By Conor Humphries
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams on Tuesday called on the Irish government to defend Northern Ireland's peace deal and stop Britain from "persecuting Republicans" in the wake of his arrest in a murder investigation last week.
Northern Ireland police detained Adams for four days to question him about a gruesome 1972 murder, prompting party colleagues to question the neutrality of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), a key plank of the 1998 Good Friday agreement.
That deal largely ended decades of sectarian conflict between mainly Catholic Republicans seeking Irish union and pro-British Protestants wishing to stay in the United Kingdom and brought Sinn Fein into a power-sharing government.
The deal was co-guaranteed by the British and Irish governments.
"The Irish government has to act," Adams told a rally of around 500 supporters in Dublin on Tuesday, saying the authorities were not doing enough to prosecute British soldiers guilty of crimes during the so-called "Troubles".
"What you have is the British state, following, persecuting Republicans while being unable, not prepared to stand up to its own responsibilities on these issues and that isn't good enough, and the Taoiseach has to be about correcting that," Adams said, using the Irish-language term for the Irish prime minister.
Adams is a member of the Irish parliament and his left-leaning Sinn Fein is the second-largest opposition party to prime minister Enda Kenny's center-right government. He was the head of Sinn Fein when it was the political wing of the Irish Republican Army during its campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s.
Adams said Sinn Fein continued to support the police force but suggested it needed reform.
"What is clear is that we need accountable, public service policing. What is also clear is that there is a wee bit of work yet to do to achieve it," he said.
The head of the PSNI, Matt Baggott, rejected criticism of the arrest on Tuesday, saying in a statement that "questioning the motivation or impartiality of police officers tasked with investigating serious crime in this very public, generalized and vague manner, is both unfair and inappropriate."
Adams, whose Sinn Fein party is the third most popular in the country, according to opinion polls, received a standing ovation when he entered the rally on Tuesday, two days after he was released from a police station near Belfast.
He joked about his arrest, but he also condemned the murder of Jean McConville, who was dragged screaming away from her 10 children by Irish Republican Army militants in 1972.
"What happened to Jean McConville was dreadful, was unjust," Adams said. "We cannot rail against British injustice inflicted on people unless we stand up to this (among) ourselves."
Adams has always denied membership of the IRA and last week said he was "innocent of any part" in the killing of McConville.
(Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Ken Wills)