Bad news for SF as the dead still won't Disappear
The discovery of human remains threatens to drag up some awkward questions
Published 28/06/2015 | 02:30
Sinn Fein has again called on the British government to own up about the extent of security force collusion in the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.
It came after a High Court judge last week denied the family leave to challenge the Prime Minister's refusal to hold an inquiry into the 1989 killing, a decision described by Pat Sheehan, MLA for West Belfast, as an "attempt to continue the cover up of the state's central role in the actions of unionist death squads."
The irony is that had Finucane been murdered by the Provisional IRA and then dumped in a bog south of the border for 30 years, rather than on his own doorstep by loyalist paramilitaries aided and abetted by the security forces, SF would now be expressing regret over the incident, before urging observers to move on, because there's nothing to see here and fixating on the past only damages the peace process. That's what they have done in response to last week's news about the discovery of human remains at a farm in Co Meath.
The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains (ICLVR) was digging for the body of Joseph Lynskey, a former Cistercian monk and IRA member who vanished in 1972 in tragic and unsavoury circumstances and whose murder was finally admitted by the IRA in 2010. They have almost certainly stumbled on the bodies of fellow Belfast IRA members Seamus Wright and Kevin McKee instead, who were abducted in the same year.
One need only compare and contrast the language used by SF representatives when describing different events to reveal their attitude to the latest development.
In a blog written two weeks ago, Gerry Adams used the word "terrorists" to describe those who killed nationalists, but would only tell the son of Jean McConville, another of 1972's list of Disappeared, that what the IRA did to his mother was "wrong". Likewise, last week Adams condemned Enda Kenny in emotive language for supporting what the SF president called "brutal, destructive" policies that were designed to "persecute" the Greek people, whilst issuing a flat, formulaic statement on the discovery of these bodies.
The statement ticked all the boxes - praising the IRA for its cooperation; wishing "closure" for the dead men's loved ones; urging anyone with information to bring it forward - but lacked anything which could be called heart.
If the Taoiseach's position in the EU talks is, to quote SF MEP Matt Carthy, "a source of shame and embarrassment", what does that make the republican movement's involvement in a practice of "disappearing" its enemies which has been called a crime against humanity by the International Criminal Court?
SF's attitude to these matters can be summed up in one callous three letter word - but. It was very regrettable, but… it's a terrible tragedy, but...
There are no such qualifications when it comes to those murdered by the State and its agents. "The Finucane family deserve nothing less than the full truth," is how SF spokesperson on justice, Padraig Mac Lochlainn, puts it; though when Gerry Adams was questioned under caution at Antrim police station last year as part of a bid to find answers for the McConville family, republicans threatened to pull the plug on the entire peace process unless he was released quickly without charge. As, indeed, he was.
The message is that some things are best left in the past - buried, literally - whilst other scandals must be exhumed. What makes that particularly interesting at this stage of the North's political evolution is that the murders which SF demands should be exposed to the light are those committed by loyalists in collusion with the British state, while those left in the dark are those committed by republicans who it is highly likely were also in collusion with the British state.
Now why might that be?
The discovery of these remains couldn't have come at a more symbolic moment. Both Seamus Wright and Kevin McKee are alleged to have been British army informers and members of the undercover Military Reaction Force when they were abducted, interrogated and killed in 1972. It was through them that the IRA learned of the existence of an ingenious British army operation which took in laundry from nationalist areas and checked it for traces of explosives to find out which houses were being used by the IRA.
For the British, these are historical matters. Not so for Gerry Adams, who was a senior member of the republican movement in Belfast at the time of some of the IRA's darkest deeds, and therefore not so for SF either, who still have this link to a haunted past as their President.
That's why certain ironies still have enormous resonance. The secret IRA unit which got rid of alleged informers was called 'The Unknowns'. Now everyone knows who they were and what they did. The dead were known as 'The Disappeared', but, far from vanishing, they have never been more visible in public consciousness.
Had the IRA simply dumped their bodies by the roadside, as they did with other victims, they would no longer be an unresolved political issue. The reason they didn't do so in the case of Wright and McKee was because they didn't want to publicly acknowledge that the Second Battalion in the city had been compromised at its core. In making that decision back then, the IRA unwittingly ensured that the same issue would resurface decades later as it slowly begins to emerge that the brutal treatment of informers was actually being directed by those who may themselves have been double agents at a much more senior level.
Clearing out some clutter last week, I happened to find a pamphlet published by SF in 1983. It's called The Informers and it ends with these lines: "Those who accept 'thirty pieces of silver' in exchange for the imprisonment, death and suffering of others will spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulder." How eerily prophetic those words are turning out to be.