By Suzanne BreenBelfast Telegraph
26 July 2018Jean McConville’s sons Thomas and James outside screening in BelfastTwo sons of IRA murder victim Jean McConville staged a protest outside a cinema showing a film that includes alleged details of their mother's death.
James and Thomas McConville stood outside the Moviehouse on Belfast's Dublin Road last night as media gathered for the Press screening of I Dolours
The film tells the story of Dolours Price, the IRA woman who drove Mrs McConville, a mother-of-10, to her death.
It includes video footage of an interview Price gave to journalist Ed Moloney in 2010 in which she names Gerry Adams as the officer commanding the Belfast Brigade and alleges that he sent her to bomb England. Mr Adams denies being a member of the IRA.
Price was involved in driving several alleged informers across the border where they would be killed and secretly buried.
She said she was acting as a member of a secret group in the IRA, the Unknowns. In the interview, she said she opposed 'disappearing' and secretly burying alleged informers, arguing rather that their bodies should be left on the streets "to put the fear of God and the republican movement into anybody who would chose that way of life". But she claimed that loyalty to the leadership caused her to follow orders. She alleged Mrs McConville confessed to the IRA to being an informer for money. Although asked about disappearing people, Price agreed that it was undoubtedly a war crime. James McConville said her claims did not tally with what the family had been previously told by the IRA.
He insisted his mother was not an informer and said he wanted a meeting with Mr Moloney to discuss the case. He said he would like to hear the full unedited tapes of Price's interview.
A 2006 Police Ombudsman report found no evidence to suggest Mrs McConville was an informer. The 36-year-old widow was dragged from her home in Divis Flats in 1972. Her body was found on Shelling Hill beach, Co Louth, in 2003.
Dolours Price was a strident critic of the Sinn Fein leadership whom she believed had abandoned republicanism. She died in 2013. I Dolours
goes on general release in cinemas across Northern Ireland on August 31.
16 Sept 2016Ivor Bell leaves Laganside Court on Friday. The Veteran republican is due to stand trial for the involvement in the 1972 murder of mother-of-10 Jean McConville. (Picture: Pacemaker)A veteran republican charged in connection with the IRA murder of a mother of 10 is to undergo medical examination to determine whether he is fit to plead.
Ivor Bell, 79, faces two counts of soliciting Jean McConville's killing in 1972.
The defendant was due to plead at a scheduled arraignment hearing in Belfast Crown Court ahead of his trial.
But the hearing was adjourned after Bell's barrister told the judge a medical exam was to be commissioned.
Granting the four week adjournment, judge Seamus Treacy said: "This relates to unfitness to plead issues."
White-haired, moustachioed Bell, from Ramoan Gardens in west Belfast, sat in the dock during the brief legal exchanges.
His lawyers have made clear the pensioner denies the offences at previous hearings.
A number of Mrs McConville's children watched on from the public gallery.
The 37-year-old mother was dragged from her home in Belfast's Divis flats complex by an IRA gang of up to 12 men and women.
She was accused of passing information to the British Army - an allegation later discredited by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman.
Mrs McConville was shot in the back of the head and secretly buried 50 miles from her home, becoming one of the "Disappeared" victims of the Troubles.
It was not until 1999 that the IRA admitted the murder when information was passed to police in the Irish Republic.
Her remains were eventually found on Shelling Hill beach in Co Louth by a member of the public in August 2003.
Nobody has been convicted of her murder.
The case against Bell is based on the content of tapes police secured from an oral history archive collated by Boston College in the United States.
Academics interviewed a series of former republican and loyalist paramilitaries for their Belfast Project on the understanding that the accounts of the Troubles would remain unpublished until their deaths.
But that undertaking was rendered meaningless when Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) detectives investigating Mrs McConville's death won a court battle in the US to secure the recordings.
It is alleged that one of the interviews was given by Bell - a claim the defendant denies.
Ivor Bell alleged to have given interview about killing to Boston College researchers Irish Times
16 May 2016Ivor Bell leaving Belfast Laganside Court last year after he faced counts of aiding and abetting the killing of Jean McConville. (File Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire)Efforts are being made to obtain evidence from an American witness in the case against a veteran republican charged over the killing of Jean McConville, a court heard today.
A prosecution lawyer disclosed attempts to have them compelled to testify about alleged offences linked to Ivor Bell.
The 79-year-old faces charges of soliciting to murder connected to an allegation that he encouraged or persuaded others to kill Mrs McConville. The victim, a mother of 10, was seized by the IRA from her Divis Flats home in west Belfast in 1972 after being wrongly accused of being an informer.
Following her abduction she was shot dead and then secretly buried. Her body was discovered on a Co Louth beach in 2003.
Mr Bell, from Ramoan Gardens in the Andersonstown district of the city, was arrested and charged in March 2014. The case against him centres on an interview he allegedly gave to US researchers from Boston College as part of a project with former paramilitaries about their roles in the Northern Ireland conflict.Transcripts
Although transcripts were not to be published until after the deaths of those who took part, a US court ordered the tapes should be handed over to PSNI detectives investigating Mrs McConville’s killing.
It is alleged Mr Bell is one of the Boston interviewees, given the title Z, who spoke about the circumstances surrounding the decision to abduct her. A voice analyst has been enlisted as part of the case.
The accused - who is currently on bail - denies any role in events surrounding the murder, claiming he was not even in the city at the time. His lawyers contend that he does not have a case to answer.
They are expected to mount an attempt to have the charges thrown out at a preliminary inquiry hearing where witnesses can be cross-examined in a bid to test the strength of the evidence.
At Belfast Magistrates’ Court on Monday, prosecution lawyer John O’Neill provided an update on proceedings. He indicated that efforts have been made to compel an unnamed witness from America to give evidence. However, that person remains unwilling to comply with requests.
An application may now be made to have this evidence admitted on a hearsay basis.
The case was then adjourned until next month when the prosecution is expected to finalise its position.
4 June 2015Ivor BellThe prosecution of a veteran republican accused of involvement in the murder of Belfast mother of 10 Jean McConville is to proceed.
After a number of court extensions to consider their case, prosecutors had been given a final deadline of today to indicate whether they would be pursing the case against Ivor Bell.
A lawyer for the North's Public Prosecution Service (PPS) ended mounting public uncertainty around the case this morning when he told judge George Connor it would be proceeding.
“A decision has now been taken to prosecute this defendant,” he said.
Bell, 78, from Ramoan Gardens in west Belfast, was arrested and charged in March last year.
He is charged with aiding and abetting the murder of the widow who was abducted from her home in west Belfast in 1972.
He is further accused of IRA membership.
Bell, wearing a dark grey shirt, sat impassively in the dock of Belfast Magistrates’ Court during the short hearing.
Two of Mrs McConville’s children, Michael and Suzanna, watched proceedings from the public gallery.Boston College tapes
Part of the case against Bell is based on a tape police secured from an oral history archive collated by Boston College.
The college interviewed a series of former paramilitaries on the understanding their accounts would remain unpublished until their deaths.
But that undertaking was rendered meaningless when the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) won a court battle in the US to secure the recordings.
Detectives claim one of the interviews was given by Bell – a claim the defendant denies
Mrs McConville was dragged from her home in the Divis flats by an IRA gang of up to 12 men and women after being accused of passing information to the British Army in Belfast – an allegation discredited by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman.
She was shot in the back of the head and buried 50 miles from her home.
The IRA did not admit her murder until 1999 when information was passed to police in the Irish Republic.
She became one of the “Disappeared” and it was not until August 2003 that her remains were eventually found on Shelling Hill beach, Co Louth.
No-one has been convicted of her murder.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams was last year arrested and questioned as part of the police investigation into Mrs McConville’s death.
The Louth TD has consistently rejected allegations made to Boston College by former republican colleagues including Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price that he had a role in ordering her death.
The PPS continues to review a file on Mr Adams.
24 March 2015A veteran former IRA man has said it is “shameful” for republicans to still defend the murder of Jean McConville.
Brendan Curran, who was Sinn Fein’s first councillor in Newry in 1985, said that the party needs to “honourably” accept that it “got things wrong”.
Mr Curran quit Sinn Fein a year and a half ago and last week he resigned from the council with a heated speech in which he claimed that there was a “Stakeknife-like” figure within Newry Sinn Fein, a reference to the notorious IRA informer from Belfast.
In his speech, Mr Curran alleged that he had warned the party of a paedophile priest (who is now dead) who was abusing children on a large scale, but he was told to stop talking about the issue.
Yesterday Mr Curran told local radio station Q Radio: “I know things have happened in the past which were bad, and things which maybe we all took part in and that was the way it was. But you know what? Now is not the time to call people like Jean McConville an executed tout. And nobody – particularly republicans – can stand by a remark like that.
“I’m simply highlighting something which is common currency in Patrick Street in Newry. Executed touts? Shameful. What happened to that woman was shameful.
“And I realise that it happened, I realise, in the whole darkness of the war. But you see now that we’re standing back and the smoke has cleared, we should be able to honourably turn round and say ‘You know what? Sometimes we got things wrong’.”
Gerry Adams has long denied being a member of the I.R.A. But his former compatriots claim that he authorized murder.
By Patrick Radden KeefeThe New Yorker
16 March 2015 Issue
**This is the first half of the article. Please see the next post for the last half.
Jean McConville had just taken a bath when the intruders knocked on the door. A small woman with a guarded smile, she was, at thirty-seven, a mother of ten. She was also a widow: her husband, Arthur, had died eleven months earlier, of cancer. The family continued to live in Divis Flats—a housing complex just off the Falls Road, in the heart of Catholic West Belfast—but had recently moved to a slightly larger apartment. The stove was not connected yet, so Jean’s daughter Helen, who was fifteen, had gone to a nearby chip shop to bring back dinner. “Don’t be stopping for a sneaky smoke,” Jean told her. It was December, 1972, and already dark at 6:30 P.M. When the children heard the knock, they assumed that it was Helen with the food.Clockwise from top right: Dolours Price; Gerry Adams; Jean McConville and three of her children; I.R.A. men at the funeral of Bobby Sands; Divis Flats, the Belfast housing project from which McConville was abducted. (Credit Clockwise from Top Right: Press Association via AP - Price; Peter Marlow / Magnum - Adams; Press Association via AP - McConville; David Caulkin / AP - IRA; Judah Passow - Divis Flats)
Four men and four women burst in; some wore balaclavas, others had covered their faces with nylon stockings that ghoulishly distorted their features. One brandished a gun. “Put your coat on,” they told Jean. She trembled violently as they tried to pull her out of the apartment. “Help me!” she shrieked.
“I can remember trying to grab my mother,” her son Michael told me recently. He was eleven at the time. “We were all crying. My mother was crying.” Billy and Jim, six-year-old twins, threw their arms around Jean’s legs and wailed. The intruders tried to calm the children by saying that they would bring their mother back: they just needed to talk to her, and she would be gone for only “a few hours.” Archie, who, at sixteen, was the oldest child at home, asked if he could accompany his mother, and the members of the gang agreed. Jean McConville put on a tweed overcoat and a head scarf as the younger children were herded into one of the bedrooms. The intruders called the children by name. A couple of the men were not wearing masks, and Michael realized, to his horror, that the people taking his mother away were not strangers—they were his neighbors.
Divis Flats had been constructed in the late nineteen-sixties, in one of those fits of architectural utopianism that yield dystopian results. A “slum clearance” program had razed a neighborhood of narrow, overcrowded nineteenth-century dwellings, replacing them with a hulking complex of eight hundred and fifty units. To Michael McConville, Divis’s warren of balconies and ramps seemed like “a maze for rats.” By 1972, it had become a stronghold for the Irish Republican Army, which was waging an escalating guerrilla battle against the British Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and loyalist paramilitary groups. A nineteen-story tower stood on one edge of Divis. It was one of the tallest buildings in Belfast, and the British Army had established an operational post on the top two floors. Because this aerie was in the middle of enemy territory, there were times when the British could get to it only by helicopter. From the rooftop, British snipers traded fire with I.R.A. gunmen below. Michael and his siblings had grown accustomed to the reverberation of bombs and the percussion of gun battles. On bad nights, the children dragged their mattresses off the beds and away from the windows and slept on the floor.
The I.R.A. had disabled the elevators at Divis to hamper British patrols, so the masked gang hustled Jean and Archie McConville down a stairwell. When they reached the bottom, one of the men pointed a gun at Archie’s face, so close that he could feel the cold barrel on his skin, and said, “Fuck off.” Archie was just a boy, outnumbered and unarmed. He reluctantly ascended the stairs. On the second level, one of the walls was perforated with a series of vertical slats. Peering through the holes, Archie watched as his mother was bundled into a Volkswagen van and driven away.
The disappearance of Jean McConville was eventually recognized as one of the worst atrocities that occurred during the long conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles. But at the time no one, except the McConville children, seemed especially concerned. When Helen returned home, she and Archie went out to look for Jean, but nobody could—or would—tell them anything about where she had been taken or when she might be back. Some weeks later, a social worker visited the apartment and noted, in a report, that the McConville children had been “looking after themselves.” Their neighbors in Divis Flats were aware of the kidnapping, as was a local parish priest, but, according to the report, they were “unsympathetic.”
Rumors circulated that McConville hadn’t been abducted at all—that she had abandoned her children and eloped with a British soldier. In Belfast, this was an incendiary allegation: Catholic women who consorted with the enemy were sometimes punished by being tied to a lamppost after having their heads shaved and their bodies tarred and feathered. The McConvilles were a “mixed” family; Jean was born Protestant and converted to Catholicism only after meeting her husband. The family had lived with Jean’s mother, in a predominantly Protestant neighborhood in East Belfast, until 1969, when they were driven out, as internecine tensions sharpened. They sought refuge in West Belfast, only to discover that they were outsiders there as well. Several weeks after the abduction, on January 17, 1973, a crew from the BBC visited the apartment and taped a segment. As the younger siblings huddled on the sofa—pale children with downcast eyes, looking shy and frightened—the reporters asked Helen if she had any idea why her mother had left. “No,” she said, shaking her head. Agnes McConville, who was thirteen, noted, hopefully, that her mother was wearing red slippers when she was taken away. She added, “We’ll keep our fingers crossed and pray hard for her to come back.”
But there was reason to believe that something terrible had happened to Jean McConville. About a week after she was kidnapped, a young man had come to the door and handed the children their mother’s purse and three rings that she had been wearing when she left: her engagement ring, her wedding ring, and an eternity ring that Arthur had given her. The children asked where Jean was. “I don’t know anything about your mother,” the man said. “I was just told to give you these.” When I spoke to Michael recently, he said, “I knew then, though I was only eleven years of age, that my mother was dead.”
His siblings were not so quickly convinced. The act of “disappearing” someone, which the International Criminal Court has classified as a crime against humanity, is so pernicious, in part, because it can leave the loved ones of the victim in a purgatory of uncertainty. “You cannot mourn someone who has not died,” the Argentine-Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman once observed. Helen and Archie reported Jean’s abduction to the police, but in the files of the Royal Ulster Constabulary there is no record of any investigation at the time. McConville’s body did not turn up. And so some of the children held out hope for years that they had not been orphaned, and that their mother might suddenly reappear. Perhaps she had developed amnesia and was living in another country, unaware that she had left a whole life behind in Belfast. But, as decades passed without word, these fantasies became increasingly difficult to sustain. For all the gnawing irresolution, there was one clear explanation. Michael’s sister Susan, who was eight when Jean was taken, told me that she knew, eventually, that her mother was dead, because otherwise “she would have found her way back to us.”
After several months of fending for themselves, the McConville children were separated by the state, and the younger ones were dispersed to different orphanages. The older ones found jobs and places to live. The siblings saw each other infrequently and never spoke of what happened to their mother. One by-product of the Troubles was a culture of silence; with armed factions at war in the streets, making inquiries could be dangerous. At one point, a posse of boys from the youth wing of the I.R.A. beat Michael McConville and stabbed him in the leg with a penknife. They released him with a warning: Don’t talk about what happened to your mother. As the children grew older, they occasionally saw their former neighbors around Belfast, and recognized individuals who had come to the apartment that night. But, as Archie McConville told me, “you can’t do nothing. They walk past you like nothing happened.”
