“Millstones of Justice turn exceedingly slow, but grind exceedingly fine.” – John Bannister Gibson (1780-1853)
As I write this, Gerry Adams, the most popular political party leader in Ireland, is enjoying his second night at the pleasure of Her Majesty. It’s hard not to wish that the widow and mother of ten small children, Jean McConville, had enjoyed such due process before she was snatched from her home by the Provisional IRA and shot in the back of the head in 1972.
It was heart-breaking to hear Michael McConville today talking of his and his young siblings’ distress as the IRA, some of them masked strangers, some of them known neighbours, tore those little kids away from their mother and bundled her into the back of a van. They never saw her again.
Gerry Adams’ one-time friend, the former OC of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade, Brendan Hughes, said in the Boston College tapes that he was baffled as to why (he claimed) Adams had ordered Jean McConville’s body “disappeared”. He felt it was pointless, that she should have been dumped in the street as an example to others.
It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that Hughes was, in his savage way, right. A dead body is a far stronger message to send to would-be “traitors” than rumours and lies. There seems no other rational explanation than to say that Jean McConville was “disappeared” because the IRA, under Gerry Adams, knew full well she was an innocent victim of their predation and they knew, perhaps after the fact, that their actions did not even have the questionable fig-leaf that she was an informer. Either that or there was a consideration to the optics of a widowed mother of ten being executed. Neither interpretation presents the IRA in a heroic light.
It’s so strange to think that, in his heartless way, Hughes might have been ultimately kinder to Mrs McConville’s children, at least giving them the closure of a body to bury and a grave to visit. Instead, the IRA under Adams spread the story that she had run away, that she had an affair with a British soldier, that she had abandoned her family. Shot in the back of the head and buried in a shallow grave. Ten children’s lives blighted.
In 2003, a lifetime after those children screamed for their mother in a storm of IRA violence, a different kind of storm chanced to disturb Jean McConville’s remains on a lonely beach in Louth. A man out for a walk found her and he said a prayer over her. Perhaps that gave her kids some peace. But when Mrs McConville’s coffin was taken to its final resting place, it travelled in eerie silence through deserted streets because Sinn Féin had ordered that this would happen.
Sinn Féin and its defenders are out, with Sinn Féin’s deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald claiming the timing of Adams’ arrest is “political” and callers to Liveline telling Joe Duffy that, Shur look, Joe, when you stop and think about it, wasn’t everyone an innocent victim in the Troubles? (Orwell would have loved that. If everyone is an innocent victim, then nobody is an innocent victim.) Another recurring theme, one which Martin McGuinness has used, is that “dark forces” seek to undermine the Sinn Féin leadership and, by extension, wreck the Peace Process, by constantly dredging up the past. Or, in essence, “Look. Terrible things happened during the Troubles and if you keep asking awkward questions, terrible things might happen again. Friend.”
As it happens, I think Sinn Féin is being accidentally honest in calling the timing of this “political”. Seeing as it was Gerry Adams who made initial contact with the PSNI and volunteered to talk about Mrs McConville’s murder, (or “M-word“, as Mary Lou McDonald so classily put it,) the political timing is entirely Sinn Féin’s own. It may have backfired, but this was a clear attempt, ahead of the upcoming local and European elections, to exorcise a ghost which has haunted Adams for four decades.
Mary Lou’s uncharacteristic media fail highlights Sinn Féin’s dilemma: it’s a tough balancing act to placate the core Shinner voter, red in tooth and claw, who sees nothing wrong in the IRA killing just about anyone, without scaring off Sinn Fein’s new target audience, women buying prawns in Tesco and other people too young to remember the slaughter.
Blessed are the peacemakers, said Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:9). Sadly for Jarry, The Good Lord was a little less forthcoming on the issue of peacemakers who had also been at the same time the principle warmongers.
Of course, this could all be terribly unfair to Gerry Adams. I mean, we really should take him at his word when he says he had nothing to do with Jean McConville’s death. It’s hardly like he’s ever lied about anything else. Still, for his sake, it’s nearly a shame he was never a member of the IRA. A Good Friday Agreement amnesty might come in pretty handy right about now.