Belfast Telegraph

Events that made the headlines in 2014: From Gerry Adams' arrest to Garth Brooks and Peter Robinson's Islam remarks

Claire Williamson looks back at the six biggest stories which dominated the news this year.

Gerry Adams' arrest

For four days in May the world's media kept watch outside Antrim Police station after Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams was arrested in connection with the 1972 abduction and murder of Jean McConville.

Speaking before his arrest, Mr Adams said he was "innocent of any part" in the murder.

Mrs McConville, a 37-year-old widow and mother-of-10, was abducted from her flat in the Divis area of west Belfast and shot by the IRA. Her body was recovered from a beach in Co Louth in 2003.

After four days of questioning, the former West Belfast MP was released and in a press conference he denounced the "malicious, untruthful and sinister campaign" alleging his involvement.

At the same time Jean McConville's son also held a press conference in Belfast.

Mr Adams said his "interrogators" took a "phased" approach to their questioning.

He also criticised the material used by those officers interviewing him and the process he was subjected to in the holding cells.

"Let me be very clear, I am innocent of any involvement, in any conspiracy to abduct, kill or bury Mrs McConville," he said.

The arrest sparked a political crisis, with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness saying Sinn Fein would "reflect and review" its support for policing should Mr Adams be charged.

Mr Adams was released amid chaotic scenes while a report was prepared for the Public Prosecution Service.

Angry demonstrators waving Union flags staged a sit-down protest in front of the heavily fortified station shortly before his release.

On-the-runs

The so-called on-the-runs controversy almost brought Stormont to its knees. Letters informed on-the-runs (OTRs) living outside the UK that they were not sought by police, allowing them to return to the jurisdiction but not ruling out future prosecutions if further evidence emerged.

The letters sparked political crisis when they were revealed during the trial of John Downey for the IRA's 1982 Hyde Park bombing which killed four soldiers.

He had wrongly been told by the PSNI that he was not wanted for questioning or prosecution in the UK despite a Metropolitan Police warrant for his arrest for the murders.

The case revealed the extent of the Government's assurance scheme and after Mr Downey walked free, First Minister Peter Robinson warned he would resign unless an inquiry was launched and letters to OTRs rescinded.

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly gave names of OTRs to the Government but ministers were not told who the individuals were.

The Labour government scheme saw around 200 fugitive republicans receive assurances that they were not wanted by UK police.

Mr Robinson accused former prime minister Tony Blair of a "deliberate deception by omission" by failing to tell the majority of politicians in Northern Ireland about the agreement his government had struck with Sinn Fein.

Some Troubles' victims viewed the letters as constituting an amnesty for terrorists but the Government denied this and said they represented a statement of fact at a particular time.

The scheme has since been halted.

Minister caught in Islamic row

Firebrand evangelical preacher Pastor James McConnell made global headlines when he slammed the Islamic faith as "Satanic" and a "doctrine spawned in Hell".

He made the comments during a sermon at Whitewell Tabernacle in Belfast.

The Belfast Telegraph first revealed Pastor McConnell's sermon in May and it went on to make headlines around the world.

First Minister Peter Robinson backed him and said a Christian minister had a right to "denounce false doctrines". In a later interview, the DUP leader said he would not trust Muslims for spiritual guidance or those engaged in terrorist acts, but would trust Muslims to "go down the shops for me".

In response, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness called on Mr Robinson to step out of his own political constituency and represent all the community.

The First Minister then made a public apology after his comments sparked a further outcry. Mr Robinson visited the Belfast Islamic centre and apologised if he offended anyone. He said he hoped to now "draw a line" under the row. His public climbdown was welcomed by Mr McGuinness, who said it was the right thing to do.

Giro d'Italia

Northern Ireland turned pink this year when the prestigious Giro d'Italia arrived. The eyes of the world were on us as the unparalleled global cycling event took over the country.

Tens of thousands of people lined the streets with many visitors also coming to enjoy the cycling spectacle.

They were there to watch around 200 of the world's toughest cyclists from more than 30 countries - together with their technical teams and sponsors - storm in to Belfast. The race attracted massive international media coverage.

The grand opening ceremony took place at Belfast City Hall before three days of action pedalled across Belfast, the Causeway Coast, Glens of Antrim, Armagh and down to Dublin for the finish.

There was huge demand for tickets for the opening event and soon the race was on to find the best viewing spots.

A free Italian-themed festival was launched at Stormont Estate to coincide with competitors passing the famous building. Spectators brought picnics to the estate and enjoyed activities including arts and crafts, food outlets, Italian cars and artisan stalls.

The north coast also geared up for the extravaganza - with some sheep even getting involved in the fun, as they too were painted pink.

And the infamous yellowman even lost its colour as it blushed a bright shade of pink.

Council fails to see funny side of Bible comedy

It was almost a Greek tragedy as the Reduced Shakespeare Company attempted to stage a comedy about the Bible.

DUP members of Newtownabbey Borough Council branded the play, The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged), as blasphemous and an attack on Christianity.

There was anger when it was revealed the council's artistic board - made up of councillors and independent members - had pulled the plug on the show at Newtownabbey's Theatre At The Mill. But then in a turn of events, the council reversed the decision and the production ran as originally scheduled for two nights. The saga in January made international headlines.

Councillors who supported the play claimed the ban made them look like a laughing stock and there were bitter exchanges at the meeting when the council agreed the production could go ahead as scheduled.

A prominent DUP woman broke ranks with council colleagues to condemn the banning of the play. Alderman Dineen Walker told the Belfast Telegraph it was not the job of councillors to censor art.

The cancellation of the internationally acclaimed show enraged large numbers of people online and prominent figures, including Australian comedian Tim Minchin and English scientist Richard Dawkins.

On the second night of the production, members of the Free Presbyterian Church sang hymns and passed out leaflets at the entrance of the theatre as theatre-goers made their way to the play. On Wednesday, the first night of the two-night sold-out show, not a single protester had been present.

The group explained this was because the play clashed with their weekly church meeting.

Croke choker for fans of country music legend

Garth Brooks took country music in Northern Ireland on an emotional rollercoaster this year. Loyal fans camped out for days when tickets went on sale in January to get a coveted seat for the singer's tour, which was scheduled to stop off for three nights in Dublin.

Two extra dates were added due to demand but it later emerged Croke Park officials had not sought permission to host them. Garth Brooks said he wanted to put on all five concerts in Dublin or none at all after the city's council refused licences for two of them. Disgruntled residents in the Croke Park area said they were not consulted over the extra dates.

On July 8 all five concerts were cancelled.

Eventually Brooks released a statement confirming the concerts would not take place, dashing the hopes of 400,000 fans who had been praying for a last-minute breakthrough.

Brooks (left) said: "As hard as I try, I cannot see the light on this one." He asked Irish fans to see him elsewhere in the world

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