Sinn Féin would review its support for the police if party leader Gerry Adams were to be charged, Martin McGuinness has hinted.
The suggestion by the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Deputy First Minister came shortly before a judge gave police permission to hold Mr Adams for a further 48 hours for questioning in connection with the murder and secret burial of Jean McConville in 1972.
Mr Adams was arrested on Wednesday night and can now be held at Antrim police station until tomorrow [Sun] night. The former MP for West Belfast now representing Co Louth in the Irish Dail vigorously denies involvement in Mrs McConville's disappearance and murder.
Sinn Féin endorsement of the Police Service of Northern Ireland in 2007 was a significant component of the peace process and a reversal of the support would represent a huge blow.
Mr McGuinness, his veteran colleague, said yesterday when asked what would happen in the event the party President was charged: "We are very thoughtful and we are very reflective but I think if such a scenario does develop then we will sit down and we will reflect on what will be an even more serious situation than the one we face today.
"Yesterday I said that the timing of the arrest of Gerry Adams was politically-motivated. Today's decision by the PSNI to seek an extension confirms me in my view."
He has blamed what he describes as a “cabal” within the PSNI to damage the peace process in the run-up to elections.
Insisting any decision taken by Sinn Féin will be a considered rather than a knee-jerk reaction, he nevertheless warned that the consequences could be serious: "Obviously in the context of the scenario we find ourselves in at the minute we will have to, on an ongoing basis, monitor this situation where our party leader is being detained and I think you can draw your own conclusions.
He hoped the issue would be resolved in a “satisfactory way” and allow the progress made in reforming policing in Northern Ireland would continue. But he added: "If it doesn't, we will have to review that situation and we will have to review that situation in the context of continuing with our very positive and constructive role within what is a vitally important peace process."