Then, in 1994, the I.R.A. declared a ceasefire. Gerry Adams, the bearded revolutionary who was the president of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Republican movement, had entered into peace negotiations with the British government, attempting to persuade the I.R.A. to abandon armed resistance and tolerate a continued British presence in Northern Ireland. As Tim Pat Coogan observes in the 2002 edition of his book “The I.R.A.,” a peace deal would be visionary, but also highly risky for Adams, because “his life would not be worth a cent should it be thought that he was selling out the ‘armed struggle.’ ” Through perseverance and political savvy, Adams succeeded, and in 1998 he helped create the Good Friday Agreement, which brought an end to the Troubles. As the peace process got under way, the I.R.A. agreed to help locate bodies that its members had buried in hidden graves during the seventies.
Though Adams is the most famous face of the Irish Republican movement, he has long denied having been a member of the I.R.A. He maintains that he never played any operational role in the violence of the Troubles, and that he confined himself to the leadership of Sinn Fein. As the chief Republican delegate involved in peace negotiations, however, he was obliged to confront the matter of forced disappearances, and he met on several occasions with the McConville children. Adams himself grew up in a family of ten children, and he conveyed his sympathies to the McConvilles. “There is no doubt the I.R.A. killed your mother,” he said. He told them that he did not know who had authorized the killing or carried it out, or where Jean McConville was buried. But he pledged to investigate.
Michael McConville told Adams that he wanted an apology. Adams parsed his words with precision. “For what it’s worth, I’ll apologize to you,” he said. “It was wrong for the Republican movement to do what they did to your mother.”
The first person to speak publicly about involvement in the disappearance of Jean McConville was a former I.R.A. terrorist named Dolours Price. In 2010, Price revealed in a series of interviews that she had been a member of a secret I.R.A. unit called the Unknowns, which conducted clandestine paramilitary work, including disappearances. Price did not participate in the raid on the McConville house, but she drove Jean McConville across the border into the Republic of Ireland, where she was executed. McConville, Price claimed, had been acting as an informer for the British Army, providing intelligence about I.R.A. activity in Divis Flats. The order to disappear her came from the Officer Commanding of the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional I.R.A.—the man who held ultimate authority over the Unknowns. According to Price, the Officer Commanding was Gerry Adams.
Dolours Price liked to tell people that Irish Republicanism was in her DNA. As a little girl in Belfast, she sat on the knee of her father, Albert, and listened to stories about how, as a teen-ager in the forties, he had taken part in an I.R.A. bombing campaign in England. Her aunt Bridie Dolan, who lived with the family, had been horribly disfigured at twenty-seven, after accidentally dropping a cache of gelignite in an I.R.A. explosives dump. The blast blew off both of her hands, and permanently blinded her. “It was never a case of ‘Poor Bridie,’ ” Dolours’s younger sister Marian told the journalist Suzanne Breen, in 2004. “We were just proud of her sacrifice. She came home from hospital to a wee house with an outside toilet, no social worker, no disability allowance, and no counselling. She just got on with it.” Bridie was a chain smoker, and Dolours and Marian would light cigarettes and insert them between her lips.
By the late sixties, Dolours was a striking and impetuous teen-ager, with a moon face, blue-green eyes, and dark-red hair. She and Marian attended teacher-training school, but she gravitated to radical politics, taking part in civil-rights demonstrations and travelling to Milan to give a talk on “British repression” at the headquarters of a Maoist political group. Tensions had persisted in Northern Ireland since 1920, when the Irish War of Independence led to the partition of the island, ultimately resulting in an independent republic of twenty-six counties in the south and continued British dominion over six counties in the north. The I.R.A. had its origins in that conflict, and after partition the organization devoted itself to trying to force the British to withdraw altogether. Catholics in the north were subjected to rampant discrimination in housing and jobs, and, with the advent of the Troubles, in 1969, these tensions exploded in violence. New paramilitary groups loyal to the British Crown were emerging, including the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defense Association, and that January loyalist mobs attacked civil-rights protesters as they marched from Belfast to Derry. In August, a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary fired a machine gun into Divis Flats, killing a nine-year-old Catholic boy, Patrick Rooney—the first child to die in the Troubles. The R.U.C. raided the Price house repeatedly during this period, suspicious of Albert Price’s I.R.A. connections. In 1971, the British reintroduced the controversial tactic of “internment”—imprisoning indefinitely, and without trial, anyone suspected of Republican activity. But the policy backfired, radicalizing a new generation of recruits to the Republican cause. The Provisional I.R.A., a more aggressive offshoot of the official I.R.A., began preparing for a sustained guerrilla campaign. Dolours Price set out to join the Provisionals.
Historically, women had enlisted in the I.R.A.’s female wing, known as the Cumann na mBan (Irishwomen’s Council). Dolours Price’s mother and grandmother had both been members of this group. But Dolours did not want to bandage men’s wounds, she said—she wanted to be “a fighting soldier.” The leadership of the Provisional I.R.A. convened a special meeting to consider her case, and, in August, 1971, Price became the first woman admitted to full membership in the I.R.A. She was twenty.
Marian soon joined her in the I.R.A. Dolours later said, “I should be ashamed to admit there was fun in it in those days.” People are often drawn to radicalism by a sense of community and shared purpose. In this case, there was also glory. I.R.A. members referred to themselves not as soldiers or terrorists but as “volunteers”—a signal that they were prepared to sacrifice their lives for the cause.
Educated, attractive young women had not been seen carrying guns on the rubble-strewn streets of Belfast before, and the Price sisters acquired an iconic glamour. “They were sassy girls,” Eamonn McCann, a longtime friend of the sisters, told me. “They weren’t cold-eyed dialecticians or fanatics on the surface. There was a smile about them.” One press account described them as “pretty girls who would finish their school work and then take to the streets armed, one or both hiding an Armalite rifle under their raincoat, to take part in gun battles with the British army.” The sisters became the subject of sexualized lore, with stories circulating about Marian, in a miniskirt, charming her way past a British Army checkpoint while driving a car full of explosives. At the time, there was a shopping center in Belfast called Crazy Prices, and, inevitably, the sisters became known as the Crazy Prices. Another friend of the sisters told me that Dolours was drawn to the I.R.A., in some measure, by “rebel chic.”
During this period, Dolours crossed paths with Gerry Adams. He was a former bartender from Ballymurphy, a lean young man with sharp cheekbones and black-framed eyeglasses. Like Dolours, he had grown up in a Belfast family deeply rooted in the I.R.A. It is believed that Adams joined the organization as a teen-ager, in the mid-sixties. Several former I.R.A. volunteers confirmed to me that Adams was a member of the group, and a photograph taken at a Belfast funeral in 1970 captures him wearing the black beret that was an unofficial uniform of the organization. In March, 1972, the British government interned Adams on the Maidstone, a British prison ship, but in June he was released so that he could represent an I.R.A. delegation in secret peace talks with the British. Dolours and Marian Price picked him up and drove him into Belfast to rejoin the Republican leadership. (The talks were unsuccessful.) A U.S. diplomatic cable in January, 1973, reported that Adams was “an active Belfast military commander.”
Nevertheless, Adams did not carry out operations. In a 2010 documentary, “Voices from the Grave,” Dolours Price recalls, “Gerry didn’t allow himself to be in the presence of guns, or in any situation that would put him at risk of arrest.” Instead, he deputized operational work to his close friend Brendan Hughes, a compact man with bushy black eyebrows and a shock of black hair. Hughes, who was known as the Dark, brought military cunning to the job, along with a measure of glee. He lived “from operation to operation,” he said later. “Robbing banks, robbing post offices, robbing trains, planting bombs, shooting Brits, trying to stay alive.” To Dolours Price, Hughes seemed like “a giant of a man.” He inspired fierce loyalty from his subordinates, because he fought alongside them and “asked no volunteer to do what he would not do himself.”
Hughes had been a merchant seaman before joining the I.R.A., and one day a sailor he knew showed him a brochure for a new assault rifle from America—the Armalite. “We all fell in love with this weapon,” Hughes recalled. The Armalite was ideal for urban warfare: lightweight and powerful, with a retractable stock that made it easy to conceal. According to Hughes, Adams dispatched him to New York to procure Armalites, using a network of sympathetic arms dealers. Hughes devised an ingenious plan to ship the guns back to Ireland. In 1969, the Queen Elizabeth 2 began making stately transatlantic crossings between Southampton and New York. The ship had a crew of a thousand; many of them were Irish, and some secretly worked for Brendan Hughes. And so a ship named after the Queen of England was used to smuggle weapons to the I.R.A. On Belfast’s streets, graffiti heralded the guns’ arrival: “God made the Catholics, but the Armalite made them equal.”
For much of the sixties, the I.R.A. had just a few dozen members, and was therefore easy to track. Now there were hundreds of recruits; more sophisticated tactics, with the advent of the Provisional I.R.A.; and new leaders, like Adams. The British authorities were caught off guard. When Brendan Hughes became active in the I.R.A., his father destroyed the family’s photographs of him, so that British forces could not identify him by sight. Similarly, pictures of Adams were so rare that, for a time, the British authorities could not say for sure what he looked like. In Adams’s autobiography, “Before the Dawn,” he describes British troops capturing his dog, Shane, and taking him for a walk on a leash, in the hope that he might lead them to his owner. Adams and Hughes became targets of assassination, and they perpetually moved among safe houses, counting on support from the community in West Belfast. Armored personnel carriers roamed the Falls Road and helicopters hovered overhead; local residents removed street signs to disorient British patrols, and rattled the lids of trash bins to sound the alarm. While Hughes and his men were fleeing soldiers in a foot chase, a front door might suddenly open, allowing them to duck inside. When Adams moved around the city during this period, he later wrote, he “avoided streets where there were stretches without doors.”
In 1972, the British Army launched a clever operation. It set up a washing service called Four Square Laundry, issued coupons offering steep discounts, then sent a van into Catholic neighborhoods to pick up and drop off clothes. The coupons were color-coded, so the clothing could be subjected to forensic testing for traces of gunpowder or explosives, and then correlated with delivery addresses to identify houses that were being used by the I.R.A. The Four Square operation was exposed after the I.R.A. interrogated one of its members, Seamus Wright, and discovered that he had been working as a double agent for the British. Gunmen strafed the Four Square van, killing the driver; according to the I.R.A., they also killed two men who were hiding in a secret compartment under the roof. Dolours Price then drove Wright and one of his colleagues—a seventeen-year-old named Kevin McKee, who was also discovered to have been a traitor—into the Republic, where they were executed, and secretly buried, in the fall of 1972.
After I.R.A. leaders learned that the British were cultivating double agents, they established a unit to identify “touts”—informers—and other disloyal elements. Jean McConville moved to Divis Flats as this climate of paranoia was taking hold.
One day when Michael McConville was a young boy, his father brought home two pigeons. Michael was allowed to keep them in “a wee box” in his room, he told me, and his father fostered an interest in pigeon racing. After the family moved to West Belfast, Michael and his friends began stalking derelict houses where pigeons roosted. Whenever he found a bird, he peeled off his jacket and cast it like a net over the animal, then smuggled it home under his sweater, adding it to his burgeoning fleet. West Belfast was a hazardous place for an adventurous kid, but Michael had no fear, he told me: “Most boys didn’t, being brought up in a war zone.” On one occasion, he scaled the façade of an old mill only to discover a unit of British soldiers encamped inside. Startled, they trained their rifles on him and bellowed at him to climb back down.
“You had no respect for the law, because all’s you seen is brutality,” Michael recalled. “The soldiers getting men against the wall, kicking their legs spread-eagle. That’s what put the seed in a lot of kids’ heads to join the I.R.A.” He sighed. “I don’t think the British had much of a clue about what they were starting.”
Michael is fifty-three, slight and taciturn, with clipped gray hair, flushed cheeks, and his mother’s pursed mouth. When I visited him last summer, at the bright, modern house that he built in a rural area a short drive from Belfast, he showed me a framed photograph of his mother. It’s a famous image, the only surviving photo of Jean McConville: a grainy shot from the sixties taken outside the family’s old house, in East Belfast. Jean smiles tentatively at the camera, her dark hair pulled away from her face, her arms crossed. Three of her children are perched on a window ledge beside her, while Arthur crouches, grinning, in the foreground. Arthur was older than Jean; he had fought the Japanese in Burma during the Second World War. When their first child, Anne, was born, in 1954, Jean was only seventeen.
After Arthur died, it was a struggle to feed ten children, even with his Army pension. “She just wasn’t coping,” Michael said, adding that she had a nervous breakdown. When I brought up the claim that his mother was an informer, Michael asked, with indignation, “When would she have had the time?” She was constantly on her feet, he said, cooking stews or washing clothes on a scrubbing board in the kitchen sink. After Arthur’s death, Jean’s attention to cleaning took on a compulsive intensity. Because one child or the other was forever losing a button or needing some other repair, she always had a large blue safety pin—a “nappy pin,” Michael calls it—fastened to her clothes. It was her defining accessory.
Not long before Jean McConville was taken away, she raised the suspicions of her neighbors. She and the children were home one night when they heard a man moaning in pain outside their front door. Jean cautiously opened the door and discovered a wounded British soldier sprawled on the landing. He had been shot. Jean tended to him, and brought him a pillow. “That’s just who my mother was,” Michael said. “She would have helped anyone.” The next day, someone painted the words “Brit Lover” on the front door. Jean had a brother, Tom, who sometimes visited from East Belfast. According to Susan and Archie, he occasionally came to Divis outfitted in an orange sash, the traditional Unionist symbol; to make such a provocation in a West Belfast Catholic neighborhood was an act of suicidal folly. Nevertheless, Jean had converted to Catholicism, and her children were Catholic. At the time of her abduction, her oldest son, Robert, was interned in prison for suspected activity in the official I.R.A.
Jean McConville’s one indulgence was a weekly outing to play bingo. One night, she was interrupted during the game by someone who told her that one of her children had been injured and that a car was waiting outside to take her to the local hospital. Several hours later, British soldiers discovered her wandering through the streets, barefoot and disoriented. Apparently, she had been detained by an armed group and then released. Her face was swollen and badly bruised—she had been beaten. When the soldiers brought her home, “she was talking in riddles,” Michael recalled. The children couldn’t figure out what had happened to her. They made her tea, and she smoked one cigarette after another.
When his mother was taken away the second time, and did not return, Michael said, “There was no one to look after us. I kept getting put in different homes, but each time I would run away.” He recalled an orphanage where monks walked through the dormitory at night with a roving flashlight, taking boys from their beds. Michael was not abused himself, but his younger brother Billy, who was sent to a Catholic orphanage in Kircubbin, recently told a panel investigating past abuses that he had been sexually molested. Michael eventually ended up at a facility that was surrounded by a ten-foot electrified fence. “It was the best home I ever had,” he told me. A kind nun took an interest in him, and he started to pull his life together. He met his wife, Angela, when he was sixteen. He has had a steady career installing tiles, and, unlike several of his siblings, has avoided the ravages of drugs and alcohol. He and Angela have four children, and he boasted about them a bit. “I’ve tried my best, given the life I had, to do well with the kids,” he said.
In South Africa, after the fall of apartheid, the government initiated a process of “truth and reconciliation.” So that a thorough record of past abuses might be compiled, perpetrators were offered immunity from prosecution in exchange for honest testimony. In Northern Ireland, where roughly thirty-six hundred people were murdered during the Troubles and some forty thousand wounded, there has been no comprehensive accounting. A recent report by Amnesty International criticizes the “piecemeal” investigations of historical abuses, and suggests that, “across the political spectrum, it is those in power who may fear that they have little politically to gain—and possibly much to lose—from any careful examination of Northern Ireland’s past.” In 1999, with the encouragement of Bill Clinton, the British and Irish governments established the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains, and the I.R.A. agreed to identify the graves of nine people who had been murdered and secretly buried during the Troubles, but only after securing a promise that no criminal prosecutions would result. The I.R.A. declared that some of the disappeared had been informers, including Jean McConville. Michael and his siblings angrily rejected this characterization, yet they had little choice but to work with the I.R.A. to search for her remains.
