Rep. King: 'I have every reason to believe Gerry Adams'

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) sprang to the defense of Irish politician Gerry Adams Thursday, as Adams was held in police custody in Northern Ireland in connection with a 1972 murder.

Since 1983, Adams has been the leader of Sinn Fein, a party that for many years served as the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (I.R.A.). He is being questioned, but has not been charged, in relation to the killing of widowed mother-of-10 Jean McConville in 1972.

Adams has strenuously denied any involvement in the murder — and King says he takes the Sinn Fein leader at his word.

“I have every reason based on his past record to believe Gerry Adams,” King told The Hill. “I have known him since the early ‘80s and he has never told me something that turned out to be untrue.”

King added that his faith in Adams was also rooted in observing the Irish Republican leader during the tortuous years of negotiation that led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the accord responsible for largely ending three decades of violence.

“In my dealings with Bill Clinton, George Mitchell [the former Senate majority leader who chaired the peace negotiations] and even [former British prime minister] Tony Blair, they always said that the one guy who could be counted on to deliver what he said he could deliver was Adams,” King said. “He never lied to them, he never misled.” 

Adams does, however, deny ever having been a member of the I.R.A., a claim that is viewed with deep skepticism across the political spectrum in Ireland. 

The I.R.A. took McConville from her home in a staunchly Irish nationalist area of West Belfast in December 1972. The guerrilla group claimed that she was an informer for the British, though this has always been denied by her family. McConville was shot dead. Her body was buried in the Republic of Ireland and lay undiscovered until 2003.

The investigation into her killing has only picked up pace recently. The catalysts for that appear to have been allegations against Adams from two former comrades who later split with him, believing the political strategy he pursued was too accommodationist with the British.

Brendan Hughes, a onetime I.R.A. commander in Belfast, and Dolours Price, one of the organization’s most prominent women, alleged that Adams authorized McConville’s killing. Hughes died in February 2008 and Price died in January 2013. Allies of Adams contend that the two had axes to grind.

King is clearly on the pro-Adams side of that question, also suggesting the arrest had been timed to hinder Sinn Fein’s performance in local and European elections that will take place this month.

“This has been around for years, with these allegations. Why they [law enforcement in Northern Ireland] decided to push it now, at this stage, with elections a few weeks off…” King said.

Referring to Hughes by his commonly-used nickname, the New York congressman added, “As I understand it, these allegations are based off what Darkie Hughes and Dolours Price said… I’m not arguing [Adams’] case for him, but the fact is that these two people hated him because of his role in the peace process.”

Throughout his career, King has sometimes received criticism because of his sympathies for Irish republicanism. Back in 1982, King told a pro-I.R.A rally in Long Island, N.Y., that, “We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry.” His defenders say he played a helpful role during the crucial early stages of the Irish peace process.

The Hill contacted four lawmakers who have been known for their engagement in Irish issues, but King was the only one who agreed to speak about Adams directly. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) issued a statement noting that Adams had met with police voluntarily, adding that “I have also condemned the killing of Jean McConville in the strongest possible terms.”

A spokeswoman for Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y) said he was unavailable. The office of Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) did not respond to requests for comment.