SF politicians may look to the future, but we cannot forget the dark past

IT’S Tuesday of this week and I’m driving my child home thinking there’s a strange silence about Gerry Adams’s arrest and I want to break it but I don’t know how.

Then Ann Travers comes on Joe Duffy’s Liveline and helps me out by speaking of the murder of her sister Mary by the IRA: “How can I say that Mary’s life is worth less now than it was 30 years ago? That her murder is no longer a murder but some kind of bargaining tool in the peace process?”

That’s what we’re being asked to do. And we’re being asked to downgrade Jean Mc Conville’s death from murder to what it is called in dissident Republican Brendan Hughes’s Boston tape: “execution”.

We’ve been told by former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, speaking on RTÉ, that a murder which happened four decades ago in the context of a terrible conflict should not have the usual legal consequences of a murder. We’ve been told by prominent commentators that we must not construct hierarchies of victims or hierarchies of suspects.

Well sorry, but Gerry Adams constructed his own hierarchy and put himself at the top of it. He is the leader of a political party which commanded 20% of the vote this side of the border in a recent poll.

If his party’s popularity continues to snowball it is not unthinkable that he might one day be a contender for the post of Taoiseach. His party is fielding 196 candidates in the local elections this side of the border as well as a candidate in every European Parliament constituency.

I’m sorry, Peter Hain, but the Irish public deserves to know the truth about a people who are putting themselves forward for powerful positions in this country. I accept that there is a need for some understanding of the context of conflict for some crimes, in the form of the maximum two-year sentences agreed under the Good Friday Agreement.

But I don’t accept that understanding should amount to a conspiracy of silence about suspected violence in the past of people who put themselves forward for election to positions of authority.

I believe Gerry Adams was a member of the IRA. Who doesn’t? An RTÉ interviewer put it very well earlier in the week when he asked Martin McGuinness why Gerry Adams would have failed to join? He got the lame answer, “You’d better ask him that.”

Dissident Republican Brendan Hughes said in his Boston College interview: “There was only one man who gave the order for that woman to be executed. That man is now the leader of Sinn Fein.”

Hughes’s interview is convincing because he is not giving the interviewer what he wants to hear. He obviously sees nothing wrong with the “execution” of Jean McConville in itself, though he has a problem with the policy of disappearing the body.

However he also says he took a listening device from Jean McConville’s flat though the Police Ombudsman in the North has found no evidence that McConville was an informer. Her daughter Helen Mc Kendry says it would have been impossible for the depressed widowed mother of 10 children to have informed on anyone, as we learn from Susan McKay’s authoritative piece in The London Review.

But you can’t just decide Hughes is right on Adams and wrong on McConville. You sure do need a real investigation, something the RUC never did at the time.

Because the Irish people must know whether a person putting himself up for election to the parliament of this country was capable of making a calculated decision to order the abduction of a recent widow in front of her screaming children, then have her tortured and shot in the head, leaving her children defenceless orphans.

The late Garda Detective Superintendent PJ Browne describes the Belfast unit of the IRA at the time as “psychotic” and if Adams was its leader, well then he was psychotic too.

The murder of Jean McConville is no worse than any of the other murders carried out by either side during the conflict, but the fact that she was a recently widowed mother of 10 means she penetrates our apathy. Now we are being told not to identify with her or her children any more in case Republicans get angry and we jeopardise the peace process.

Just as Section 31 strengthened by Conor Cruise O’Brien in 1976 allowed Sinn Féin to grow in stature behind a curtain of silence, so Section 98, unofficially in operation since the Good Friday Agreement, stops us asking any awkward questions of Sinn Féin today. You can see this schizophrenia clearly if you compare Gerry Adams’s appearance on The Late Late Show in 1994 after Section 31 had been lifted with Mary Lou McDonald’s appearance on the same show in March of this year.

The first featured a ridiculous performance from Gay Byrne, in a standing position at a safe distance from Adams as if he were questioning him in a police station. I immediately took the side of Adams and have since then been the sort of left-leaner who gives Sinn Féin the benefit of the doubt, in the context of the oppression nationalists have suffered.

The second Late Late interview featured the equally ridiculous cosying-up of Ryan Tubridy with McDonald with barely a hard question about what Tubridy called “the bold boys in Sinn Féin.” The cheering studio audience and those cheering on their sofas had simply decided that letting bygones be bygones was the strategy which would keep the past at bay and project us into a bright future.

Tubridy sounded almost apologetic as he asked Mc Donald if she welcomed the arrest of Ivor Bell in connection with the murder of Jean McConville. She replied that she would welcome any measure which would “provide additional comfort to the McConville family.” Well, Helen McKendry and Michael McConville wanted Gerry Adams arrested by the PSNI, and if Mary Lou welcomed it she went a funny way about it, saying she was “alarmed” and that the timing was “politically contrived” by unionist elements in the PSNI.

There wasn’t a single Sinn Féin voice raised to welcome the arrest, not one among the 196 fresh-faced candidates they have running in the local elections.

I work with one of them in a community group and you simply could not get better. But whether they deserve it or not, a question mark hangs over all of them now until Adams is cleared or charged.

I confess that I myself have been one of the “bygones be bygones” brigade and when the Taoiseach challenged Adams on the McConville murder in the Dáil last year I thought: “Is he that desperate?”

But I’ve changed my mind and I agree with Ann Travers when she says that the grief and trauma of thousands of people should not be “so easily forgotten” or we will truly be living in what she calls “an amoral society”.

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