Much of the Irish landscape is dominated by peat bogs; the anaerobic and acidic conditions in the densely packed earth mean that the past in Ireland can be subject to macabre resurrection. Peat cutters occasionally churn up ancient mandibles, clavicles, or entire cadavers that have been preserved for millennia. The bodies date as far back as the Bronze Age, and often show signs of ritual sacrifice and violent death. These victims, cast out of their communities and buried, have surfaced vividly intact, from their hair to their leathery skin. The poet Seamus Heaney, who harvested peat as a boy on his family’s farm, once described the bogs of Ireland as “a landscape that remembered everything that had happened in and to it.”
In the summer of 1999, Jean McConville’s daughter Helen learned, through two priests who were serving as intermediaries, that the I.R.A. had identified the place where her mother’s body could be found: a stretch of windswept coastline outside Carlingford, in County Louth, on the east coast of the Republic. As backhoes prepared to tear up the soil, Helen convened her siblings around a table. It was an awkward reunion. Many of them had not seen one another in years. Edgy and fractious, their grief still palpable, they were now in their thirties and forties but looked older; their faces were haggard, and the hands and forearms of the men were etched with blotchy, blue-black tattoos. When Jean’s children spoke of her, even to one another, they had a tendency to refer to her as “my mother.”
“Where are we going to bury her?” Michael asked.
“West Belfast,” Helen responded. (A 1999 documentary, “Disappeared,” captured the exchange.) “It’s going to hit them. They were the ones that killed her. They were the ones that robbed us of a mother.”
Some of her brothers had reservations. “We all live in Republican areas,” Jim said. “We don’t want no hassle from them.” He continued, “Them boys who done it, they’ll suffer for the rest of their lives. It is time to say forgive.”
Billy snapped, “I can’t forgive them bastards for what they done.”
For fifty days, the backhoes excavated, creating a crater the size of an Olympic swimming pool. The family’s sense of anticipation eventually gave way to despair: the I.R.A. had apparently been mistaken. “They made a laughingstock of us” when Jean was kidnapped, Agnes said, her mascara dissolving in tears. “They’re making another laughingstock of us now.” The search was called off, and the children returned to their homes. One of the men who had abducted Jean now drove a black taxi up and down the Falls Road. Occasionally, Michael hailed a cab and climbed inside only to discover this man behind the wheel. Michael never said anything—he couldn’t. He rode in silence, then handed the man his fare.
One afternoon in March, 1973, a woman answered the telephone at the headquarters of the London Times and heard a man reciting, in a soft brogue, the descriptions and locations of several cars that were parked in the city. “The bombs will go off in one hour,” he said.
It was two o’clock. Officials at the Times reported the call to the police while several reporters headed toward the closest bomb, which, according to the caller, was inside a green Ford Cortina parked outside London’s Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey. By two-thirty, police had arrived on the scene. A hundred-and-twenty-pound bomb lay underneath the car’s back seat. They called in the bomb squad and burst into an adjacent pub, The George, ordering the startled patrons to evacuate. A school bus had just deposited forty-nine children not far from the Cortina, and an inspector shouted at the teachers to get them out of the area.
Plans for a coördinated bombing of central London had originated several months earlier, at a secret meeting in Belfast. The I.R.A. had planted hundreds of bombs in Northern Ireland, but Dolours Price, remembering her father’s bombing campaign in Britain during the forties, had argued for a bolder operation. In a 2012 interview with the Telegraph, she recalled, “I was convinced that a short, sharp shock, an incursion into the heart of the empire, would be more effective than twenty car bombs in any part of the north of Ireland.” Dolours attended the strategy meeting, along with her sister Marian and Brendan Hughes. According to both Dolours Price and Hughes, the meeting was run by Gerry Adams. Generally, the I.R.A. issued warnings before its bomb blasts, in order to minimize civilian casualties. But sometimes these warnings did not allow sufficient time for escape: in July, 1972, twenty bombs were detonated in a single day in Belfast, killing nine people, an episode that became known as Bloody Friday.
“This could be a hanging job,” Adams told the group, explaining that if the perpetrators were caught they could be executed for treason. “If anyone doesn’t want to go, they should up and leave now.” Several people did so, but the Price sisters remained, and a team of ten was eventually selected to carry out the I.R.A.’s first bombing mission in England in thirty years. Although Dolours was only twenty-two, she was chosen to run the mission. She was, in her own words, the Officer Commanding “of the whole shebang.” The team was sent into the Republic for several weeks of weapons training. Cars were stolen at gunpoint, in Belfast, then repainted and sent to Dublin, where they were fitted with English license plates and shipped by ferry across the Irish Sea. Shortly before the day chosen for the attack, Price and her team filtered into London and checked into hotels.In 1972, Michael McConville witnessed his mother’s abduction by I.R.A. members. He still sees some of the kidnappers around Belfast. (Photograph by Pieter Ten Hoopen / Agence VU)2nd part of article is posted next.
Gerry Adams has long denied being a member of the I.R.A. But his former compatriots claim that he authorized murder.
By Patrick Radden KeefeThe New Yorker
16 March 2015 Issue
**The following is the last half of this article. Please look at the entry above this posting to read the first half.
The plan was to plant the bombs in four locations in the morning, with timers set to detonate simultaneously that afternoon. By 7:30 A.M., all four cars were in position. The bombs were set to blast at 2:50 P.M. By then, if everything went according to plan, the bombers would have caught a flight back to Ireland.
But, unbeknownst to Price and her team, British authorities had an I.R.A. informer who had given them advance warning of the attack. Police had been instructed to be extra vigilant, and shortly after one of the bombs was planted, in a Ford Corsair outside Scotland Yard, a passing officer noticed that the number plate on the car did not match the year of the vehicle. Upon further inspection, police discovered the bomb in the back seat—and defused it. British officials, knowing that the bombers were likely trying to escape the country, issued an emergency directive: “Close England.”Clockwise from top right: Dolours Price; Gerry Adams; Jean McConville and three of her children; I.R.A. men at the funeral of Bobby Sands; Divis Flats, the Belfast housing project from which McConville was abducted. (Credit Clockwise from Top Right: Press Association via AP - Price; Peter Marlow / Magnum - Adams; Press Association via AP - McConville; David Caulkin / AP - IRA; Judah Passow - Divis Flats)
In the departures lounge at Heathrow Airport, police spotted a group of young people waiting to board a flight to Dublin. A dark-haired woman in a long coat appeared to be giving orders. It was Dolours Price. When police questioned her, she told them that her name was Una Devlin. An officer showed her an early edition of the Evening News, with a banner headline about the bomb discovered at Scotland Yard. She stared at it silently. In her handbag, police found, along with “a large quantity of makeup,” a spiral notebook with several pages ripped out. When experts examined the indentations on the pages underneath, they discovered traces of a diagram that depicted the circuitry of a timing device. Dolours was arrested, as was Marian Price; at the subsequent trial, the detective who interrogated Marian recalled that, at precisely 2:50 P.M., “she raised her wrist and looked very pointedly at her watch, and smiled at me.”
Police explosives experts did not arrive at the Old Bailey until two-fifty, and could not defuse the bomb before it detonated. The blast shattered windows, blew a crater in the ground, and sent glass and twisted metal flying. A bomb in Westminster also went off. These two explosions injured more than two hundred people, and one man died of a heart attack. “There was no intention to kill people with the London bombs,” Hughes remembered. Dolours Price was less apologetic. “There were warnings phoned in, but people had stood about,” she said years later. “Some had even stood at office windows and been sprayed by broken glass when the car went up.” She added, “In Belfast, we gave fifteen-minute warnings. In London, we’d given them an hour.”
The trial of the Old Bailey bombers took place in Winchester Castle, outside London, and lasted ten weeks. It was a sensational event, with the press drawn especially to the Price sisters; the Irish Times described them showing up in court each day “sprucely dressed” and adopting defiant poses. On the stand, Dolours was almost smug, insisting that she knew nothing of the operation. When a prosecutor asked about the timing device depicted in her notebook, she feigned confusion, mugging for the spectators—“He lost me.” Asked about her politics, she was less evasive, saying, “I would like to see the removal of the border and the establishment of a democratic Eire.”
Eight bombers were convicted and received double life sentences. As the verdict was read aloud, they jeered at the judge, proclaiming their loyalty to the I.R.A. They also announced their intention to launch a hunger strike. As Padraig O’Malley points out in his 1990 book, “Biting at the Grave: The Irish Hunger Strikes and the Politics of Despair,” fasting as a form of protest had a history in Ireland dating back to pre-Christian times. In 1903, W. B. Yeats wrote a play, “The King’s Threshold,” about a poet in seventh-century Ireland who launches a hunger strike at the gates of the royal palace. Yeats describes: “An old and foolish custom, that if a man / Be wronged, or think that he is wronged, and starve / Upon another’s threshold till he die, / The common people, for all time to come, / Will raise a heavy cry against that threshold.”
In 1920, Terence MacSwiney, an Irish politician who had been imprisoned in Brixton on charges of sedition, died after a seventy-three-day hunger strike. His case attracted international attention, and tens of thousands of people filed past his coffin after his death. “It is not those who inflict the most but those who suffer the most who will conquer,” MacSwiney had said.
When the Price sisters and several of their co-defendants began refusing food, they had clear demands. They wanted to be granted political-prisoner status and transferred to Northern Ireland so that they could serve their sentences closer to their families. “Each day passes and we fade a little more,” Dolours wrote, in a letter. “But no matter how the body may fade, our determination never will.” Most parents would panic at the thought of a daughter, barely out of her teens, announcing her intention to starve herself to death. But the Prices could situate this gesture within a proud tradition of dissent. Albert, after visiting his daughters, told the press, “They are happy. Happy about dying.”
The British authorities, recognizing that they would face a crisis if one of the Price sisters perished, force-fed them daily. “Four male prison officers tie you into the chair so tightly with sheets you can’t struggle,” Marian later explained. “You clench your teeth to try to keep your mouth closed, but they push a metal spring device around your jaw to prize it open.” Guards then inserted a wooden clamp with a hole in the middle, and slid a tube through the hole. “They throw whatever they like into the food mixer,” Marian continued. “Orange juice, soup, or cartons of cream if they want to beef up the calories.” By January, 1974, people who visited Dolours expressed horror at her physical deterioration: she had lost a great deal of weight, her skin had turned waxen, and her hair had gone white at the roots. Her teeth had come loose under pressure from the clamp.
It was an impossible situation for the British government, which began to be attacked for force-feeding the Prices, though the sisters were otherwise likely to die. The standoff took a bizarre turn when thieves stole the Vermeer painting “The Guitar Player” from a museum in Hampstead, and, in ransom notes, threatened to burn it—“with much cavorting in the true lunatic fashion”—if the Price sisters were not moved to Northern Ireland. The Prices’ mother, Chrissie, told the press that Dolours, “who is an art student,” had pleaded that the Vermeer remain undamaged. (It was eventually returned, unharmed.)
In May, 1974, the British government, under increasing public pressure, agreed to stop force-feeding the Prices. The sisters began losing a pound a day and, according to one medical assessment, were “living entirely off their own bodies.” Finally, Roy Jenkins, the British Home Secretary, assured the Prices that they could eventually be moved to Armagh prison, in Northern Ireland. That June, after two hundred and five days, they abandoned the strike. A transfer was secretly approved the following spring.
In a 2002 radio documentary, “The Chaplain’s Diary,” Dolours recalls that the governor of Brixton prison walked into her cell and said, “You’re going home. Or, not home—you’re going to Armagh.”
“That’s near enough for me,” Dolours replied. She sat next to Marian on the short flight across the Irish Sea, and, at the first glimpse of green below, burst into tears.
“That’s not Ireland yet,” Marian said. “That’s the Isle of Man.”
Within an hour, they had landed in Northern Ireland. The Price sisters were overjoyed to be home but distressed about the timing of their arrival. In the preceding months, both their mother, Chrissie, and their aunt Bridie Dolan had died. The sisters had unsuccessfully petitioned for compassionate release to attend their mother’s funeral. Chrissie Price’s casket was carried through the streets of Belfast. The piper leading the procession was a young girl dressed in the black beret and dark glasses of the I.R.A.
In “On the Blanket,” a history of hunger strikes during the Troubles, Tim Pat Coogan notes that the decision to stop force-feeding the Prices had profound consequences, because the British government was effectively signalling that “henceforth any prisoner on hunger strike would be allowed to die.” In 1981, the hunger striker Bobby Sands did die, followed by nine other prisoners. As he lay dying, Sands engaged in a fateful stunt: he ran for a seat in the British Parliament, representing Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and he won.
During the seventies, Gerry Adams was in and out of jail. In addition to his 1972 internment on the Maidstone, he was confined for three years in Long Kesh prison, where he shared a cell with Brendan Hughes. At some point, Adams began to think that there were limits to what the I.R.A. could achieve through violence. After Sands won his seat, Adams’s close aide Danny Morrison announced that Sinn Fein would henceforth run candidates in elections. In a famous formulation, he said, “Will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?” The strategy of “the Armalite and the ballot box” represented a departure for the Provisional I.R.A.: by running for positions in the British administration in Northern Ireland, Adams and his colleagues could be perceived as implicitly acknowledging the administration’s legitimacy. Adams replaced the woolly sweaters of a West Belfast revolutionary with the suits and ties of a politician. In 1983, he, too, was elected a Member of Parliament, representing West Belfast.
Dolours Price spent six years in Armagh. Although she and Marian were no longer refusing food, they continued to deteriorate physically. In the 2002 radio documentary, Dolours explained the psychology of a hunger striker: “If you eat, you’re going to lose. You convince yourself of that when you embark on a hunger strike. You have to convince yourself, because your body is telling you it wants food, and you’re telling your body, ‘No, you can’t have food. . . . We will not win this struggle if I give you food.’ ” After the Price sisters forced the British government to bend to their aims, they found it difficult to overcome the profound resistance they had developed to eating. “We both ended up with very, very, very distorted notions of the function of food,” Dolours said.
By the spring of 1980, Marian had lost so much weight that she was released from prison, after Humphrey Atkins, Britain’s Northern Secretary, judged her “in imminent danger of death.” Dolours was relieved that her sister had escaped a life sentence, but she felt abandoned. “I got really depressed,” she said later. “It was like I’d been separated from my Siamese twin.” In a letter, she described the crushing inertia of her days, her energy depleted, her body numb: “I move as a clockwork doll.”
A cache of papers recently declassified by the British government reveals that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was closely watching the case of Dolours Price. Initially, Thatcher was unmoved. In one memo, she speculated that Price would rejoin the I.R.A.—“I doubt whether her old friends will let her alone when she is out”—and reminded her subordinates that the London bombing had caused a man’s death. (According to an autopsy, the heart attack that killed the man had actually begun before the bomb detonated.) In April, 1981, Tomas O Fiaich, an Irish cardinal, visited Price in Armagh, and reported to Thatcher. “From being a vivacious girl . . . she has become, at thirty, a gaunt spectre, prematurely aged and deprived of any further desire to live,” he wrote. He begged Thatcher for clemency, stressing that “even next week may be too late.” When Price entered Armagh, in 1975, her weight was a hundred and fourteen pounds. By the time the cardinal saw her, she weighed seventy-six pounds. Thatcher authorized her release.
Dolours Price did not rejoin the I.R.A. Instead, she moved to Dublin, where she avoided publicity and tried to establish a career as a freelance journalist. She began dating the actor Stephen Rea, whom she had met during the civil-rights protests of the sixties. Rea was a brooding, shaggy-haired Belfast Protestant who was sympathetic to the Republican cause. In 1980, he had helped establish Field Day, an Irish theatre troupe. Rea and Price were married at Armagh Cathedral in 1983. When asked about being married to a convicted terrorist, he would say, “That’s my wife’s past. . . . She doesn’t apologize for that, and I’m not going to apologize for her.”
Rea never had a formal relationship with the Republican movement, but he did have a bizarre connection to Gerry Adams. After a series of I.R.A. bombings in the late eighties, the Thatcher government announced a bafflingly misguided policy, which held that, on British television, the voice of anyone believed to be advocating paramilitary action must be muted. Actors were hired to dub interviews and speeches, and for years a small stable of Irish actors found occasional employment as the voice of Gerry Adams. One of the actors was Rea.
