Thursday 18 January 2018

Ghosts of the Disappeared will pursue Adams

The dead may not have a voice but the search for 'the Disappeared' is continuing to pose deeply troubling questions about Sinn Féin leader

Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams
Jean McConville with three of her children shortly before her disappearance
A family torn asunder: Police officers sift through tonnes of soil removed from the site belived to contain the remains of Jean McConville in 1999
IRA leader: Gerry Adams, pictured in the mid-1980s, was ‘officer commanding’ of the IRA in Belfast when Jean McConville disappeared
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Gerry Adams cultivates a homely, grandfatherly image as he posts messages on Twitter with surprising regularity. He describes warm baths with rubber ducks, cuddling up with teddy bears and country walks – the safe haven of family life.

As one follows this "ducky ár lá" palaver one is left with the somewhat queasy feeling that the Sinn Féin leader is escaping into an infantile fantasy world.

Could it be that he can't bear to face the grotesque crimes of the IRA?

Nowhere have these crimes been more movingly chronicled than in Darragh MacIntyre's film, The Disappeared, which tells the story of the young widow Jean McConville and other victims who were spirited away and murdered by the paramilitaries.

In the film shown on RTÉ and BBC this week, Adams' former IRA comrade Brendan Hughes, now deceased, says in a taped message: "There's only one man who gave the order for that woman to be executed. That man is now the head of Sinn Féin."

There is no agreement among republicans about whether Hughes was telling the truth.

But Adams was, by common agreement, commander of the Belfast IRA at the time. At the age of 18, according to most accounts, he was sworn into D Company of his local brigade and rose to the top of the organisation.

To put the abduction in context, in the year of Jean McConville's abduction, 281 people were killed by republicans.

Adams himself said: "I had no act or part to play in either the abduction, the killing or burial of Jean McConville."

Whatever the truth about the murder, the story of Jean McConville, as it is retold, will puncture Gerry Adams' self-image as a champion of the oppressed among all but the most gullible or morally brain-dead. And it will raise questions over his continued Sinn Féin leadership.

It also makes it less likely that he could ever be part of a coalition government south of the Border. Who knows what skeletons could suddenly emerge from a bog?

Helen McKendry, the daughter of Jean McConville, now wants her mother's murder to be treated by governments north and south as a war crime.

"If it was any other country, it would be investigated like a war crime," she told Weekend Review from her home near Crossgar, Co Down.

She wants the gardaí to step up their investigation and is also considering a civil court case against those responsible. She says she has had promises of financial support from a wealthy businessman south of the Border.

A spokesman for An Garda Síochána said: "A garda investigation into this matter is ongoing. Investigating gardaí are continuing to liaise closely with the PSNI as part of their inquiries."

Helen, who was 15 when her mother was grabbed by hooded thugs, had to grow up quickly in the anarchic atmosphere of Belfast in the aftermath of the crime.

With barely any food and no income, she was left to look after her younger siblings in a hostile neighbourhood for 12 weeks. Her youngest brothers, the twins Billy and Jim, were just six.

Adult neighbours kow-towed in fear to the IRA godfathers and refused to help, but some children, friends of Helen's, raided food from kitchen cupboards when their parents' backs were turned and gave it to her.

Nevertheless, by the time Helen managed to get help by going to a local civil rights group, the family was going hungry. This was the scenario created by Adams' would-be freedom fighters of the 'socialist' IRA.

"We used to dread coming from school in case we found our mammy dead," Helen said "The IRA ruled and we could not talk to anybody."

Helen McKendry recognised the uncomfortable look on the Sinn Féin leader's face – the tombstone smile that is not a smile – as he was questioned about these events on the documentary this week: how he shifted uncomfortably with an evasive stare, his lips pursed, with his mouth appearing dry.

She first met Adams 21 years ago, after she finally felt the courage to speak out publicly about her mother's abduction.

Until then she was afraid of the IRA, but finally plucked up the courage to highlight the murder.

"It was soon after the anniversary of when she was taken. We arranged for Adams to meet us. He knocked on the door of our house in Poleglass and came in with his bodyguard.

"He then immediately asked to go to the bathroom and it took him 15 or 20 minutes to come out to face me.

"When he came into the living room he couldn't look me in the eye and he couldn't mention my mother's name. He was looking at the ground.

"He may not have put a bullet in my mother's head but he may as well have done so, as far as I am concerned."

Helen McKendry told Weekend Review: "I will campaign on this until the day I die – until I get to the truth."

She has met Gerry Adams several times since that first encounter and even followed him to Louth during the 2011 General Election.

"I told him that Jean McConville will haunt him on his death bed."

Adams may have resolved to help to help find the body, but the IRA did not stop causing her family trouble.

"Through 1995, we received death threats from the bully boys of the IRA and had to move out of our home in Belfast to Co Down."

While stories such as those of the Disappeared prevent Sinn Féin from having a mass appeal south of the Border while he is in charge, nobody is likely to move to oust Gerry Adams within Sinn Féin.

Killian Forde, a former Sinn Féin Dublin councillor who left the party, said: "It is a very hierarchical party that places an enormous premium on loyalty. When he goes, it will be at a time of his own choosing."

One former senior republican said supporters in the North were used to dealing with stories of outrage.

"There was revulsion after bombings, such as Enniskillen (which killed 10 civilians and a police officer at a Remembrance Day service) but republicans came to terms with these incidents."

The long delay by Adams in reporting his brother Liam to police after he confessed to sexual abuse of his daughter has further undermined his credibility and his continued stewardship in the South is increasingly seen as a liability.

Gary Murphy, Professor of Politics at Dublin City University, believes the other-worldliness of Adams on economic issues was more damaging to him than documentaries such as The Disappeared.

"He is yesterday's man. If they are to have any hope of making a breakthrough in the South, they will have to bite the bullet and appoint a leader who is more in tune with what is happening in the South.

"People will not elect Sinn Féin on the basis of a mythical 32-county republic, but because they believe it will benefit them in the pocket."

Prof Murphy said: "Adams was pretty woeful at the last general election, and showed himself to be an economic dunce."

As the grisly events of the Troubles were recalled this week, there was a noticeable lack of voluble support for the leader from party stalwarts south of the Border.

They did not show much empathy for the families of the Disappeared, but they were not queuing up to back their leader either.

Sinn Féin had to insist that its midweek declaration that it had received tapes from Anglo Irish Bank was not a smokescreen aimed at deflecting attention from the embattled leader and the cases of the Disappeared.

In the weeks after Jean McConville's abduction, her daughter, still no more than a child, received just one hint from the IRA that she wasn't coming back. Helen tells how a nervous young man called at her home, asked for her by name, and handed her her mother's purse before disappearing. It included her engagement and wedding rings.

Ten years ago, Jean McConville's body was finally found by accident on Shelling beach in Co Louth. But her family has still not found justice. Until they do, Jean McConville's death and those of hundreds of other victims will continue to cast a dark shadow over Sinn Féin and the leadership of Gerry Adams. The republican leader will continue to be haunted by these events and until he comes clean the world of rubber ducks and teddy bears will offer no escape.

Irish Independent

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