Last month Ivor Bell, a former leader with the Provisional Irish Republican Army…aka the IRA or the Provos, was charged with aiding and abetting in the murder of Jean McConville in 1972. A number of other arrests have followed, and these have culminated in the arrest of Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein. Arrested under the Terrorism Act of 2000 he is being held in Antrim police station.
The arrests follow the release to the British Police of taped recorded at Boston College that were to be an oral history of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. Ivor Bell gave an interview, a confessional interview to the College on the provision that it would only be aired after his death.
A series of court cases saw the tapes passed over to the Irish police and the arrests followed enquires into the claims Bell and other paramilitaries made.
So who was Jean McConville?
Jean McConville is one of The Disappeared. A group of people, predominantly men, who were abducted and killed by the IRA for perceived ‘crimes’ they had committed.
Jean came from east Belfast was christened a protestant. She lived an uneventful life until she fell in love with Arther McConville, a Catholic. She converted to the catholic faith in order that they could marry. Even though she had showed such commitment life was not easy for the newlyweds. Intermarriage between protestants, even converts and Catholics was very much frowned upon in Ireland back then, and they were hounded out of their home several times.
They finally settled in a dismal flat in the Divis flats on the Lower Falls Road with their young family. Not long after they moved in her husband died, leaving her a widow with ten children. Just before Christmas 1972 a gang burst into the flat and snatched Jean in front of her terrified children. Two of those children, Agnes and Michael give a hint of the terror they felt that night:
“We could hear her squealing, still squealing and looked over at the banister on Divis Flats (in west Belfast) and there she was getting thrown into the back of a van,” she said.
“That was the last time that we saw her.”
Michael picks up the story:
“All of us were just wrapped around her, all crying and squealing,” he said.
“I remember one of the girls (who abducted her) talking, who I knew because she hadn’t got a mask on, she used to be a neighbour of ours, her and her sister were there.
“They kept trying to calm us down, because they knew us and they knew us by name” (source)
Michael has said many times that he knows who killed his mother, but he cannot say as he fears he or his family would be shot by those that still belong to the IRA. He told the BBC:
Jeans funeral 30 years after she was executed by the IRA
“I do know the names of the people, I’ve never told anyone”
“I wouldn’t tell the police. If I told the police now a thing, me or one of my family members or one of my children would get shot by those people,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
He said that “everybody thinks this has all gone away”, but that people still suffered intimidation – not by the IRA, but by “splinter groups” of the paramilitary organisation.
“They would just class you as an informant and they would shoot you,” he said.
“It’s terrible, from my point of view and my family’s point of view, that we know those people and we can’t bring them to justice.”
He said he and his family knew two weeks after their mother was taken that she was dead, because an “IRA man had come and left my mother’s purse and her wedding rings at the house”.
Jean was accused of being an informant, and when it was proved otherwise she was ‘charged’ with helping an injured British soldier, something else that proved to be false. Her body was found in 2003 on a beach 50 miles from her home. Regarding the arrest of Gerry Adams Michael McConville said simply:
“We’re just happy to see everything moving as it is moving at the minute,” Mr McConville said.
“Me and the rest of my brothers and sisters are just glad to see the PSNI doing their job. We didn’t think it would ever take place [Mr Adams’ arrest], but we are quite glad that it is taking place.
Accusations that Gerry Adams was involved in Jean McConvilles death are nothing new. Several ex-paramilitaries have made the claim over the years. Brendan Hughes, who was a senior republican wrote a book about The Troubles and he also named Adams as the man who ordered McConvilles execution. The former IRA commander claims the West Belfast MP was linked to some of the worst atrocities of the troubles including the brutal killing of the widowed west Belfast woman.
The documentary “The Disappeared” sees Gerry Adams asked directly about the claims made by Brendan Hughes:
The IRA admitted in 1999 that it murdered and buried at secret locations nine of the Disappeared, and Jean was one of the nine on the list.
The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains was established in 1999 by a treaty between the British and Irish governments.
It lists 16 people as “disappeared”. Despite extensive searches, the remains of seven of them have not been found.
On its website, the commission said all information it received was privileged – it can not be passed on to other agencies or used in a court of law. It can only be used to try and locate the remains of The Disappeared.
Jean McConville’s remains were found in 2003 by a man walking at Shelling Hill beach, near Carlingford.
It is understood that because Mrs McConville’s body was found by accident by a member of the public rather than through information given to the commission, a criminal investigation can take place.
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Contributed by Lizzie Bennett of Underground Medic.
Lizzie Bennett retired from her job as a senior operating department practitioner in the UK earlier this year. Her field was trauma and accident and emergency and she has served on major catastrophe teams around the UK. Lizzie publishes Underground Medic on the topic of preparedness.