The terms of Dolours Price’s release held that she must obtain permission from the British government if she wanted to leave Northern Ireland. But, her defiance unchecked, she proceeded to move with Rea to London. According to friends, Price relished the cheekiness of this relocation. England’s tabloids did as well, noting that the bomber of the Old Bailey was now “sipping champagne with stars at the National Theatre,” where Rea was directing a play. Price’s effrontery was brought to the attention of Thatcher, and she made no secret of her frustration. “If she and her husband wish to live together, they can live together in Northern Ireland,” she wrote. But no action was taken against the couple.
Eventually, Price and Rea had two boys, Danny and Oscar, and the family moved back to Dublin. (In interviews, Rea said that he did not want to bring up his sons in England.) One of Rea’s closest collaborators was the Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan, and in 1992 they released “The Crying Game,” in which Rea played the role for which he is perhaps most famous: Fergus, a decent and soulful man who happens to be a member of the I.R.A. In the story, Fergus is assigned to guard a kidnapped British soldier (played by Forest Whitaker) in the hours before his execution. They stay up all night, and Fergus develops a friendship with the soldier, hand-feeding him pieces of chocolate and comforting him when he cries, before taking him outside to be shot. While promoting the film, Rea said little about the fact that his wife had once occupied a similar role, guarding prisoners at gunpoint or driving them to their deaths. But in one later interview he discussed what it meant to be a member of the I.R.A., and described the “conundrum of people whose lives are a gesture.” Such people, Rea said, are often “not afraid of death, because your death is acceptable if you’re living for a cause.”
Belfast has ostensibly been at peace for two decades, but the city remains acutely divided. The borders between Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods are inscribed in the concertina wire and steel of the so-called “peace walls” that progress like fissures across the city. These towering structures maintain some degree of calm by physically separating the city’s populations, as if they were animals in a zoo. The walls are tagged with runelike slurs—K.A.T., for “Kill All Taigs,” a derogatory term for Catholics, on one side; K.A.H., for “Kill All Huns,” a reference to Protestants, on the other—and dwarf the squat brick houses and the unlovely council estates on either side, throwing them into shadow.
In one sense, the Troubles are over. The principal armed factions have long since decommissioned their weapons, and in most parts of Belfast it is safe to walk the streets. The city center is dominated by the same chain stores—Tesco, Caffè Nero, Kiehl’s—found in the other urban centers of Western Europe, and most residents will tell you that they want Belfast to become famous for something other than conflict. Several people informed me, with pride, that the local film-production facility, Titanic Studios, is where “Game of Thrones” is shot. One popular tourist attraction is the Troubles Tour, in which ex-combatant cabdrivers guide visitors to flashpoints from the bad years, decoding the ubiquitous murals that conjure famous battles, martyrs, and gunmen. The effect is to make the Troubles seem like distant history.
But there are at least as many peace walls in Belfast today as there were at the time of the Good Friday Agreement. Residents still live in neighborhoods circumscribed by religion, and ninety-three per cent of children in Northern Ireland attend segregated elementary schools. Bus stops in some parts of the city are informally designated Catholic or Protestant, and people walk an extra block or two to wait at a stop where they won’t fear being hassled. I arrived in August, just after “marching season,” when Unionists commemorate the Battle of the Boyne and other bygone victories by lighting bonfires and staging belligerent marches. Hundreds of Union Jacks still fluttered in Protestant neighborhoods. Catholic areas were decked out with the Irish tricolor, and with Palestinian flags—a sign of solidarity and a signal that, even now, many Republicans in the north consider themselves an occupied people.
Two years ago, Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, chaired a series of multiparty negotiations about unresolved issues in the Northern Ireland peace process; the talks foundered, in no small measure, over the issue of flags. Tribalism and its trappings remain so potent in Belfast, Haass told me, that the various sides could not agree on how to govern the display of regalia. When the Belfast city council voted, in 2012, to limit the number of days that the Union Jack could be raised outside city hall, protesters tried to storm the building, and riots erupted throughout Northern Ireland, with Unionist demonstrators throwing bricks and petrol bombs.
To an outsider, the sheer weirdness, and attendant inconvenience, of living in a divided metropolis can be difficult to fathom. When I was driving through Belfast with Michael McConville, we reached a street that threaded between a Catholic neighborhood on the left and a Protestant one on the right. I noticed a Subway franchise along a strip of businesses on the Catholic side, and asked if local Protestants might cross the street to buy a sandwich.
“Not a chance,” Michael replied.
One morning, I visited Billy McKee, one of the founders of the Provisional I.R.A., in a small brick house in West Belfast. Born in 1921, five years after the Easter Rising, he joined the I.R.A. in the thirties, acquiring a reputation as a formidable combatant. When Brendan Hughes was a boy, the reverence in his family for Billy McKee was so deep that he felt he should “genuflect” every time he passed McKee’s house. McKee was said to be armed at all times, and on one occasion, in a back room after a funeral, Hughes contrived to brush up against him and felt a .45 concealed beneath his belt.
McKee came to the door dressed in a dark suit, having just returned from Mass. His hair was white and spiky, in the style of Samuel Beckett. As a clock ticked loudly in another room, I asked about the disappearance of Jean McConville. McKee said that he played no role in the decision to kill her. He was in prison in 1972, and was ceding control of the I.R.A. to other leaders. But he insisted that killing McConville was the right thing to do, because she was a tout. “I would have had her executed and left her there,” he said, with a level gaze. “I couldn’t understand why they took her away to disappear her.”
When I told him that I was curious about the people who were responsible for that decision, McKee scowled, worrying his dentures with his tongue, so that they slid from one side to the other. “What would happen if I knew and I told you, and they all got arrested?” McKee said. “I would be the axe man. I wouldn’t like to put my enemies in jail, never mind some of my friends.”
I expressed surprise that, in a city like Belfast, where everybody knows everybody else, it was so difficult to solve a notorious murder. “I don’t think anybody’s stupid enough to mention names,” McKee said. Then he muttered, “Too dangerous.” He shuffled with me to the door, and said, “If you see any of my old friends, tell ’em I’m still breathing.”
If McKee is an unreconstructed militant who speaks without equivocation about the role that he played in the armed struggle, Gerry Adams has in recent decades gone through a metamorphosis. As the peace process got under way, during the nineties, Adams continued the transformation of his public persona from international pariah to statesman and champion of peace. Today, he is a Member of the Irish Parliament, representing County Louth, and Sinn Fein is an ascendant political party both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic. Adams is widely credited, even by his detractors, with having played an instrumental role in ending the Troubles. Yet he still maintains that he was never a member of the I.R.A. “Everybody knows he was in the I.R.A., except for Gerry,” Michael McConville said. At the height of the Troubles, there was an obvious motive to deny the affiliation: a charge of “membership” in the I.R.A. was enough to send you to prison. With the advent of peace negotiations, there was a further incentive for Adams to distance himself from his armed comrades—British officials could deal with him and not risk charges that they were negotiating with a terrorist. But if Adams initially crafted a fiction out of political expediency, he chose to stick with it, even after some of his closest collaborators unburdened themselves. In 2001, Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, admitted publicly that, in the early seventies, he had been the second-highest-ranking member of the I.R.A. in Derry. This acknowledgment does not appear to have hurt his political career; McGuinness has won three elections since 2001.
Adams is now sixty-six and a grandfather, and his evolution into an approachable grandee has found its surreal culmination on Twitter. He intersperses studiously boring tweets about small-bore political issues with a barrage of cat pictures and encomiums to sudsy baths, rubber duckies, and Teddy bears. (“I do love Teddy bears,” he told the BBC. “I have a large collection of Teddy bears.”) One characteristic tweet, from last January: “Dreamt I was eating Cream Eggs. Woke up this morn. Pillow & beard covered in chocolate & cream thingymebob.” The Irish writer Damien Owens has likened all this to “Charles Manson showing you his collection of tea cosies.” But, cumulatively, Adams’s tweets suggest the giddiness of a man who has defied some very long odds. In 1984, Adams told a reporter that he had a ninety-per-cent chance of being assassinated. Later that year, he was shot and nearly killed by loyalist gunmen, and during periods of captivity he was tortured by British authorities. Improbably, Adams survived the conflict—and, more improbably, he flourished.
The new Gerry Adams never completely eclipsed the old one, however, and this may have been a conscious choice. The journalist Fintan O’Toole once observed that the ambiguity of the Adams persona was essential to the peace process: in order to participate in the negotiations, Adams had to be accepted as a democratic politician; but, in order to deliver the desired result, he needed to exercise enough control over I.R.A. gunmen so that if he ordered them to lay down their weapons they would comply. Perhaps in the interest of preserving this flexibility, Adams perfected a dog-whistle style of political rhetoric. Asked about his role in the armed conflict, he has said, “I’m very, very clear about my denial of I.R.A. membership. But I don’t disassociate myself from the I.R.A.” Adams is beholden to multiple constituencies, and for some faction of supporters his charisma has always derived, at least in part, from the whiff of cordite. At a public event in Belfast in 1995, Adams was delivering a speech when someone shouted, “Bring back the I.R.A.!” Adams responded, “They haven’t gone away, you know.”
Traditionally, Irish journalists have shown surprising deference to Adams’s sophistry about his role in the armed struggle. To be sure, Adams has never been convicted of a violent crime, or of any I.R.A.-related offenses. But as a young man he often published essays in a Republican newsletter, under a pseudonym, and in 1976 he wrote, “Rightly or wrongly, I am an I.R.A. volunteer.” Even so, most press accounts simply recycled his denials, and, because the I.R.A. was so disciplined, none of his comrades spoke out to contradict him.
During the peace process, however, many rank-and-file members of the I.R.A. felt surprised and betrayed when Adams accepted the legitimacy of a government in Northern Ireland that remained part of the United Kingdom. Many also questioned his willingness to surrender the weapons they had amassed. Some former volunteers became so disillusioned by Adams’s concessions that they broke the code of silence and told their stories to the press.
In 2001, Ed Moloney, a veteran reporter for the Irish Times and other newspapers, published a landmark revisionist account, “A Secret History of the IRA,” which stated explicitly that Gerry Adams had been a military commander responsible for the Belfast Brigade. Adams and Moloney had known each other for decades, and had enjoyed a cordial relationship during the Troubles, meeting occasionally in a back room on the Falls Road; Adams would make a pot of tea and Moloney would interview him. Once, after a long session in Moloney’s hotel room, Adams stayed and slept on the floor. But their relations had grown strained by the time “The Secret History of the IRA” was published, and Adams accused Moloney of “innuendo,” declaring, “I have not been and am not a member of the I.R.A.”
As Moloney was preparing the book for publication, he was approached by administrators at Boston College about creating an oral-history project that would gather accounts by paramilitaries from both sides of the Troubles. The idea excited him. Many of the combatants were still alive, and their testimony could provide an unparalleled resource for future historians—an exception to the rule of omertà. Given the sensitivities, Moloney pointed out, each interview would have to be conducted in secret, and remain secret until the participant died. “These people could be shot if it was discovered they were talking to us,” he told me. “They were taking a huge risk.”
The Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland were too insular and suspicious for graduate students with tape recorders to make headway, so Moloney suggested an unorthodox solution: finding interviewers who had participated in the Troubles. For the Unionists, Moloney suggested a loyalist named Wilson McArthur; for the Republicans, he proposed a former I.R.A. volunteer named Anthony McIntyre, who had spent seventeen years in prison for the murder of a U.V.F. man. McIntyre, who was Moloney’s friend and source, had obtained a college degree in prison, and had gone on to write a dissertation on the Troubles at Queen’s University in Belfast. He had a gruff, genial manner, and was at ease with retired revolutionaries, which suggested that they might open up to him, on tape, about secrets they had kept for decades. They did. “It was cathartic,” a former I.R.A. member named Richard O’Rawe said of his interview with McIntyre. “I cried like a baby.”
This clandestine undertaking became known, to the people who were aware of it, as the Belfast Project. One of McIntyre’s subjects was the man still widely known around Belfast as the Dark: Brendan Hughes. They were close, having served together in prison. When I visited McIntyre and his wife, Carrie, at their home, in Drogheda, a small city between Dublin and Belfast, they showed me photographs of Hughes giving Carrie away at their wedding. McIntyre and Hughes shared a deep antipathy toward Gerry Adams. McIntyre disapproved of Adams’s engineering of the Good Friday Agreement, and his interview questions reflected this animosity. But Hughes required no prodding to express anger at Adams. He and Adams had been close collaborators for years, but when Adams proved willing to compromise on the question of a united Ireland, in the interest of a peace deal, Hughes was incensed: Adams had been his Officer Commanding, the man who gave him orders to kill. Adams’s denial of his own I.R.A. past left Hughes and others “to carry the responsibility of all those deaths.” Everybody knows that Adams was in the I.R.A., Hughes told McIntyre. “The British know it. The people on the street know it. The dogs know it.”
Terry Hughes, Brendan’s brother, told me that Brendan felt that he had been unforgivably misled. He had been fighting a bloody war against British rule while Adams was quietly laying the foundation for a peaceful compromise. “There was a master plan,” Terry said. “Unfortunately, Brendan wasn’t told.”
Hughes confided to McIntyre that he felt like “a patsy,” and insisted that he had “never carried out a major operation without the O.K. or the order from Gerry.” Adams, in the 1976 essay referring to his membership in the I.R.A., wrote about the moral decision to use violence, maintaining that “only if I achieve the situation where my people genuinely prosper can my course of action be seen . . . to have been justified.” The Good Friday Agreement did not deliver the ends that Hughes and others had counted on to justify the I.R.A.’s brutal means. Adams’s political turn forced his subordinates to reappraise the righteousness of their own killing.
Divis Flats was demolished in the nineteen-nineties, except for the tower where the British had their observation post. In the years after the Good Friday Agreement, Brendan Hughes lived alone in an apartment at the top of the tower. Demoralized by the things he had done, he spent his days chain-smoking by a picture window, looking out over Belfast, past the peace walls and church steeples to the shipworks where, a century earlier, the Titanic was built. “I always got the sense that he lived a large part of his life on that windowsill,” Carrie McIntyre said. “And he couldn’t either jump out and end it all or jump back in and start really living.”
The Divis apartment is where McIntyre interviewed Hughes about the killing of Jean McConville. “She was an informer,” Hughes said. “She had a load of kids.” Hughes told McIntyre that McConville’s children had been acting as spies for the British Army, “gathering information for her, watching the movements of I.R.A. volunteers around Divis Flats.” She was exposed, Hughes continued, when a radio transmitter was discovered in her flat. According to Hughes, the I.R.A. learned of the transmitter when one of the McConville children mentioned to one of Hughes’s men that “his mammy had something in the house.”
Hughes sent his men to confront McConville, and they took her away for interrogation. According to Hughes, she confessed to being a tout. The I.R.A. confiscated the transmitter and released her onto the streets. This could align with the night when Jean McConville was taken from the bingo parlor, but when I asked Michael McConville about the transmitter he told me that Hughes must be mistaken—because no such transmitter existed. He and his siblings knew every nook of their apartment; if Jean had hidden such a device on the premises, he would have found it. Michael also dismissed the idea that he and his siblings had been spies. In the oral history, Hughes says that, a few weeks after McConville’s interrogation, “another transmitter was put into her house and she was still coöperating with the British.” At this point, a decision was made to kill her, and a “special squad was brought in” to carry out the operation.
“There was only one man who gave the order for that woman to be executed,” Hughes told McIntyre. “That fucking man is now the head of Sinn Fein.” At the time, he continued, a senior I.R.A. official named Ivor Bell argued that they should leave McConville’s body on the street, just as Billy McKee would have done. But, according to Hughes, McConville’s gender would have generated bad publicity for the Provisional I.R.A., and so Adams pushed to disappear her. Recalling Adams’s subsequent meetings with the McConville children, Hughes said, “He went to this family’s house and promised an investigation into the woman’s disappearance. . . . The man that gave the fucking order for that woman to be executed! Now, tell me the morality in that.”
