McConville's death has long provoked strong feelings in Northern Ireland. Reflecting the embarrassment associated with killing a widowed mother, the IRA did not admit the killing until 1999, when it claimed responsibility for nearly a dozen slayings of long-vanished civilians and offered to try to pinpoint their unmarked graves. McConville's children had been told she abandoned them, and they were divided into different foster homes.
Her remains were discovered only by accident near a Republic of Ireland beach in 2003. The woman bore a single bullet mark through the back of the skull, and forensics officers determined she'd been shot once through the back of the head with a rifle.
Adams was implicated in the killing by two IRA veterans, who gave taped interviews to researchers for a Boston College history archive on the four-decade Northern Ireland conflict. Belfast police waged a two-year legal fight in the United States to acquire the interviews, parts of which were already published after the 2008 death of one IRA interviewee, Brendan Hughes.
Boston College immediately handed over the Hughes tapes. The college and researchers fought unsuccessfully to avoid handing over tapes of the second IRA interviewee, Dolours Price, who died in 2013.
Both Hughes and Price agreed to be interviewed on condition that their contents were kept confidential until their deaths.
In his interviews, Hughes, a reputed 1970s deputy to Adams within the Belfast IRA, said McConville was killed on Adams' orders. Hughes said Adams oversaw a special IRA unit called “The Unknowns” that was committed to identifying, killing and secretly burying Belfast Catholic civilians suspected of spying on behalf of the police or British Army. An independent investigation by Northern Ireland's police-complaints watchdog in 2006 found no evidence that McConville had been a spy.
Adams said on Tuesday he “played no act or part” in the murder, and that the timing of his arrest, weeks before 2014 local and European elections in Ireland showed there were “elements within the PSNI [police] who are against Sinn Fein.”
One of McConville's sons, Michael, said in a statement he would “continue to seek justice for our mother ... no matter how long it takes.”
Al Jazeera and wire services