA, in which he said there was only one man who gave the order for that woman -- Jean McConville -- to be executed; that man is now the head of Sinn Fein.

As we've seen Gerry Adams denies that categorically. But in a way, do you not think that perhaps you're responsible for all this coming public, because if it hadn't been for your books, nobody would have been the wiser. And your documentary.

MOLONEY: And if it hadn't been for Gerry Adams' rewriting of his own history, and the lives of the people that he associated with in the IRA, Brendan Hughes would have never given the interview to Boston College. So the chain of events that led to this actually start much earlier. And I keep on arguing this to people, that in fact, the -- you know, Gerry Adams has brought this upon his own head.

AMANPOUR: Right, I know you said that --


AMANPOUR: -- you said that. But I'm trying to pursue this academic exercise that you are committed to. And many -- well, hold on a second; do you not think that it has a chilling effect on the people who might be willing to engage in these oral histories?

And I guess in retrospect, do you think should have published those books?

MOLONEY: Well, hang on a sec now. Gerry Adams denying that he was in the IRA is rather like Barack Obama saying he really had two black parents, not a white mother and a black father. And I suspect you would be one of the very first journalists if Barack Obama came out with a statement like that to go and investigate and expose this enormous untruth.

And when a public figure like Gerry Adams, who we all know has been in the IRA, I mean, very senior in the IRA, made such an extraordinary claim like that, I think we as journalists have a duty to challenge that. I mean, that's what -- that's the business that we're in -- we're in. It's up to governments to censor or to keep silent about certain inconvenient facts.

But ourselves as journalists, when we're presented with a claim that is so atrociously untrue as that, we have to like at least challenge it. And not to challenge it means you cease to be a journalist.

And that's all I'm doing. Gerry Adams says he wasn't in the IRA. That's gobsmacking. You have to go out and say, as a journalist, I have to check this and see whether it's true or not.

AMANPOUR: Very quickly --

MOLONEY: And that's why I'm arguing that he's brought this on his own head.

AMANPOUR: -- what about the others who've taken part in this and may now be worried about their own futures, their own lives or you know, being sort of maybe even subpoenaed themselves?

MOLONEY: Well, thankfully, I don't think there are going to be any more subpoenas. Only one person has been charged on the basis of these -- of these interviews. I mean, after all of this business, only one interview has been found responsive to the subpoenas. The rest of the participants in this project will remain anonymous and we will be pressing Boston College to return their interviews to take the interviews away from this college, because it did not protect them; it did not fight for their confidentiality.

So hopefully, we will very soon see the end of this matter.

AMANPOUR: Ed Moloney, thank you very much for joining me.

MOLONEY: My pleasure.


AMANPOUR: Now throughout Ireland with its ancient history of relics and ruins, the symbolic has always had substance. Imagine a wall on the main streets in Belfast where history is recorded and remembered in glorified graffiti. We'll explain when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, "Being Irish," the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, "means knowing that sooner or later the world will break your heart."

But with that sense of tragedy also comes a poet's gift for memory and an artist's skill at weaving together the past, the present and perhaps even the future.

Now imagine a world where the history and politics of a nation is told through paint and brick. On the Falls Road, the main road through West Belfast, a new mural celebrating Gerry Adams has been created. It was painted as he's been questioned last week, a tribute to this public man as it says in Gaelic, as, quote, "peacemaker, leader, visionary," turning man into mural and mural into myth has long been a tradition on these walls. Hunger striker Bobby Sands, who died in prison on this day back in 1981, is preserved, along with other IRA heroes and martyrs.

And there are also murals dedicated to other causes far away, like the struggle of the Palestinians. And it's a craft that crosses the political and religious divide with Loyalist murals in East Belfast.

In Northern Ireland, as I discussed with Gerry Adams, even a flagpole can be a lightning rod -- for political lightning, that is. Ulster Loyalists have taken to the streets for the past two years, protesting a city council vote that limits the number of days the British Union Jack can fly above Belfast city hall. No more than 18 days a year.

With recent proposals aimed at truth and reconciliation off the table for now, The Troubles, captured on these walls and in these symbols, may not be mere relics of history but of forecast of the future.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.