Gerry Adams last night denied allegations that he was involved in the murder of Jean McConville as pressure continued to mount on the Sinn Fein president.
Mr Adams again insisted he had never been a member of the IRA, claiming the renewed accusations had been made by disgruntled republicans opposed to his party's peace strategy.
It followed claims from the late republican Brendan ‘Darkie’ Hughes that Mr Adams was the IRA chief who ordered the 1972 execution of Mrs McConville, a mother-of-10 from west Belfast.
Mr Hughes claimed he never carried out a major operation without a nod from Mr Adams.
But the Sinn Fein leader has strongly denied the claims, which are carried in a book by veteran journalist Ed Moloney.
“I reject absolutely any accusation that I had any hand or part in the killing and disappearing of Jean McConville or in any of the other allegations,” Mr Adams said in a statement.
Mrs McConville was one of nine people abducted and secretly buried by the IRA in the 1970s. Four have never been recovered.
“The issue of the disappeared is a terrible legacy of the conflict,” Mr Adams added.
“A grievous wrong has been done to these families. Republicans working with the Commission (to locate the bodies of the Disappeared) have being trying to right this wrong for some years.
“The proposal to do this was initiated by me after I was approached by some of the families involved.”
Mr Adams said the allegations could be traced back to republicans opposed to Sinn Fein's peace strategy.
“I knew Brendan Hughes well,” he added. “He wasn't well and hadn't been for a very long time, including during the time he did these interviews.
“He also carried with him an enormous sense of guilt over events surrounding the first (IRA) hunger strike. However, that is no excuse for his involvement in this book. Brendan also opposed the IRA cessations and the peace process. That was his right.
“The fact is that the decisions taken collectively by republicans in recent years have improved the quality of life for people across this island, have ensured the growth of republican politics and created a new and dynamic context in which republicans have the potential to achieve our primary goal of Irish reunification and independence.
“Brendan could and should have been part of this. For a mixture of reasons he wasn't.”
But Mr Adams, while denying membership of the IRA, added: “I reject any suggestion that I have ever sought to distance myself from the IRA.”