Once discarded like a dead stray, Jean McConville hasn't gone away, you know
Tonight, Gerry Adams will continue to try to justify the murder of Jean McConville, but the fact is, it's unjustifiable, says Ruth Dudley Edwards
Poor Gerry Adams. He's so "sick, sore and tired of a tsunami of stories" based on the Boston tapes "linking me to Mrs McConville's death" that he's putting things straight tonight on CBS's 60 Minutes.
There were the accusations from beyond the grave from his once best friend Brendan Hughes, who claimed that he and Adams agreed that Jean McConville must be murdered because they believed her to be an informer. Hughes was unapologetic about that, for "informers must be executed", but he was less happy at what he said was Adams's decision that she must be disappeared by 'the Unknowns', because it would be bad PR to leave on the street the body of a widow and mother of 10.
The Old Bailey bomber, Dolours Price, talked too, both on a Boston tape and to journalists, alleging Adams was her commanding officer and that in her capacity as a driver for his Unknowns unit, she drove Jean McConville to Dundalk to be executed.
Adams is well used to such accusations coming up in Britain and Ireland, and we are all used to the way he faces them down. He explains that Hughes was bitter about the Good Friday Agreement and that Price had mental troubles, both of which claims are true. But apart from believing that he had sold out all those republicans who killed and died during the Troubles, they felt betrayed by what they claimed were his lies about IRA membership. He had, after all, claimed Dolours Price ordered the Old Bailey bombing. Speaking for her sister Marian as well as herself, she said: "We had taken orders from him on many occasions…to deny his belonging to the IRA…is to offend those of us who partook in what we partook in."
Those of us who were never in the IRA have malicious motives too, according to Adams: we are anti-peace, anti-republican, opposed to the march of Sinn Fein and generally - like the PSNI who arrested him - politically motivated. And so he faces us down whatever we throw at him, and Mary Lou McDonald and his other acolytes assure us that they believe Gerry.
However, Adams faces a real problem in the United States, where respectable Sinn Fein Irish-American supporters as well as those in the Obama administration who care about Ireland were rocked by "Where the Bodies are Buried", a 15,000-word article in the famous New Yorker magazine which investigated in great detail the whole terrible story of Jean McConville. It appeared last month just before St Patrick's Day, and - combined with anger in Washington about Sinn Fein's U-turn on the December Stormont House Agreement - it caused the White House and the State Department to present a cold shoulder to the indignant Adams.
So now he's addressing the accusations head on and preparing once more to deny all.
Just to clarify, no one suggests that Adams killed Mrs McConville himself. On the contrary, what is alleged is that Adams was an IRA commander who kept his own hands clean.
According to a press release from CBS, he tells his interviewer, Scott Pellery, that he was never in the IRA, never "pulled a trigger, ordered a murder or set off a bomb."
Adams is caught. He denies his involvement but he has to justify what happened. In the CBS programme Scott Pelley asks: "How do you orphan 10 children? What kind of depravity is that?"
"That's what happens in wars, Scott," says Adams. "That's not to minimise it, but that's what American soldiers do, British soldiers do, Irish Republican soldiers do, that's what happens in every single conflict."
No, it doesn't. I can't imagine circumstances in which American or British soldiers would deliberately torture and murder a Jean McConville and so mistreat her family afterwards. I don't accept the nauseating excuses (it was the worst year of the Troubles, people in the Falls Road were hysterical about informers, her neighbours fingered her, she was an outsider and so on and on), but even if I did, how could people with any conscience or human sympathy have told her bereft orphans that their mother had run off with a British soldier? How could they have intimidated them, seen them separated and consigned to care and kept her body hidden for all that time.
It's the cruelty that gets to me every time I think about Jean McConville and her family - the cruelty of her torture and murder all those years ago and the cold-hearted, cynical cruelty of the treatment of her 10 children ever afterwards.
Still, there is some justice. So little-known in her hard, impoverished life, and so brutally and ignominiously treated at the end, Jean McConville - once discarded like a dead stray - keeps affronting Adams by coming back to haunt him. That is not what powerless poor people are supposed to do. But she hasn't gone away, you know.