Hughes fell into a coma in 2008. Gerry Adams visited the hospital and sat, in silent vigil, by his bed. The two men had not spoken in years. Hughes had told friends, “There was a time in my life when I would have taken a bullet for Gerry. Now I’d put one in him.” When Hughes died, his casket was paraded through West Belfast, and thousands of people turned out, in frigid temperatures, to pay their respects. At one point, a figure in a dark overcoat shouldered through the crowd: Adams. He solemnly insinuated himself among the men bearing the coffin. “Brendan was a Republican icon,” Terry Hughes told me. “Gerry had no choice. He had to associate himself with that.”
Dolours Price also attended the procession. She, too, had split with Adams, and she wrote a scathing open letter, deriding him as a “lonely figure” who was “clearly uneasy” at the funeral of his former friend. If Adams could come clean about his past in the I.R.A., Price suggested, he might “feel better.” She noted that Adams had a habit of wrapping himself in the mantle of people who were no longer alive to snatch it back. At one point, Adams suggested that, had Bobby Sands survived, Sands would have supported the peace process. In an article, Price replied, acidly, “I often wonder who would speak for me had my circumstances in Brixton prison reached their expected conclusion. What praises would I be singing of the Good Friday Agreement?”
Price also recorded an oral history for the Belfast Project. When her life was a gesture—a headlong push for a united Ireland—it possessed a certain moral logic. But the Good Friday Agreement robbed her of that certainty. “Dolours was a woman who was deeply traumatized by what she had done,” McIntyre told me. Like many people who were drawn to the I.R.A., she saw herself as a member of the left, yet she had participated in forced disappearances—an atrocity, McIntyre pointed out, that is the “calling card of the war criminal, whether it’s in Chile or Kampuchea.”
In February, 2001, Price attended an I.R.A. event to commemorate the death of a hunger striker, and announced, in an impromptu speech, “Gerry Adams was my commanding officer.” She added that she had not endured “the pangs of hunger strike just for a reformed English rule in Ireland.” Shortly thereafter, McIntyre visited Price’s home, in the seaside town of Malahide, outside Dublin, where, surrounded by memorabilia from her I.R.A. days, they conducted a series of interviews. Price spoke about her role in the disappearances and, in particular, about her grief over the death of Joe Lynskey, a close friend of hers. Lynskey, who was known as the Monk—because he had trained for the Cistercian order before joining the armed struggle—was a brigade intelligence officer and an ardent believer in the mission of the Provisional I.R.A. In 1972, it emerged that he had been having an affair with the wife of another I.R.A. man, and had tried to have the man killed. The I.R.A. secretly sentenced Lynskey to death, and Price was told to drive him across the border to his execution. She picked him up at his sister’s house, on the pretext that he was being called to a meeting in the Republic. Lynskey walked out with a little overnight bag, as though he were leaving for a weekend in the country. As they drove south in silence, Price realized that Lynskey knew where they were going. He was a large man: he could have overpowered her. Instead, he sat there, meekly, with his bag in his lap. “She wanted him to get up and escape,” McIntyre recalled. When she handed him over, in County Monaghan, “Lynskey hugged her and told her not to worry.” His body has never been recovered.
Price informed McIntyre, before one of their recording sessions, that she wanted to go on the record about the role that she had played in the disappearance of Jean McConville. By this point, Price and McIntyre were good friends; she later became godmother to his son. “As a historian, I would love to get this,” McIntyre told her. “As your friend, I have to warn you. You have children. If you commit to being involved in the McConville disappearance, your children will bear the mark of Cain.”
When I asked McIntyre whether Price said anything about Jean McConville on her recording, he chuckled ruefully, then shook his head. “I was disappointed,” he said. “She took my advice.”
One day in the summer of 2003, a man walking on Shelling Hill Beach, near Carlingford, noticed a piece of fabric in the sand. He reached down to examine it and felt something hard: a human bone. When the authorities exhumed the remains, they found the skeleton of a middle-aged woman, still in her clothes. A forensic examination concluded that the cause of death was a “gunshot wound to the head.”
At a nearby morgue, the children of Jean McConville were ushered into a room, one by one, so that they could examine the clothing, which was laid out on a table. Archie went in first, but he couldn’t bear to look. Instead, he asked a question: “Is there a nappy pin?”
A police officer surveyed the garments and said no. Then he folded over a corner of fabric—and there it was. Thirty-one years after Jean McConville vanished, her body was found. She was buried in November, 2003. The streets of West Belfast were typically crowded with kids on bikes and people lounging in front of their homes. Someone who attended the funeral told me that, when the procession passed through, everything was eerily quiet, as if the locals had been told to stay away—as if they were shunning the McConvilles once again.Archie and Susan McConville tending to Jean McConville’s grave, at Holy Trinity Cemetery, outside Belfast.Archie and Susan McConville tending to Jean McConville’s grave, at Holy Trinity Cemetery, outside Belfast. (Photograph by Pieter Ten Hoopen / Agence VU)
In an effort to challenge the allegation that Jean McConville was a tout, her children made a formal request to Baroness Nuala O’Loan, the police ombudsman for Northern Ireland, to launch an inquiry into the case. Normally, British authorities would neither confirm nor deny whether an individual had worked for them as an informer, but O’Loan found that “the circumstances of the McConville family are most exceptional.” After consulting the files of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the British military, O’Loan produced an official report, in 2006, which held that McConville “is not recorded as having been an agent at any time.” In O’Loan’s judgment, McConville “was an innocent woman who was abducted and murdered.”
At the time that the O’Loan report was released, the oral-history project at Boston College was a secret. But Price had been showing signs of increasing anxiety. In 2001, police raided her home and discovered several stolen prescription pads, an indication that she had been abusing prescription drugs. Her marriage to Stephen Rea ended in divorce, and her behavior became erratic. She showed up drunk at Maghaberry Prison and demanded to visit a hunger-striking inmate. She was accused of stealing a bottle of vodka from a supermarket. (In court, she blamed a “momentary lapse of concentration,” adding, with a flash of her old pride, that it was not in her “temperament or breeding” to shoplift.) Price began receiving treatment at a mental-health facility in Dublin.
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“One of the most remarkable aspects of the Troubles was that, with a few exceptions, the people that I know who did these terrible things were all perfectly normal people,” Ed Moloney told me. “This wasn’t some band of robbers who were thieving and raping for personal profit. This was war. They were all nice killers. I felt pity for them. They were victims of circumstances beyond their control.” Sometimes Price felt agonizing remorse for the lives she had ruined; on other days, she was defiant, even about McConville, insisting that the death sentence was appropriate for an informer in wartime. But, whatever her feelings of contrition, Price seemed intent on at least acknowledging her past acts.
On February 21, 2010, the Belfast tabloid Sunday Life published a story linking Price to the disappearance of McConville. “In a taped confession, Old Bailey Bomber Dolours Price has admitted driving the mum-of-10 to her death,” the article reported, adding that Price claimed that the disappearance was “masterminded” by Gerry Adams. The paper quoted Michael McConville’s sister Helen calling for the arrest of Price and Adams. “It’s disgusting that the people involved in my mother’s murder are still walking the streets,” she said. “Adams and Price might not have pulled the trigger, but they are as guilty as the people who did.”
Adams issued an angry denial, observing that Price was “a long-standing opponent of Sinn Fein and the peace process,” and that she “clearly has her own issues to resolve.” But it was unclear whether Price had made this inflammatory disclosure directly to Sunday Life. The article’s author, Ciaran Barnes, wrote that he had listened to Price’s taped “confession” but did not say explicitly that she had made these disclosures to him. Instead, he asserted that Price had “made taped confessions of her role in the abductions to academics at Boston University.”
By this time, the Boston College archive was no longer a secret. After the death of Brendan Hughes and of David Ervine, another participant in the oral-history project, Ed Moloney had written a book, “Voices from the Grave,” which was soon to be published. But the Sunday Life article contained the first public suggestion that Price had given an interview to Boston College. Moloney and McIntyre are both adamant that the tabloid was not given access to Price’s recording, and point to the mistaken reference to “Boston University” as proof. They also note that, in Price’s interview with Anthony McIntyre, she never speaks of Jean McConville. Moloney thinks that Sunday Life likely obtained a recording of an interview that Price had given to the Irish News, and that the mention of the oral-history project was a clumsy effort to launder the interview’s provenance. (Allison Morris, the journalist who interviewed Price for the Irish News, strongly denied this claim, saying, “The interview never left my office.” Ciaran Barnes said only that it would be “remiss of me to talk about my sources.”)
In March, 2011, the British government contacted the U.S. Department of Justice and explained that a criminal investigation had been initiated into McConville’s murder. Investigators at the Police Service of Northern Ireland wanted to consult the oral histories of Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price. If the I.R.A. had found McConville’s body, her case would have been covered by the immunity clause. But, because her remains were discovered by a civilian, the authorities were free to investigate—and bring charges. A subpoena was issued to Boston College, and in a legal filing the U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts declared, erroneously, that a Sunday Life reporter had been “permitted to listen to portions of Ms. Price’s Boston College interviews.” Moloney and McIntyre panicked. Turning over the interviews would not only violate the college’s promise to withhold an oral history until the subject’s death; it would also set a dangerous precedent. In an e-mail to administrators in Boston, Moloney wrote, “I would bet the mortgage that at this moment, there are teams of lawyers working in the bowels of the British government trying to discover ways to force B.C. to surrender the names of other possible interviewees.” The police simply could have asked Sunday Life for the recording, Moloney pointed out to me. In his view, they went after the Boston College archive because “they wanted to get the entire trove, for intelligence purposes.”
Moloney argued that there was a political aspect to the investigation. The police in Northern Ireland had made no serious effort to solve the McConville case until the notion arose that doing so might implicate Gerry Adams. Many police officers in Northern Ireland were former members of Special Branch and the Royal Ulster Constabulary—and for these men and women Adams was an arch antagonist. “At least in the back of their minds, there was the knowledge that we could get that fucker,” Moloney said. “All roads in that story were going to end at his door.” Tellingly, the British authorities hadn’t launched a broad-based inquiry into past atrocities on all sides; indeed, many appalling crimes committed by Unionist paramilitaries—and by state authorities—have not been investigated to this day. “They’re not digging up all the bodies,” Moloney said. “They’re being very selective.”
In August, 2011, a second subpoena was issued, seeking any interview in the archive that contained “information about the abduction and death of Mrs. Jean McConville.” A federal judge in Massachusetts ordered Boston College to hand over the material to the British government. John Kerry, who was then the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, appealed to Attorney General Eric Holder and to Hillary Clinton, who was then Secretary of State, to push for the subpoenas to be withdrawn. He cited concerns about “the continued success of the Northern Ireland peace process.” Moloney and McIntyre fought the issue on appeal, eventually receiving a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court. But the Court declined to hear the case, and in September, 2013, Boston College turned eleven interviews over to authorities in Belfast.
Last April, Adams reported to a police station in Antrim and was arrested for questioning in connection with the death of McConville. After surrendering his belt, tie, comb, and watch, he was interrogated for four days. He proclaimed his innocence, blaming a “malicious, untruthful, and sinister campaign” against him. He also raised a concern about the timing of his arrest: Sinn Fein was involved in simultaneous campaigns for seats in the European Union and in local government elections. “Both Moloney and McIntyre are opponents of the Sinn Fein leadership and our strategy,” Adams said at a press conference after his release. He has characterized the Belfast Project as “an entirely bogus, shoddy, and self-serving effort.”
At the press conference, Adams said that “the I.R.A. is gone—it’s finished.” But, during a Sinn Fein rally to protest his arrest, Bobby Storey—a close friend of his and a longtime Party operative with a thuggish reputation—alleged that there were sinister motives behind the investigation. Midway through the speech, Storey declared, “We haven’t gone away, you know.” During my time in Belfast, half a dozen people quoted that line to me, noting the presumably deliberate echo of Adams’s famous 1995 quote about the I.R.A. Storey “didn’t mean Sinn Fein hadn’t gone away,” McIntyre said. “He meant the I.R.A.” To Michael McConville, the message was clear: even after peace and decommissioning, the I.R.A. would brook no challenge to its leader. “It still rules by threats,” he said.
By the time Adams was arrested, Dolours Price was dead. One day in January of 2013, one of her sons came home and discovered her in bed. “She wasn’t breathing,” he later told an inquest. Price had been drinking for several days, and had briefly been admitted to the hospital after falling down a flight of stairs. A medical examination found that she had died of a toxic combination of sedatives and antidepressants. Suicide was ruled out, but, when I asked Anthony and Carrie McIntyre if Price killed herself, Carrie said, “I believe it.”
“I’ve never formed a firm conclusion,” Anthony said.
“Brendan, too,” Carrie continued. “They committed suicide for years.”
In Hughes’s oral history, he spoke to McIntyre about having been a hunger striker in prison. “The body is a fantastic machine,” he said. “It’ll eat off all the fat tissue first, and then it’ll eat the muscle, to keep your brain alive.” Long after Hughes and Price called an end to their strikes and attempted to reintegrate into society, they nursed old grudges and endlessly replayed their worst wartime abominations. They never stopped devouring themselves. In the coroner’s report for Dolours Price, the official pronouncement was “death by misadventure.”
The police did not charge Adams in the murder of McConville, and the investigation did not set back Sinn Fein: the Party did surprisingly well in the 2014 elections, winning more seats than expected. Today, it is the most popular political party in Ireland. According to polls, half the voters in Sinn Fein do not believe Adams’s claims about never having been a member of the I.R.A., but they do not appear to care. The beach where Jean McConville’s body was found is in Louth, Adams’s constituency in the Republic, yet Adams seems likely to retain the seat for as long as he wants it. In most countries, merely being implicated in a murder would be enough to derail a political career. But Adams has a knack for weathering scandals. During a trial in 2013, it was revealed that his brother Liam was a pedophile who had molested his own daughter, and that Adams had known but done little to intervene; last October, a woman named Maria Cahill alleged that she had been raped, as a teen-ager, by an I.R.A. man, and that Adams had failed to discipline the rapist. “I don’t know what the Irish word for Teflon is,” Richard Haass told me. “But he has it.”
In November, Adams flew to New York to give a speech to American supporters. In a vast hotel ballroom, the crowd whooped as he walked to the lectern. Adams has gleaming, outsized teeth, and I could make them out clearly from the back of the room. Standing in front of a banner bearing the words “United Ireland,” Adams spoke about the importance of American allies in ending “a very long war.” His voice is stentorian, and he speaks with schoolmasterly authority; he has the calm aura befitting a global celebrity who flies around the world advising armed factions and heads of state about how to make ceasefires stick.
Then, just as Adams was reminiscing about his first visit to the White House, in 1994, the brute in him came out. Speaking of the Irish Independent, which had been publishing critical stories about him, he observed that the paper had also been tough on Michael Collins, the Republican hero of 1916. And how did Collins deal with this affront? “He sent volunteers into their offices, held the editor at gunpoint, and destroyed the entire printing press.” The room, full of Irish-Americans, erupted in applause. Adams leaned into the microphone and murmured, “I’m obviously not advocating that,” prompting raucous, knowing laughter.
Michael McConville does not believe that Adams or anyone else will be brought to account for the murder of his mother. “We’re all adults here—we all know the score,” he told me. Several other people have been arrested for questioning in the case, but only one, Ivor Bell, has been charged. (Bell denies any involvement in McConville’s disappearance.) Bell reportedly gave an interview to the Boston College project, and if the case goes to trial prosecutors may use his recorded recollections—which he had offered for posterity, thinking that they would be sealed until after his death—against him. Bell’s lawyer, Kevin Winters, assured me that Bell “will fight the charges,” and it seems unlikely that the truth about McConville’s death will come out in any such proceeding. The physical evidence in the case is diffuse and decades old, so it would be difficult to sustain a conviction against any of the perpetrators. Because Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes are dead, they cannot testify against Adams; in legal terms, their interviews and oral histories amount to hearsay. Adams and his supporters have also gone to great lengths to attack the credibility of Price and Hughes. “Brendan was a friend of mine,” Adams told the Guardian, in 2011. “But Brendan had his issues and his difficulties. He was opposed to the peace process. He was politically hostile to what we were trying to do. Brendan said what Brendan said, and Brendan’s dead. So let it go.”
