Gerry Adams hits back over claims linking him to murder

Gerry Adams yesterday hit back at "anti-republican elements" pursuing him over the death of a woman at the hands of the IRA and said he would not give details of his role during the armed group's campaign.

The Sinn Fein leader said he was proud to have been part of

the "struggle".

Former senior IRA commander Brendan Hughes has given an interview claiming the West Belfast MP ordered the death of mother-of-10 Jean McConville in 1972 for allegedly informing to the British authorities.

Mr Adams told an Easter commemoration in Belfast yesterday: "During this phase of the struggle some of us had to leave our families and homes, go on the run, adapt many ruses, go under false names. We relied totally on the support of the people to protect us.

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"And we, in turn, protected the people as best we could. We did not divulge their names, their roles, their actions.

"That is still my position. That was the bond of comradeship and loyalty which was forged between us."

He added: "And let no one think that I will bend to the demands of anti-republican elements or their allies in a hostile section of the media on this issue."

Mr Adams has consistently denied claims that he was involved in the murder of Mrs McConville, whose body was not found until 2003. The IRA has admitted killing and burying her.

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The allegations against Mr Adams, and others, were made in a series of interviews Mr Hughes gave to a researcher for Boston College in 2001 and 2002. He spoke on condition that the material would not be published until after his death.

Mrs McConville lived with her children in Belfast in the early 1970s. She was taken from her home by IRA members after being accused of being an informer. She was interrogated, shot and secretly buried in Co Louth in the Republic of Ireland.

Her family has rejected claims that she was an informer. In 2006 an investigation by Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan found no evidence that Mrs McConville had passed information to the security forces.

Mr Adams said he was conscious of the human cost "of the war and the great hurt inflicted by republicans."

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He added: "I cannot demand truth for victims of British terrorism, collusion or unionist terror without supporting the same right for victims of republican actions."

He said republican involvement could not be permitted to be criminalised. "This relentless campaign against me is not really about me at all. It's about trying to defeat the struggle," he added.

At a commemoration in Carrickmore, Co Tyrone, Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said they should resist efforts by revisionists to retrospectively criminalise the IRA.