On Gaien Higashi Dori
Tuesday, October 28
Discussing Ireland: A Report and No Comment
This much is clear. Jean McConville was abducted from her home in the Divis Flats in the Lower Falls area of West Belfast in 1972, taken to a beach in Co. Louth in the Republic, and shot in the back of the head. McConville had converted from protestantism to catholicism on marrying her husband, Arthur, a former soldier in the British army who had quit to become a builder and who died in 1971, leaving McConville to look after the couple’s 10 children on her own. Jean McConville was one of the nine people who became the "disappeared" of the Troubles.
In his book A Secret History of the IRA, Ed Moloney says McConville was taken because she was a "spotter" for the British army within the IRA stronghold that was the Divis Flats. Moloney claims McConville was a bad informer at that, and that the IRA had been well aware of her activities, and had even warned her once to stop when they found a radio transmitter in her flat, letting her off because she was a single mother of a large family.
Moloney says McConville continued to spy despite the warning, her actions dividing the Belfast Brigade of the IRA over how to dispose of her body. Some wanted to kill her and leave her body in the flats, as a message to others about what happens to informers. Others, possibly including Gerry Adams, he infers, wanted to kill her but make her body “disappear,” worrying about the public backlash it would cause to openly admit to killing a single mother of 10 children. A secretive group within the IRA called the "unknowns" were ordered to kill her. Moloney’s source says the order came from Adams himself, and Moloney, like many others, seems convinced Adams had knowledge of the killing if not a direct role.
Many others—including her children—strongly deny the allegation that McConville was an informer, contending that she was shot because she had committed the "crime" of tending to a British soldier who had been wounded in a gun-battle with the IRA in the flats. Helen McKendry, eldest surviving daughter of McConville, campaigned for years for the IRA to disclose where they buried her mother’s body. In 1994, she and her husband set up the Families of the Disappeared group for this purpose.
No breakthrough was made, however, until after the Good Friday Agreement. In the mood of "truth and reconciliation" after the Agreement, legislation was passed in May 1999 preventing forensic evidence found on the remains of past victims of the Troubles from being used in subsequent cases. On May 28, 1999, the IRA located the first of the victims’s bodies. It also gave the Irish police the locations of the other eight.
On August 23, 2003, the remains of Jean McConville were found on a beach in Co. Louth, over 30 years after she had been "disappeared." After 30 years, the family then had to wait another 8 weeks for forensics to prove it was her body. The IRA released this statement under the P. O’Neill pen-name used by the organization:
"In initiating that investigation our intention was to do all within our power to redress injustices for which we accept full responsibility and to alleviate the suffering of the families, particularly those families who have been unable to bury or properly mourn their relatives."
And now, on October 26, 2003, it seems that McConville’s family have split over how to bury her. Most of the family want to hold a quiet funeral in Lisburn, while Helen McKendry wants the funeral to pass defiantly down the Falls Road in full media spotlight, before being buried in the Milltown Cemetery in West Belfast. McKendry and her husband claim pressure is being put on her brothers and sisters by the IRA to not make a public spectacle of the funeral. She also claims it was the media and her campaigning that found her mother’s body in the first place.
Today, as I was sitting in work listening to Irish radio news over the Internet, I happened upon a radio show featuring two guests: Helen McKendry and Gerry Adams. McKendry made her charges that her family was being pressured about the funeral, and Adams, ever the diplomat, responded with full assurances that nobody, "and I mean nobody," would stop the family of Jean McConville from burying her wherever they wished.
For most of us who live our lives in places of peace, life is a struggle, a struggle to avoid terrible situations, terrible choices, terrible acts. To avoid tarnishing our good name, falling out of favor, being looked down on, being excluded, being targeted. Not to be considered as different, weak, stupid, lazy, soft, not part of the gang. Not to show fear, loneliness, sadness, pain. And we all have those moments, those decisions that come upon us with no warning and must be made in an instant that will define the rest of our lives. We all look back on some of those decisions and agonizingly regret the choices we made, wishing we could relive them, knowing we would do it better this time.