Adams is not wrong about the bitter resentment of his former comrades. Price once described her willingness to identify Adams as a former I.R.A. member as an effort to “settle scores.” Nevertheless, it’s hard to explain away the very specific, and similar, recollections that Hughes and Price shared about Jean McConville’s murder. When the journalist Darragh MacIntyre pressed Adams about McConville in a 2013 BBC documentary, “The Disappeared,” Adams, looking like a cornered animal, flashed a hostile grin and noted that Hughes and Price had “demons.” He added, vaguely, “All of us bear a responsibility, those of us who are in the leadership. I’ve never shirked that.”
Adams declined repeated requests to speak with me for this article, citing, through a representative, the “flawed” nature of the Boston College interviews, which focussed on testimony by “former Republicans who have accused Sinn Fein of betrayal.” He seems to have said his piece on the matter, and if no criminal charges are filed he may never be obliged to say anything further. (Adams continues to be forthcoming on other subjects. Last month, he informed an interviewer on Irish radio that he enjoys jumping on a trampoline. “I do it naked,” he said, adding that he is sometimes accompanied in this regimen by his dog.)
The question of whether or not Jean McConville was an informer will also likely remain unresolved. Michael McConville and his siblings are adamant that Brendan Hughes was mistaken about a transmitter being in the flat, and they doubt his claim that McConville confessed to being an informer. Helen once said, “If they were torturing her, she would have admitted to anything. What mother wouldn’t?”
Family members point to the O’Loan report, but the report says only that no official records were found to indicate that Jean McConville was an informer. If she was a low-level informer, such records might not exist. Moloney and McIntyre, who share an unshakable confidence in the credibility of Brendan Hughes, believe that the British government may also have suppressed the paper trail on McConville in order to conceal the fact that the Army allowed one of its confidential sources to be executed. In any case, the I.R.A. clearly believed that McConville was a tout, though that is no justification for what befell her. When McIntyre asked Brendan Hughes whether he regretted executing McConville, Hughes said that he had supported the decision at the time. “But not now,” he continued. “Because, as everything turned out, not one death was worth it.”
Ed Moloney observes that Adams’s cold-blooded detachment, which so maddened Price and Hughes, may have allowed him to imagine what they could not—a future beyond the armed struggle—and to create peace. Adams has many unkind things to say about Moloney, but Moloney believes that Adams should have won the Nobel Peace Prize. “Gerry’s a very hollow man,” Brendan Hughes’s brother Terry said, before adding, “But then maybe that’s politics.”
In the long run, the war may be won by demography. Sinn Fein has predicted that a Catholic majority will eventually preside in Northern Ireland, and the percentage of Catholics has increased in recent decades. But this doesn’t mean that the British will soon be voted off the island. After the 2008 fiscal crisis and the subsequent recession in Dublin, some polls found that most Catholics in the north prefer to remain part of the United Kingdom. “Outbreeding Unionists may be an enjoyable pastime for those who have the energy,” Adams has said. “But it hardly amounts to a political strategy.”
For a small minority, the armed struggle never ended. I visited Belfast just before Christmas, and three different splinter factions of the I.R.A. were promising attacks in the city over the holiday. I had wanted to speak with Marian Price, but she was prevented by legal troubles: in 2013, she confessed to having provided a mobile phone that a Republican splinter group used to take responsibility for a shooting at an Army barracks; two British solders were killed in the attack. (Her sentence was recently suspended, but the terms of her release prohibit her from talking to journalists.) “It’s not over,” Anthony McIntyre told me. “It’s still a very dangerous society.”
According to Michael McConville, the police in Northern Ireland have asked him to name the men and women who took his mother away and supply testimony to help convict them. He has refused, he told me, partly out of fear that his wife and children might become victims of reprisal. (He also refused to tell me any of the kidnappers’ names.) Several years ago, he had briefly considered identifying the perpetrators, but he says that when he told Adams of his intentions Adams replied, “I hope you are ready for the backlash.” (Adams has denied saying this.) The authorities offered to give Michael a new identity, and to move him and his family out of the country. Given the terrible toll of the life he has led in Belfast, I asked him why he hadn’t seized this opportunity. Why not move to Australia?
“All my life is here,” he said. “My family. My friends. Why should I leave because of these people?”
“What would you like to see happen?” I asked. I was wondering what form of accountability might bring him a measure of peace. But he may have misunderstood the question.
“I would love to see all the peace walls come down,” he said first. Then he thought for a moment, and added, “Personally, I’d love to see a united Ireland. I would love to see the British not here.”
We were in his living room, and had been talking for hours, and Michael suggested that we take a walk outside. We passed through the back door onto a bright-green expanse of lawn, and approached a series of wooden enclosures that lined the yard. Michael opened one of the doors to reveal a wall lined with little cubbyholes, in which dozens of pigeons warbled and bobbed and shifted their feet. He keeps hundreds of pigeons now, and he races them competitively. “Through the whole Troubles, there was never any hassle between Protestants and Catholics raising pigeons,” he said, delicately cupping one of the birds in his hand. It eyed us nervously, rolling its neck, so that its slate-gray feathers flashed magenta and teal, suddenly iridescent, like a peacock’s.
On race days, Michael releases the birds, and they disappear over the horizon, bound for some far-off destination. Then, eventually, they turn around and come home. He loves that about pigeons. “They may wander,” he said. “But their natural instinct is to come back to the place that they’re born.”
Detectives arrest Storey as part of investigation into the abduction, killing and secret burial of Belfast woman in 1972
Press AssociationThe Guardian
27 November 2014Bobby Storey, who was arrested in west Belfast. (Photograph: Niall Carson/PA) A well-known republican has been arrested by detectives investigating the murder of Belfast woman Jean McConville.
Bobby Storey, 58, was detained in the west of the city as part of the overall investigation into the crime.
As well as the murder of the widow in 1972, police are also investigating linked alleged terror offences in the decades since, including IRA pronouncements made about the killing. It is understood Storey has been detained under the provisions of the Terrorism Act.
The abduction, killing and secret burial of McConville, a mother of 10, is one of the most notorious crimes of the Northern Ireland Troubles. The police case lay dormant for decades until a flurry of activity this year, with a series of arrests made, the most high-profile being the four-day detention of Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams.
Adams, who denies involvement, was released pending a report being sent to prosecutors for assessment.
McConville was dragged from her children in the Divis flats in west Belfast by a gang of up to 12 men and women after being wrongly accused of informing to the security forces. She was interrogated, shot in the back of the head and then buried, becoming one of the “disappeared” victims of the Troubles.
Her body was found in 2003 on a beach in County Louth, 50 miles from her home.
Storey has been taken to the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s serious crime suite in Antrim town for questioning.
Four decades after her mother was abducted and murdered by the IRA, Helen McKendry is still seeking justice
Elizabeth DayThe Guardian
6 July 2014Helen McKendry, daughter of Jean McConville: 'We knew the IRA had taken her, but being 15 you don't think they're going to kill her.' Helen holds the only photograph the family has of their mother. (Photo from Independent.ie.) The year 1972 was the worst of Helen McKendry's life. It started with the death of her father, Arthur McConville, from a brain tumour in January. It ended with the brutal abduction and murder of her mother, Jean, by the Provisional IRA just before Christmas.
Jean McConville was 38 at the time and the mother of 10 children. On the evening of 7 December a mob of four women and eight men stormed into the family's home in the Divis Tower in Belfast, a high-rise block of flats that looms over the intersection between the Falls and Shankill roads.
The 15-year-old McKendry had gone out to get fish and chips for tea. She left behind her six younger siblings, ranging in age from 11 to six-year-old twins. They witnessed their mother being hauled out of the flat at gunpoint and bundled into the back of a van, struggling for her life.
"When I came back, the kids were all screaming and shouting, 'They've taken our mother!'" McKendry recalls. "I was out of the house for 20 minutes. When I came back, she was gone. That was the time it took to take her."
She never saw her mother again. For a long time, the orphaned McConville children never knew what had happened to her. They were mystified as to why she had been targeted. There were rumours, in the aftermath, that their mother had been passing information to the British forces because her husband, Arthur, had been a soldier in the British army, like his father before him. There were whispers, too, that she had abandoned her family to pursue a love affair with a British soldier or that she had gone to live with a loyalist paramilitary and that she'd had more children with him.
"I'd like to know how, given she had a hysterectomy after the twins," McKendry says now with a short, bitter laugh.
McConville was taken at the height of the Troubles, at a time when the long-running conflict between unionists and republicans had escalated into regular bomb attacks and terrifying sprees of violence. It was a nightmarish era when bad things just happened and no one wanted to ask questions as to why they were happening for fear of swift and brutal reprisal. For years, no one spoke out. The police did not investigate properly. The children were split up and went into care.
In 1999, the IRA finally admitted responsibility for the murder. Jean McConville's body was not recovered until 2003, when it was found by walkers on Shelling Hill beach in Co Louth, across the border in the Irish Republic. In the intervening years, a fragile peace had broken out, cemented by the 1998 Good Friday agreement and the eventual disarmament of the IRA.The sons of Jean McConville carry her remains to St Pauls church, in October 2003, past Divis Tower, from where she was abducted. (Photograph: Getty Images)
More than four decades have passed since the night of her mother's abduction but McKendry still remembers every detail with horrible clarity. She remembers that her mother was wearing black trousers, a white blouse and a purple cardigan. She remembers that her mother had been running a bath. She remembers, too, the last thing Jean ever said to her: "Don't be stopping for a sneaky smoke. Get straight back."
McKendry chuckles as she repeats the words. She is sitting on a garden chair on the open terrace of the house near Strangford Lough she shares with her husband, Seamus. The house has wooden shutters and flowerbeds filled with mature roses, and overlooks a stretch of fields. The beauty and peace of the setting sit oddly with the story McKendry is recounting. But the deep lines on her 56-year-old face tell a different tale: of endurance, pain and survival. She takes a final long drag on a cigarette, stubbing it out in an ashtray already littered with butts.
"I'm back on the cigarettes, which I was off for the last year," McKendry says. "And then, come April, when Mr Adams was arrested, the first thing I did was reach for a cigarette."
Just over two months ago, Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Féin, was arrested by Northern Ireland police in connection with the Jean McConville murder. His name had been cited by two former republicans, Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, in a series of interviews with ex-paramilitaries conducted by Boston College in America as part of an oral history project on the Troubles. The tapes were made on the proviso that no material would be released until after the participants' death.
But the Police Service of Northern Ireland launched a legal battle in 2011 to gain access to the transcripts and they were eventually handed over. Both Price and Hughes, who viewed Adams as a traitor for negotiating the Good Friday Agreement, had claimed that he was involved in McConville's murder and that McConville was an informer to the British army. Hughes, a former hunger striker, alleged that Adams, as a fellow IRA commander, had ordered McConville's killing and her secret burial so that her death could not be blamed on the organisation.
When Adams presented himself at a police station on the evening of 30 April for questioning, he dismissed the case against him as "malicious allegations". Sinn Féin said the arrest was politically motivated, coming as it did just a few weeks before the European elections. He was released after four days of questioning.
But McKendry believes that Adams was involved. She is waiting to see whether there is enough evidence for the Public Prosecution Service to proceed. If not, she is considering mounting a civil action against him.
Have the McKendrys ever confronted Adams with what they claim to know?
"We had a meeting with him years ago, in early 1995," says Seamus. "He arrived at our front door on a Sunday with bodyguards…"
"…like he was a celebrity," Helen interjects.
"It was all the usual bullshit," Seamus continues. "[He said] 'Sinn Féin can say categorically they aren't involved.' He wouldn't look Helen in the eye."
"He wouldn't use my mother's name," she says. "He just referred to her as 'she' and 'her'."
At some point during the meeting, Helen started listing the names of the people she believed to have been involved in the abduction of her mother.
"Each name, he'd say: 'Och, I know her. She's a great girl. There's no way she'd do anything like that,'" says Seamus, shaking his head.
Despite seven arrests, the only suspect charged to date in relation to the McConville case is veteran republican Ivor Bell. The 77-year-old former IRA negotiator with the British government has been charged with aiding and abetting the murder, which he denies. Even if he is found guilty, the other members of the mob who broke into the McConville flat that winter's night in 1972 are still at large.
Today, the McKendrys insist they are ready to cooperate with the police. "I will name names," says Helen. "I'm not scared of dying. If I die, I know I have five children who will carry on the campaign." Helen is convinced she knows who kidnapped and killed her mother, terrorising six small children in the process and dramatically changing the course of her own life. She says she sees some of them in the street. Once, she ran into one of them in McDonald's in Belfast when she was with her 15-year-old daughter and the woman in question started shouting at McKendry to stop "harassing" her.
Whoever the perpetrators might be, there is little doubt that there has been a conspiracy of silence around the McConville killing. For years she was categorised simply as one of the "disappeared" – one of the lost people abducted, killed and buried at secret locations by the IRA whose ghosts were never quite laid to rest.
Even now that her body has been found, feelings still run high. On the drive out to the McKendrys' house there is a red-brick wall on the outskirts of Belfast scrawled with graffiti denouncing Jean McConville as a "tout" (local slang for an informer).
It is an accusation McKendry has no time for – and indeed a police ombudsman investigation found no evidence to support the charge that she was an informer. "My mother brought us up to respect law and order," she says. "Any sign of trouble at all, she made sure we were all in the house. If she heard my brothers were picking up stones to throw, she'd have been mental, like."
But in the Lower Falls district, it was Jean McConville's misfortune to stand out. She had been born a Protestant, had married a British soldier and had no family roots in the area. She had once been seen helping a wounded British soldier in the street outside her home. Her card was marked.
When, in the autumn of 1972 the Provo leadership in Belfast was concerned about information being passed to British soldiers by local women attending discos in the army barracks at Mulhouse Street, it seems they decided to make an example of someone. They chose Jean McConville.
There are those who believe the McKendrys should let sleeping dogs lie, that by continuing their fight for justice they are raking over the past and doing more harm than good. They point out that if Adams is put on trial, it has the potential to derail Northern Ireland's fragile peace.
"Those who say that have never really been harmed by what went on in this country," Helen insists. "It's easy for them to say. I just want them to tell the truth. That's all."
The McKendrys are used to threats – in 2000, their neighbour's barn was set on fire in an attack the police believe was meant for them. Until three years ago, they had security cameras surrounding the house and a direct line to the police station.
"We took everything down," says Helen. "I didn't want my grandchildren being around it. That's not a way to live. I spent my life being afraid of those people and I refuse to do it any longer."
Isn't she scared?
"No," she says. "Not at all. Because if I give up fighting, they've won."Jean McConville's children being interviewed on TV in 1973, after their mother had been abducted.
It took a long time for Helen McKendry to fight. In the immediate aftermath of her mother's disappearance, she was left in charge of her younger siblings. Her older brother and sister went to live at their grandmother's. Her eldest brother, Robert, had been interned as soon as he turned 17, after the authorities deemed him a terror suspect. So at the age of 15, McKendry found herself in loco parentis. She had no money and no one she trusted to call on for help. For a week she roamed the local streets, looking for her mother.
"We knew the IRA had taken her," McKendry says now. "But being 15, you don't think they're going to kill her."
For six long weeks, she battled to keep everyone's head above water. Clothes went unwashed because she had no money to go to the launderette. She had to beg neighbours for bread and butter. On Christmas Eve, a community worker turned up and took her to the local shop where a shopkeeper handed over a bag of toys.
"He told me my mother had been paying those toys off for weeks," says McKendry. "That Christmas morning, no one wanted to know. And the Christmas before, we'd had to take the decorations down because my father was expected to die on Christmas Day."
In January, a man appeared at the door and handed over Jean McConville's purse, which contained 52p and three of her rings. Still, McKendry refused to believe her mother was dead: "I thought they'd found it somewhere."
Eventually, McKendry cracked. The younger children were "going a little bit wild. I think it was to draw attention to ourselves so that someone would help, but no one did… I just couldn't take it any more so I asked welfare to take us into care. We were all split into different homes."
She talks neutrally, in an even tone. There is no visible emotion as she recounts this horrifying period of her young life. Her entire demeanour suggests a kind of forced acceptance, as though terror and trauma were simply things you had to live with and get through as best you could. Because Belfast in the 1970s was a place where you got used to mayhem.
The McConvilles had already been "hit from every side" during the course of the Troubles. Jean, born a Protestant, had converted to Catholicism to marry her husband. In 1969, the family were dragged out of their house in a loyalist area and made to leave. When they ended up in Divis Tower, their home was raided "every other night" by the IRA.
