Antrim: Northern Ireland police have released Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and sent a file to the public prosecutor after four days of questioning over his role in a 1972 murder that has rocked the British province.
Police arrested Mr Adams on Wednesday over the abduction and murder of Jean McConville, a killing he said he was "innocent of any part" in. His detention has raised tensions among Northern Ireland's power-sharing government and threatens the hard-won peace process.
Mr Adams' arrest over the killing of McConville is among the most significant in Northern Ireland since a 1998 peace deal ended decades of tit-for-tat killings between Irish Catholic nationalists and mostly Protestant pro-British loyalists.
Loyalist protesters outside Antrim police station where Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was questioned for four days over the 1972 murder of Jean McConville. Photo: Peter Muhly
The Sinn Fein leader, who is a member of parliament in the Irish republic, has been dogged throughout his career by accusations from former IRA fighters that he was involved in its campaign of killings, a charge he has repeatedly denied.
Northern Ireland's Director of Public Prosecutions will now review the police report. The head of the prosecution service, Barra McGrory, is a former solicitor for Mr Adams, according to a spokesperson for the PPS who was quoted in the Irish media last year. The PPS was not immediately available to comment.
Under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which drew a line under 30 years of sectarian strife, those convicted of paramilitary murders during the conflict would have life sentences reduced to two years.
Released: Gerry Adams. Photo: Getty
Sinn Fein has repeatedly said the arrest was a deliberate attempt by "dark forces" in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to undermine the peace process, with the arrest timed to hurt the party in European and local elections later this month.
First Minister Peter Robinson, whose Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) shares power with nationalist Sinn Fein, accused his partner in government of a "thuggish attempt to blackmail" police through its criticism of the arrest.
"The publicly conveyed threat to the PSNI delivered by the highest levels of Sinn Fein that they will reassess their attitude to policing if Gerry Adams is charged is a despicable, thuggish attempt to blackmail the PSNI," Mr Robinson said.
"The threat now means that ordinary decent citizens will conclude that the PSNI and the PPS have succumbed to a crude and overt political threat if Adams is not charged. I warn Sinn Fein that they have crossed the line."
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness stopped short of saying Sinn Fein would remove its support for the PSNI, a move that would spark a major crisis. He said Sinn Fein would wait to see if the situation was resolved satisfactorily.
However he said prior to Mr Adams' release on Sunday that the peace process was not at risk over the crisis, nor was the power-sharing government under threat from the fall out. Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford urged both sides to take a step back and let the police do their job.
The investigation of former militants on both sides of the conflict have stirred protests in the province in recent years, but there have been no signs of trouble since Mr Adams' arrest.
Some 50 pro-British activists protested outside the police station as media waited for Mr Adams to emerge. One protester raised a union flag from a nearby lamp post.