Sinn Féin accused of 'blackmailing' PSNI over Gerry Adams

People holding "release Gerry Adams" posters Protesters, including senior members of Sinn Féin, gathered on Saturday to call for the release of Gerry Adams

Northern Ireland's first minister has accused Sinn Féin of attempting to blackmail the police over the arrest of Gerry Adams.

Peter Robinson said the PSNI must not suffer "republican bullyboy tactics".

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has spent a fourth night in custody over the 1972 murder of Jean McConville.

On Friday, Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness hinted his party may look again at whether it would continue to support Northern Ireland police (PSNI).

However, Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said no threat had been made by his party.

Gerry Kelly visited Mr Adams at Antrim police station Gerry Kelly visited Mr Adams at Antrim police station

On Sunday afternoon, Mr Kelly arrived at Antrim police station, where his party leader has been held in custody since Wednesday evening.

Afterwards, he said he had spoken to Mr Adams and that he looked well and was being treated well.

However, he added that Mr Adams shared the Sinn Féin view that his arrest was politically motivated and had been "mishandled".

Mr Kelly said: "He's worried about the damage that it may be doing to the image of policing as well."

"This is quite a serious situation," he added.

A small group of loyalist protesters have gathered close to the gates of Antrim police station.

They have erected a union flag on a lamp post and are carrying a placard claiming their right to fly the flag.

Mr Adams denies any involvement in the killing. of Mrs McConville, a mother of 10.

'Unacceptable'

Police have until 20:00 BST on Sunday to charge or release Mr Adams.

A source told the BBC on Saturday that Mr Adams was being questioned for up to 17 hours a day, adding that there would need to be a significant development for a charge.

If charged he would appear at a special court sitting on Sunday or Monday.

Police sources told the BBC that "all interviews are undertaken in a human rights compliant manner which are applicable and applied to anyone in such a situation".

In a statement on Sunday, Mr Robinson, the Democratic Unionist Party leader said: "The protest action taken by Sinn Féin is unacceptable in any democratic country operating under the rule of law.

"The publicly conveyed threat to the PSNI delivered by the highest levels of Sinn Féin that they will reassess their attitude to policing if Gerry Adams is charged is a despicable, thuggish attempt to blackmail the PSNI.

Man paints a mural of Gerry Adams in West Belfast A new mural of Gerry Adams has been painted on a wall in West Belfast.

"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.

"The PSNI must not be the subject of republican bullyboy tactics.

"They must be completely free to follow any and all evidence regardless of where it takes them and to decide free of political considerations whether suspects will be charged or not."

'Proper crisis'

However, Mr Kelly told BBC Northern Ireland's Sunday Politics programme Mr Adams' arrest was due to "political policing" and was "entirely linked" to elections due to be held on 22 May.

When asked to confirm if there was a possibility that Sinn Féin would withdraw its support for the PSNI, Mr Kelly said: "We will assess all of this as we go on."

People holding "release Gerry Adams" posters Protesters gathered on Saturday to call for the release of Mr Adams

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said that politicians could not "cherry pick" the rule of law and told the programme that situation was a "proper crisis".

"The McConville family had waited 42 years for Gerry Adams to be questioned about this murder. It is churlish to say the least and entirely self-serving for Sinn Féin to complain that the police took seven weeks to respond to the request, or the offer, from Gerry Adams that he would go and speak to them," Mr Nesbitt said.

However, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell told the programme he was not sure that it was a proper crisis, adding he thought there was "a certain amount of spin around".

'Serious matter'

"I don't see political or political policing involved in this. I quite simply see that Gerry Adams went voluntarily to police, he chose the timing," Mr McDonnell said.

"And basically he may not have been aware, he may not have been prepared for the fact that they were going to detain him, but the point is Gerry chose the timing."

Alliance MP Naomi Long said Sinn Féin had "got it wrong" and added the party's remarks about the PSNI were a "serious matter".

"I think we should be concerned when people are threatening to withdraw their support from the police," she said.

Ms Long criticised both unionist and nationalist politicians for making allegations of political policing and added that no-one was above the law.

"Gerry Adams is innocent until he is proven guilty. He has that right under the law like everyone else, but he has no right to demand that his questioning or the treatment of him as a potential witness in this situation should be any different to any other person in society."

Jean McConville and family Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10, was abducted and murdered by the IRA in December 1972

On Friday, a judge gave police an extra 48 hours to question Mr Adams over the death of Mrs McConville, a 37-year-old widow who was abducted and shot by the IRA.

Secretly buried

Her body was recovered from a beach in County Louth in 2003.

She is one of Northern Ireland's Disappeared, those who were abducted, murdered and buried in secret by republicans during the Troubles.

She was kidnapped in front of her children after being wrongly accused of being an informer to the British Army.

Last month, Ivor Bell, 77, a leader in the Provisional IRA in the 1970s, was charged with aiding and abetting the murder, and there have also been a number of other arrests recently.

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