"You just lived with it," McKendry explains. "You spent half your time outdoors because there was a bomb indoors. We didn't have normal teenage years. You hadn't really much of a life."
Nor was this the first time Jean McConville had been kidnapped. McKendry says that the night before her death, the IRA had bundled her into a van and taken her to a derelict building but she had managed to escape and was later found by soldiers wandering the streets barefoot and bedraggled.
"I had to go to the barracks and bring her home," says McKendry. "She didn't want to go to bed. She barricaded up the front door. I begged her to go to her mother in east Belfast, but she wouldn't do it."
Her decision to stay with her family would prove to be a fatal one. And it would have lasting consequences on the lives of all her children.
When the children were taken into care, Helen ended up in Nazareth Lodge, a children's home run by nuns on Belfast's Ravenhill Road. She hated it. The nuns were strict and subjected their charges to physical punishments.
"We weren't shown any love or affection or anything," Helen recalls.
"They ran it like a stalag," says Seamus.
It was at Nazareth Lodge that the couple first met. Seamus had been working in the home as an apprentice joiner for his uncle and he remembers Helen catching his eye in the canteen. Two years later, they met again at a working men's club where Helen was waitressing. They married at 18.
From the beginning Seamus, who describes himself as "a serving republican", was committed to finding out the truth of what had happened to Jean McConville. But he told his young wife that if he ever discovered she had indeed been an informer, he would walk away.
"As a friend said to me: 'You must be the only man in Ireland going out looking for his mother-in-law.'" He laughs.
Tentatively, the couple began putting out feelers – asking the odd discreet question here and there and seeking out people who might be able to tell them what happened. But it wasn't until Helen's eldest sister, Agnes, died in 1992 at the age of 39 that she realised she had to go further. Agnes had suffered a brain injury as a baby and lived a life in and out of institutions.
"The coffin came into the house and I looked inside and she looked so like my mother – so like her," Helen says. "I made a promise to my sister that she would be the last one to go to her grave without knowing what had happened to my mother.
"Before the campaign I suffered an awful lot with depression. I was drinking. I relied on drink to get me to sleep at night and I didn't want to be an alcoholic. The only thing to do was get off my arse and do something about it."
By the early 1990s, Northern Ireland was changing. There was open talk of a ceasefire. On the 22nd anniversary of Jean McConville's disappearance, Helen gave an interview to a local radio show demanding that the Provisional IRA admit responsibility for the killing. For years, she had lived with the shameful feeling that no one believed her.
"The day the programme came out, the phone was ringing off the wall," she says. "Call after call after call of people saying 'We're so sorry, we never knew…'"
Her candour encouraged many other relatives of missing loved ones to come forward and the issue of the "disappeared" finally emerged from the silent shadows.
But it hasn't been easy. Her openness caused a rift with some of her siblings, who thought the best thing to do was to keep quiet. Her brother Michael had told his children their grandmother died of cancer. It seemed less painful that way.
It has taken a toll, too, on the McKendrys' marriage and their five children. There were occasions when they thought they wouldn't make it. They had blazing rows and Seamus would disappear for days at a time.
"It was pent-up anger," he says now. "Campaigning publicly gave us a release valve."Jean McConville (left) with three of her children before she vanished in 1972. (Photograph: Pa/PA Archive/Press Association Image)
At one point they thought about emigrating to Australia, but Helen couldn't leave with questions unanswered. She still can't.
She tells me she is not resentful about the past – there's no point: she was just unlucky to get caught up in the mayhem. In the end, all you could do in that mad, mad time was withstand. All you could do was keep on surviving. You couldn't try to understand it.
"It makes no sense," she says. "What should have been the best years of our lives were ruined. And for what?"
There is only one photograph of Jean McConville. It's black-and-white, a bit blurry. Over the years, Helen has got used to posing with it in her hands for television interviewers and newspaper photographers, but she doesn't think it does her mother justice. She was, Helen says, a good-looking woman – dark-haired and olive-skinned, what the Irish call a "Galway Spaniard". The photograph doesn't capture her, not entirely.
Helen prefers to remember her at a party, when both her parents were still alive.
"My mother didn't drink but somebody had given her a drink that night and she got up and started singing," Helen recalls. "My father was very embarrassed. He was saying 'We have to get you home.' She sang I'm Nobody's Child. She always loved that sort of country and western music."
McKendry lets the thought drift, like a wisp of smoke from the cigarettes she should have given up. It was the last song Jean McConville would ever sing: Nobody's Child, but somebody's mother to the end.
JIM CUSACK Sunday Independent
04 May 2014Gerry Adams, Madge McConville and former PIRA chief of staff Joe CahillPat McGeown photographed beside Gerry Adams.THIS is Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams with two members of the gang that dragged Jean McConville from her screaming children to be brutally beaten, murdered and disappeared.
Madge McConville (no relation to Jean) was the head of the women's wing of the IRA in the lower Falls Road area at the time the widowed mother of 10 was murdered. She died in May 2009 and was eulogised by Sinn Fein as representing "what republicanism was about and ... the embodiment of our history".
The photograph was taken in January 2000 at a ceremony to mark the re-burial of Belfast IRA man Tom Williams, who was hanged in 1942 for the murder of RUC constable Patrick Murphy. Williams had been buried in the grounds of Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast after his execution. He was disinterred and re-buried in west Belfast, with Adams and Madge McConville as lead mourners.
In the other photo, Adams is alongside Pat McGeown who was also part of the gang that abducted Mrs McConville.
McGeown, who died in October 1996, was a 17-year-old member of the junior wing of the IRA at the time. He subsequently became a Sinn Fein councillor in Belfast.
McGeown and Adams are together with a group of Sinn Fein leaders after the count in the May 1996 elections to the Northern Ireland Peace Forum. Adams and McGeown were close associates and shared the same prison hut in the Long Kesh internment camp outside Belfast in the early Seventies.
Republican sources in west Belfast say it was the 17-year-old McGeown who shot Mrs McConville through the back of the head as she knelt in front of her burial site on Sheeling Beach in Co Louth.
On his death the Sinn Fein newspaper An Phoblacht
reported McGeown "was a political prisoner in the infamous Cage 11 along with such notables as Gerry Adams and Brendan Hughes".
Brendan Hughes was the first IRA man to publicly name Gerry Adams as his "officer commanding", alleging that he was the one who gave the order for Mrs McConville's murder and disappearance. Adams continues to deny this.
McGeown was one of the republican hunger strikers in the Maze Prison in 1981 and spent 47 days without food before it was called off. His period of starvation led to ill-health and his early death at the age of 44 from a heart attack. After his death, Sinn Fein launched a community endeavour award in his name and Adams described him as "a modest man with a quiet, but total dedication to equality and raising the standard of life for all the people of the city''.
Madge McConville was given the job of stopping young women fraternising with the British soldiers who were initially welcomed by Catholics after they stopped the invasions by loyalists mobs in the area.
The soldiers held discos in a factory they had commandeered as a barracks. Young Catholic women who were identified as attending the discos were abducted and beaten up. Several were also tied to lamp posts, their heads shaven, and covered in black paint and feathers in the same way French women deemed collaborators with the Nazis were tarred and feathered after the Allied invasion.
A decision was made not to kill any of the young Catholic women, many of whom were driven out of the area, because of their local family connections. But according to local sources, Mrs McConville was sentenced to death because she was a Protestant who had married a Catholic, Arthur, who had died in 1971 leaving her alone to bring up their 10 children. She had no family connections in the Falls area.
Mrs McConville was allegedly targeted because she gave a cup of water to a soldier who had been injured outside her maisonette in the Divis complex in the lower Falls. A gang of up to 20 male and female IRA members abducted and murdered her.
The intention of the IRA leadership was to ensure that there was no relationship between the local community and the soldiers or police. The tarring and featherings and finally the murder of Mrs McConville ensured this.
Michael McConville says he took Sinn Féin president warning of backlash if he disclosed suspects' identities as a threat
5 May 2014A son of IRA murder victim Jean McConville has said Gerry Adams warned of a "backlash" if he released the names of those he believed were responsible.
Michael McConville said his family's fight for justice would go on after the Sinn Féin president was freed, but maintained he could be shot if he disclosed the identities of suspects to police.
Adams, 65, was released from Antrim police station, pending a report being sent to prosecutors, after four days of questioning about the notorious 1972 killing of McConville and other alleged links with the IRA.
McConville told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Gerry Adams says to me, 'Michael, you are getting a letter of support from the republican people'. He says, 'if you release the names I hope you are ready for the backlash'.
"I took it as a threat."
Adams has vehemently rejected allegations made by former republican colleagues that he ordered the mother of 10's abduction and killing – denials he repeated on Sunday night.
The decision whether to charge him with any offence will be made by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) at a later date after reviewing evidence presented by police.
McConville alleged the "threat" was made at about the time a report being drawn up by Northern Ireland's then police ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, into claims that his mother was an informer was close to being finalised.
The Sinn Féin president had brokered a series of meetings between him and members of the IRA. McConville said he used to tell Adams what had happened in the meetings and warned him that he would release the names of those involved if O'Loan's report was disputed. At that point he said the backlash was mentioned.
McConville said that "could" have meant a backlash against the peace process but said he took it to mean the "backlash from republican people".
Adams will refocus on election campaigning on Monday as the political fallout from his release from police custody continues to reverberate around Stormont and beyond.
Sinn Féin is holding a European election rally in Belfast on Monday, with a similar event planned in Dublin on Tuesday, as Adams resumes the canvassing activities he claims his detention was designed to thwart.
The rapturous welcome Adams received in a west Belfast hotel on his first public appearance after his release was in marked contrast to the angry scenes outside the police station as loyalists protested at the decision to free him.
There was disorder in the loyalist Sandy Row area of Belfast, with petrol bombs and stones thrown, though no one was injured.
The former MP for west Belfast and now representative for County Louth in the Irish dail criticised the police's handling of his arrest but moved to dispel any suggestion that Sinn Féin's commitment to policing had wavered in the wake of the affair.
Adams's arrest on Wednesday triggered a bitter political row at Stormont, with Sinn Féin accusing an "anti-peace process rump" within the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) of orchestrating the detention with the aim of damaging the party ahead of European and local government elections later this month.
This was angrily rejected by political rivals, whose fury intensified when senior Sinn Féin figures indicated that their support for the police – a critical plank in the peace process – would be "reviewed" if Adams was charged.
The Democratic Unionist Stormont first minister, Peter Robinson, denounced the remarks as "bullyboy" tactics.
Downing Street confirmed that the prime minister, David Cameron, and the Irish taoiseach, Enda Kenny, spoke on Sunday to discuss the situation surrounding Adams's arrest.
Adams questioned the timing of his detention and said police had unnecessarily used "coercive" legislation to detain and question him.
Sinn Fein support for police under question as president to be held over the weekendIrish Mirror
2 May 2014A new mural of Gerry Adams is being painted on Belfast's Falls Road with the slogan 'Peacemaker, leader, visionary' PSNI have been granted an extra 48 hours to question Gerry Adams over the murder and abduction of Jean McConville.
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly has reacted angrily to the news.
He said: “The arrest and continued detention of Gerry Adams is deliberately timed to coincide with the elections in three weeks time.
“This is political policing at its most blatant.
“Sinn Fein will not be intimidated by the action of a small cabal in the PSNI who are opposed to the peace process and political change.”
Sinn Fein support for the police appears under threat as detectives continued to quiz Adams about the murder of the mother-of-10.
Martin McGuinness warned that the party will “reflect” on its support for the PSNI if Gerry Adams is charged with any offences arising out of his arrest on Wednesday by officers investigating the 1972 murder.
The Stormont Deputy First Minister and Sinn Fein veteran said he and colleagues would not be making a “knee-jerk” decision. And he raised the spectre of what would be a huge blow to the peace process in the region as he said it was his understanding police were applying to a judge to extend the period of time they can question Mr Adams at Antrim police station.
Asked if Sinn Fein would withdraw support for policing if Mr Adams is ultimately charged, Mr McGuinness said: “We are very thoughtful and we are very reflective but I think if such a scenario does develop then we will sit down and we will reflect on what will be an even more serious situation than the one we face today.”
With the initial 48-hour deadline looming for officers to either charge or release Mr Adams after his arrest on Wednesday night, the PSNI applied for an extension, the Deputy First Minister confirmed.
Adams, 65, vehemently denies allegations levelled by former republican colleagues that he ordered Mrs McConville’s murder and secret burial in 1972.
Sinn Féin leader says former friend Brendan Hughes was hostile to him over peace process
Gerry MoriartyIrish Times
2 May 2014 Former IRA man Brendan “The Dark” Hughes, in Long Kesh prison with then best friend Gerry Adams. (Photograph: Photopress) Some 3,600 people died in the Troubles. Many thousands more were maimed, injured and bereaved. Yet the circumstances of the murder of Jean McConville can still leave a cold feeling in the pit of one’s stomach.
She was a 37-year-old woman, a Protestant widow who had been married to a Catholic, and was the mother of 10 children who were left orphaned and desolate.
The campaign to recover her body, which was finally found on Shelling Hill beach in Co Louth in 2003, led to the creation of a North-South commission to locate the bodies of 17 people known to have been “disappeared”. So far 10 bodies have been recovered.
The so-called “Boston tapes”, potentially, are why Gerry Adams is being questioned for involvement in the December 1972 abduction, interrogation, murder and secret burial of McConville.
The Boston College oral history of the Troubles project was the brainchild of journalist and writer Ed Moloney and involved the interviewing of former republican and loyalist paramilitaries based on guarantees their testimonies would not be released until after their deaths.
The early deaths of former senior IRA figure Brendan “the Dark” Hughes and former Progressive Unionist Party leader and ex-UVF man David Ervine, both of whom participated in the project, allowed Moloney publish a book, Voices From the Grave, four years ago.
The book recorded Hughes’s account of how McConville was first lifted by the IRA, allegedly for working as an informer by having a British army transmitter in her flat.
Hughes said she was “let go with a warning” but when another transmitter allegedly was put in her house she was abducted by an IRA gang.
“There was only one man who gave the order for that woman to be executed. That . . . man is now the head of Sinn Féin,” said Hughes.Evidence
As this is posthumous evidence there is a heavy question mark over whether it can have much – or any – legal evidential value.
The McConville family and former Northern Ireland police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan rejected the informer allegation against McConville.
Regardless, in his account Hughes said Adams and a senior IRA commander agreed that she should be “executed” but argued over whether her body should be left on the street in west Belfast as a warning to potential informers – as regularly happened – or secretly buried.
Hughes said that Adams won the day, and it was decided she should be secretly buried.
“I think the reason why she [was] disappeared was because she was a woman,” Hughes said.
Adams emphatically denied the allegations, and made the point that Hughes, his former friend and an IRA member, was antagonistic both to him and to how the IRA and Sinn Féin had managed the peace process.
But then Old Bailey bomber, the late Dolours Price, who also gave evidence to the Boston College project, made similar allegations, which Adams again denied.
He also pointed out that she was also antagonistic to him and the peace process.
The result was a huge controversy over the PSNI seeking access to the Boston tapes, which could have proved of evidential value to the police investigation, certainly while Price was alive.Consternation
The police pursuit of the tapes caused consternation because handing them over would mean that the pledge given to participants of anonymity and non-disclosure ahead of their deaths would not be honoured.
It also triggered a quarrel between, on one side Moloney and his chief researcher Anthony McIntyre, a historian and former IRA prisoner; and on the other side Boston College over how to resist the legal challenge from the police.
They accused the college of weakness.
The upshot was that the PSNI won the legal battle and tapes of Hughes, Price and about half a dozen others were handed over to the police.
All these tapes, it was stated in the legal proceedings, had content relating to the McConville murder.
In recent weeks a number of people have been arrested in connection with the murder.
Some of them were released pending reports being sent to the Public Prosecution Service, which leaves open the possibility that prosecutions could follow.
In March, Ivor Bell, now aged 77, was charged with aiding and abetting the murder of McConville.
