DUBLIN (AP) — Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams apologized Tuesday for the Irish Republican Army’s killing of seven police officers and soldiers in the Republic of Ireland, the latest such statement of regret over past bloodshed to come from the IRA-linked party.
Adams expressed remorse during a parliamentary debate about the security and political response to Friday’s fatal shooting of a police officer in the border town of Dundalk. Detective Adrian Donohoe, 41, was shot in the head as he tried to stop a gang robbing a cash collection van outside a bank. An IRA faction based in the neighboring South Armagh region of Northern Ireland is suspected of involvement.
Donohoe was the first policeman to be fatally shot in the Republic of Ireland since 1996, when members of the dominant Provisional IRA faction ambushed another cash-carrying van in Limerick and killed police guard Jerry McCabe. The Provisionals killed a total of six policemen and one soldier during their failed 1970-1997 campaign to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom. The Irish security-force members all were shot as they tried to stop IRA bank robberies or free IRA hostages.
Adams, a reputed former Provisional IRA commander who has led Sinn Fein since 1983, apologized to McCabe’s widow, to the policeman who was badly wounded alongside McCabe in 1996, and to the families of the other six Irish security-force members slain by the IRA.
‘‘I am very sorry for the pain and loss inflicted on those families. No word of mine can remove that hurt. Dreadful events cannot be undone,’’ Adams said.
Adams officially denies ever having been in the IRA, a claim at odds with all credible histories of the Sinn Fein-IRA movement. In 2011, he was elected for the first time to Ireland’s parliament and represents the border district that includes Dundalk, a town long considered part of the border ‘‘bandit country’’ where Provisional IRA units operated relatively freely throughout the conflict.
The getaway car used by Donohoe’s killers was found on a South Armagh road. It had been burned to destroy forensic evidence, a typical IRA practice.
While the Provisional IRA as an organization renounced violence and disarmed in 2005, scores of members have joined splinter groups that continue to mount occasional bomb and gun attacks in Northern Ireland. Police say they also run Dublin protection rackets, smuggle fuel and cigarettes, extort money from criminal rivals and dole out potentially crippling ‘‘punishment’’ shootings against alleged drug dealers operating in IRA power bases.
The Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein have made a series of apologies and statements of regret over the past decade as part of efforts to end more than 40 years of conflict over Northern Ireland that has claimed 3,700 lives. In 2002, the IRA offered ‘‘sincere apologies and condolences’’ for killing about 650 civilians, whom it labeled ‘‘non-combatants.’’
Soon after Adams spoke Tuesday, politicians from the British Protestant majority in Northern Ireland called on him to apologize for the IRA killing of more than 900 British soldiers and Northern Ireland police.
Willie McCrea, a lawmaker from the major Protestant-backed party the Democratic Unionists, said Adams’ willingness to apologize for killing Irish police — but not the predominantly Protestant members of Northern Ireland’s police or locally recruited army regiment — was ‘‘grossly offensive.’’
The Provisional IRA cease-fire paved the way for Sinn Fein to join a unity government alongside Protestants in Belfast in 2007, achieving the central aim of the U.S.-brokered Good Friday peace accord of 1998. The British Army today retains about 4,000 troops in Northern Ireland but they no longer play any local security role.