BOSTON (Reuters) - In the bars of South Boston, Irish-Americans reacted with shock on Thursday to the news that Gerry Adams, a man some regard as a hero for his role in the peace process, had been arrested in Northern Ireland in connection with a murder committed 42 years ago.
Some were worried that Adams’ arrest would cause trouble back in Ireland and expressed anger that the U.S. government had cleared the way for the release of a trove of documents by Boston College researchers that may have paved the way for the arrest.
“It’s definitely going to start something. They had no reason at all to go after him after all these years,” said Jerry Byrne, the barman at Croke Park, just down the block from a mural of a map of Ireland that reads “Ireland unfree will never be at peace.”
Byrne said he viewed Adams, a former Irish Republican Army spokesman who reinvented himself as a populist opposition politician, as a hero for his role in ending the 30 years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles.”
“They always wanted to get him,” Byrne, 55, and originally from Dublin said of Adams. “I don’t think the U.S. should have turned over the files. Those were made on the promise they would remain confidential until everyone involved was dead.”
Adams, 65, said in a statement that he was “innocent of any part” in the killing he was being questioned about: the 1972 abduction and murder of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10.
The investigation into McConville’s death was reinvigorated by the 2013 release to British authorities of interviews with former guerrillas conducted by researchers at Boston College, a Catholic university with long-standing ties to Ireland.
The interviews had been given on the promise that their contents would remain secret until the death of the people who gave them, but a U.S. federal court ruled that 11 of the 85 interviews recorded had to be released.
Boston College declined to comment on the matter other than to say it had complied with court orders.
“The Justice Department never should have made Boston College turn those files over,” said Peggy Kelly, the 60-year-old owner of the Murphy’s Law bar.
Kelly said she had met Adams, a regular visitor to Boston, several times. He spoke at various forums from Harvard University to the song-filled breakfast of local Irish-American politicians held before the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
“He played a pivotal role in the peace,” said Kelly. “If it wasn’t for his leadership and his push for the ballot over the bullet, we would not be where we are today.”
But not all voices in South Boston, once a hotbed of fundraising for the IRA, were raised in support of Adams.
“He’s guilty of murdering people. He was a leader of the IRA and everyone in Belfast knew it,” said Thomas Murtagh, 37, a construction worker originally from Belfast who moved to the United States in 1996.
“He wanted everyone else held accountable. He wanted British police held accountable. Why shouldn’t he be held accountable?” Murtagh asked.
editing by Gunna Dickson