It was this charging that prompted Adams to offer to voluntarily present himself to the PSNI if it wished to ask him questions. Police sources in the North, along with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, First Minister Peter Robinson and British prime minister David Cameron, have rejected a Sinn Féin allegation of “political policing” in the questioning of Adams.
“The case is driven by investigative necessity,” said one police source.
In the meantime, the McConville family wait and watch to find out if they are any closer to achieving justice for their mother.
Gerry Adams spends second night in custody in connection with Jean McConville murder
Gerry MoriartyIrish Times
1 May 2014Sinn Féin claims that Gerry Adams is a victim of “political policing” have been dismissed by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, British prime minister David Cameron and Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson.
The party’s complaints that his arrest in connection with the 1972 IRA murder of Jean McConville was designed to damage the party’s prospects in the European and local elections were also rejected.
Mr Adams was spending his second night in custody at Antrim police station last night following his arrest by prior arrangement on Wednesday.
Mr Adams was arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 and technically could be held for up to 28 days. If questioning is to continue beyond 8pm today, the PSNI must seek authorisation from a judge, who must also decide how many additional days he can be held.Three options
The police essentially have three options. They could charge him in connection with the murder; they could release him pending a report to the North’s Public Prosecution Service, which also means he could face prosecution; or they could release him unconditionally.
Mr Adams has repeatedly denied any involvement in the abduction, murder and secret burial of Ms McConville, a widowed mother of 10 children and one of the so-called Disappeared. Her body was finally found on Shelling Hill beach in Co Louth in 2003.
His arrest follows the charging in March of veteran republican Ivor Bell, formerly a close associate of Mr Adams, for allegedly aiding and abetting Ms McConville’s murder.
Several senior republicans including Martin McGuinness, Mary Lou McDonald, TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and MP Conor Murphy alleged or raised questions about Mr Adams being a victim of “political policing” just as Sinn Féin was riding high in the polls before voting in the local and European elections.
The strongest comments came from Mr McGuinness, who claimed “the dark side of policing” was implicated in the decision to arrest Mr Adams.‘Deliberate attempt’
“I view his arrest as a deliberate attempt to influence the outcome of the elections due to take place all over this island in three weeks,” he said.
But First Minister Peter Robinson said it would have been “political policing” if Mr Adams had not been questioned.
Mr Kenny said parties in the South played no part in his arrest. “I hope . . . Deputy Adams answers in the best way that he can, the fullest extent that he can, the questions being asked about a live murder investigation by the PSNI,” he added.
'I am no longer afraid' says Helen McKendry, as Northern Ireland secretary warns of tense moment in peace process
Henry McDonald and Nicholas Watt The Guardian
Thursday 1 May 2014 Helen McKendry, Jean McConville's daughter, holding a family portrait. Photograph: Peter Morrison/APThe eldest daughter of IRA murder victim Jean McConville vowed to "name names" to police, as officers continue to hold Gerry Adams for questioning in connection with her kidnapping into a second day.
Helen McKendry's outspoken intervention came as the former Northern Ireland secretary Shaun Woodward warned that the arrest of Adams marks one of the most "tense and potentially quite dangerous" moments in the peace process.
Speaking to the Guardian McKendry, who has spent 20 years campaigning to bring her mother's killers to justice, said: "I spent the first 20 years of my life being afraid of these people, of fearing to speak out, but now I am no longer afraid."
McKendry, who witnessed her mother being dragged away by the IRA in 1972, said she was prepared to identify the abductors despite a fear or reprisals – in contrast with her brother Michael, who earlier in the day told the BBC he was not prepared to say who was involved.
She said: "If full cooperation into the murder of my mother includes naming those who I saw bursting into our flat, who dragged my mother away from us at gunpoint, and who were directly involved in her disappearance and murder, then yes – I would be prepared to name names. To me that is not informing but doing my duty to my mother."
McKendry said detectives had told the family that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has obtained as many as 11 tapes – testimonies from former IRA members – from a US academic archive relating to the McConville killing.
The continued detention of the Sinn Féin leader over the kidnapping, killing and secret burial of Jean McConville, a mother of 10, has thrown the delicate political settlement in the province back into crisis.
Woodward became the first senior political figure in London to raise concerns about the impact of the arrest. Labour's last Northern Ireland secretary told the Guardian: "This is a very serious and tense moment in the history of the peace process and the political process. So long as Northern Ireland continues to avoid having a mechanism to deal fairly with the legacy issues of the pre-1998 Good Friday agreement there will inevitably be these tense and potentially quite dangerous and threatening moments in the peace process and the political process."
His remarks came after Martin McGuinness said there were elements in the police force – which he and Adams once urged republicans to back – who were determined to hinder Sinn Fein's advance across the island of Ireland.
Northern Ireland's deputy first minister said his party had been told by "senior" and "reforming" elements within the PSNI that "there was still a dark side within policing here in the north of Ireland". He said: "I think we have seen that dark side flex its muscles in the course of the last couple of days."
Sinn Féin had earlier said that the arrest, weeks before the European parliamentary elections, was politically motivated – a suggestion David Cameron rejected. The prime minister said: "There has been absolutely no political interference in this issue. We have an independent judicial system, both here in England and in Northern Ireland. We have independent policing authorities, independent prosecuting authorities. Those are vital parts of the free country and the free society we enjoy today."
Matt Baggott, the chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, said the investigation would be "effective, objective and methodical".
Asked about the investigation, Baggott said: "Effective investigation applies to any unsolved matter and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on any individual investigation other than to say they will be objective and methodical."
Labour figures associated with the peace process made no criticism of the police who had, they said, followed the law. But Peter Hain, Tony Blair's last Northern Ireland secretary, said Adams had told him with great passion that he was not responsible for McConville's death.
Hain said: "Obviously the judicial process has to take its course. Gerry Adams has strongly asserted – as he always did to me when I was secretary of state and he was actually helping track the 'disappeared' – that he had nothing to do with this. In fact we actually discussed the Jean McConville atrocity because that is what it was – a terrible crime. He was passionate about it being wrong and he wanted to find out who was responsible – at least that it is what he told me and those of us seeking to address the 'disappeared' on behalf of the victims because there are many of them."
But Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland's first minister and key partner with McGuinness in the power-sharing executive, said the arrest strengthened Northern Ireland's political process. "I cannot say whether Mr Adams will be charged or released, whether he will be held for a further period, whether even if charged he might be convicted," he said. "But what I can say is that it strengthens our political process in Northern Ireland for people to know that no one is above the law – everyone is equal under the law and everyone is equally subject to the law."
The abduction, fatal shooting and covert burial of McConville, a 37-year-old Protestant who became a Catholic convert, continues to haunt both Adams and the peace process.
In front of her children at their home in the Divis flats complex, the West Belfast woman was dragged away by an IRA gang, driven across the border to the Republic, shot in the head at a remote coastal spot in County Louth, and then buried in secret.
She became the most famous of the "disappeared" – 16 IRA victims shot and buried at secret locations across Ireland during the Troubles.
Former IRA members including Adams's former friend, the hunger striker Brendan Hughes, have alleged that the future Sinn Féin president gave the order for McConville to be "disappeared" after she was shot as an informer. Her family have always rejected any suggestion that she was a British army agent pointing to Northern Ireland's former police ombudsman Nuala O'Loan's investigation,which found no evidence of their mother working as an informer.
Adams has consistently denied claims of involvement in the McConville murder or of being in the IRA. He was arrested on Wednesday evening after handing himself into the PSNI's serious crimes suite at Antrim Town. Before entering the police station, he repeated that he was "innocent of any part" in the murder.
The Sinn Féin leader spent Wednesday night in custody and could in theory be held until late on Friday under anti-terrorist legislation.
The allegations of a supposed police conspiracy against Sinn Féin and its party leader by McGuinness drew an angry response from the McConville family. The murdered woman's son-in-law, Seamus McKendry, who co-founded the campaign for the disappeared, described McGuinness's claims as "totally absurd and a deep insult to the family and the wider community's intelligence".
McKendry said: "This is the same PSNI which Martin McGuinness asked everyone including his own supporters to endorse when devolution was restored. He can't have it both ways. This is just typical spin to deflect from the real story behind all of this, to deflect from the terrible crime inflicted on Jean."
Ireland's prime minister, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, dismissed any notion that the arrest was politically motivated.
"I hope the president of Sinn Féin, Deputy Adams, answers in the best way that he can, the fullest extent that he can, the questions being asked about a live murder investigation by the PSNI," Kenny said.His ministerial colleague Ruairí Quinn said any suggestion Adams was detained in order to interfere with politics south of the border was "ludicrous".
The arrest also refocuses attention on Sinn Féin's past connection to the IRA at a time when the party has been riding high in the opinion polls and seeking to make major gains in the Irish Republic's European and local government elections. Deputy party leader Mary Lou McDonald insisted that there was a political motive behind the arrest given that the country was only two weeks away from going to the polls.
By SHAWN POGATCHNIK
Associated PressWashington Post
30 April 2014Gerry AdamsDUBLIN — Police in Northern Ireland arrested Sinn Fein party leader Gerry Adams on Wednesday over his alleged involvement in the Irish Republican Army’s 1972 abduction, killing and secret burial of a Belfast widow.
Adams, 65, confirmed his own arrest in a prepared statement and described it as a voluntary, prearranged interview.
Police long had been expected to question Adams about the killing of Jean McConville, a 38-year-old mother of 10 whom the IRA killed with a single gunshot to the head as an alleged spy.
According to all authoritative histories of the Sinn Fein-IRA movement, Adams served as an IRA commander for decades, but he has always denied holding any position in the outlawed group.
“I believe that the killing of Jean McConville and the secret burial of her body was wrong and a grievous injustice to her and her family,” Adams said. “Well publicized, malicious allegations have been made against me. I reject these. While I have never disassociated myself from the IRA and I never will, I am innocent of any part in the abduction, killing or burial of Mrs. McConville.”
Reflecting the embarrassment associated with killing a widowed mother, the IRA did not admit the killing until 1999, when it claimed responsibility for nearly a dozen slayings of long-vanished civilians and offered to try to pinpoint their unmarked graves. McConville’s children had been told she abandoned them, and they were divided into different foster homes.
Her remains were discovered only by accident near a Republic of Ireland beach in 2003. The woman’s skull bore a single bullet mark through the back of the skull, and forensics officer determined she’d been shot once through back of the head with a rifle.Jean McConville and children
Adams was implicated in the killing by two IRA veterans, who gave taped interviews to researchers for a Boston College history archive on the four-decade Northern Ireland conflict. Belfast police waged a two-year legal fight in the United States to acquire the interviews, parts of which already were published after the 2008 death of one IRA interviewee, Brendan Hughes.
Boston College immediately handed over the Hughes tapes. The college and researchers fought unsuccessfully to avoid handover tapes of the second IRA interviewee, Dolours Price, who died last year.
Both Hughes and Price agreed to be interviewed on condition that their contents were kept confidential until their deaths.
In his interviews Hughes, a reputed 1970s deputy to Adams within the Belfast IRA, said McConville was killed on Adams’ orders. Hughes said Adams oversaw a special IRA unit called “The Unknowns” that was committed to identifying, killing and secretly burying Belfast Catholic civilians suspected of spying on behalf of the police or British Army. An independent investigation by Northern Ireland’s police complaints watchdog in 2006 found no evidence that McConville had been a spy.
Hughes told the researchers he led the IRA team that “arrested” McConville, but her fate was sealed following a policy argument between Adams and the man he succeeded as Belfast commander, Ivor Bell.
He said Bell wanted McConville’s body to be put on public display to intimidate other people from helping the British, but Adams wanted her killing kept mysterious.
“There was only one man who gave the order for that woman to be executed,” Hughes said in the audio recording, which was broadcast on British and Irish television in 2010. “That man is now the head of Sinn Fein. I did not give the order to execute that woman. He did.”
A 2010 book written by the lead researcher, journalist Ed Moloney, “Voices From the Grave,” also quoted Hughes as describing Adams as the IRA’s “Belfast Brigade” commander who oversaw planning of the first car-bomb attacks in London in March 1973.
Adams and Hughes were arrested together in July 1973, when the British Army pounced on an IRA commanders’ meeting in West Belfast. Both were interned without trial. Adams was repeatedly interrogated for suspected involvement in IRA bombings and shootings, but was never convicted of any IRA offense besides a failed prison escape during his mid-1970s internment.
Last month Belfast detectives investigating the McConville killing arrested and charged Bell, now 77, with IRA membership and aiding McConville’s murder.
Price, who was a member of the IRA’s 1973 London car-bombing unit, died last year of a suspected drug overdose. She gave interviews to journalists admitting she had driven McConville across the Irish border, where another IRA member shot McConville once through the back of the head. It remains unclear what precisely she told the Boston College project.
Adams was the longtime British Parliament member for West Belfast, although like all Sinn Fein politicians he refused to take his seat in London, citing the required oath of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II.
He never held a post in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government, the central peacemaking institution established in the wake of the Good Friday accord of 1998. He stepped down as West Belfast’s MP in 2011 and won election to the Republic of Ireland parliament, where he represents the same border area, County Louth, where McConville’s body was found.
30/04/2014 Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams is tonight being questioned by detectives investigating the abduction and killing of Jean McConville.
Mrs McConville, a widow, was dragged away from her children in her home in the Divis flats, west Belfast, by an IRA gang of up to 12 men and women after being accused of passing information to the British Army in the city.
An investigation later carried out by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman rejected the claims that she was an informer.
She was shot in the back of the head and buried 50 miles from her home. The IRA did not admit her murder until 1999 when information was passed to gardaí.
She became one of the so-called 'Disappeared', and it was not until August 2003 that her remains were found on Shelling Hill beach, Co Louth.
Deputy Adams has vehemently rejected the allegations made by former republican colleagues that he had a role in ordering the IRA killing.
No one has ever been charged with the murder. But after years without progress in the criminal investigation there have been a series of arrests in recent weeks.
A veteran republican – 77-year-old Ivor Bell – was charged last month with aiding and abetting the murder.
In the wake of the recent developments in the case, last month Deputy Adams, who has always denied membership of the IRA, said he would be available to meet with detectives if they wished to speak with him.
That meeting is taking place this evening.
Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald said this evening: “Last month Gerry Adams said that he was available to meet the PSNI about the Jean McConville case. That meeting is now taking place.
“Gerry Adams is right to confront this issue. There has been a concerted and malicious effort to link Gerry Adams to this case for some considerable time.
“He has consistently and forthrightly rejected any suggestion that he had any part in what happened to Jean McConville 42 years ago or that he has any information about these dreadful events.
“I believe the timing of this latest decision by the PSNI is politically motivated and designed to damage Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin.
“It is Sinn Féin's view that legacy issues and dealing with the past, including past conflict events, are best addressed through an independent, international, truth recovery process.
“In the absence of that, we have agreed to and are seeking the implementation of the Haass compromise proposals. These include the right of families to choose whether to pursue legal action or to seek maximum truth recovery.”
In a statement made before meeting the PSNI today, Deputy Adams said: “Last month I said that I was available to meet the PSNI about the Jean McConville case. While I have concerns about the timing, I am voluntarily meeting with the PSNI this evening.
“As a republican leader I have never shirked my responsibility to build the peace. This includes dealing with the difficult issue of victims and their families. Insofar as it is possible I have worked to bring closure to victims and their families who have contacted me. Even though they may not agree, this includes the family of Jean McConville.
“I believe that the killing of Jean McConville and the secret burial of her body was wrong and a grievous injustice to her and her family.
“Well publicised, malicious allegations have been made against me. I reject these.
“While I have never disassociated myself from the IRA and I never will, I am innocent of any part in the abduction, killing or burial of Mrs McConville.
“Sinn Féin has signed up to the Haass proposals for dealing with the past. While I also respect the right of families if they wish to seek legal redress there remains a huge onus on the two governments and the political parties to face up to all these issues and to agree a victim centred process which does this.”
30 April 2014Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has been arrested by Northern Ireland police in connection with the 1972 murder of Jean McConville.
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 County Louth in 2003.
Police said a 65-year-old man presented himself to Antrim police station on Wednesday evening and was arrested.
In a statement, Sinn Féin said: "Last month Gerry Adams said he was available to meet the PSNI about the Jean McConville case. That meeting is taking place this evening."