Anyone watching Monday night’s RTÉ 1 documentary on the Disappeared could not fail to be moved by the testimony of the families of those abducted and murdered by the IRA during the 1970s.
For some, while their loved ones are dead, the dreaded memory of that time remains very much alive.
An old pair of blue and white striped trainers were the first sign that the family of 22-year-old Brian McKinney found of him. He disappeared from Andersonstown in Belfast in May 1978 — abducted, bound, dragged to his freshly dug grave and executed with a bullet to the back of his head for his part in the robbery of £70 from an IRA-run social club. It made no difference that, days earlier, Brian’s mother, Margaret, had repaid the money. It took another 21 years before the IRA admitted to his murder and revealed the location of his grave in Co Monaghan.
Kathleen Armstrong’s husband Charlie was disappeared in Aug 1981 on his way to taking an elderly neighbour to Mass. She walked the roads of south Armagh every Sunday for almost 30 years searching for him. The IRA never admitted responsibility, but his remains were eventually found in 2010.
John Garland discovered Jean McConville’s body while walking along Shelling Hill beach in Co Louth, after spotting something sticking out of the sand. When he realised it was human remains, he ran to the car for holy water to bless the body and he said a prayer. McConville, a widowed mother of 10, had been abducted in 1972 but only confirmed dead in 2003.
These are just some of the heartbreaking accounts of some of the darkest days of the Troubles.
For most of us on this island, the worst is over. The Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 provided a blueprint for peace that was followed by an IRA ceasefire and finally a cessation of violence.
But for many people — both north and south of the border — peace is not enough. They need to close a painful chapter in their lives. While some of the families have had their agony lessened by the discovery of their loved ones, others are still missing.
So, who is likely to know where they are buried? According to a constituency colleague, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams is the one man with influence over those with knowledge of these killings.
Gerald Nash, Labour Party TD for Louth, has launched a broadside against his constituency colleague. Coincidentally, Nash embarks today on a trip north to meet with the families of the Disappeared.
“He has it within his capability to help these families,” says Nash. “His immediate tweet in response to the programme, where he appealed for anyone with information to contact either relevant authorities or himself, was pathetic and an affront to decency.”
It is hard to argue with that, particularly as the attitude of Adams contrasts so much with that of Martin McGuinness who has described the IRA’s secret killing and burying of victims as “cruel and unjustified”. McGuinness has never denied being in the IRA. Adams has done so for 30 years.
Who is the more believable?
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