Jean was not an accidental casualty, someone made a decision to kill her
Gerry Adams's comments about Jean McConville's murder only serve to traumatise her family, writes Mairia Cahill
Abducted by four women and four men at gunpoint in front of her 10 children, as some of them clung crying to her legs. Beaten, and driven across the Border to an IRA kangaroo court to meet her fate. Tortured, bones broken, made to kneel on the ground and shot in the head. Thrown into a ready-made grave, and covered over, until the sands of time eventually gave up her remains, 31 years later. "That's what happens in war," according to Gerry Adams speaking on CBS last week.
He couldn't have delivered that line in a more cavalier way if he had tried. Jean McConville was not an accidental casualty of conflict that just "happened".
Someone made the decision to kill her. Someone gave the order to disappear her body. Brendan Hughes, before his death, stated: "That man is now the head of Sinn Fein". Gerry Adams vehemently denies this, and, although arrested and questioned by the PSNI in connection with the investigation into Jean McConville's murder last April, he has not been charged with this crime. He was released pending a report to the Public Prosecution Service, which has yet to take a decision on whether charges should be brought.
Adams's answer to the question, "How do you orphan 10 children, what kind of depravity is that?" was dismissive and contemptuous. He continued: "…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". Irish republican soldiers? His use of such a phrase is an attempt to legitimise the IRA's actions across the board, though it went under the radar due to the widespread shock at the casual delivery of his response.
Despite what some in SF may wish, Jean McConville cannot be shrugged off and swept under the cloak of conflict. The actions of those who murdered her - and who later covered it up - were calculated, barbaric, and worthy of the mark of depraved serial killers. The reason that Jean McConville is one of the most well-known names of those killed, is precisely because of the depravity of her murder and the IRA's actions in its aftermath.
Former Police Ombudsman for the North Nuala O'Loan poignantly described the devastation foisted upon Jean McConville's children by the IRA in a BBC documentary. "Can you imagine being a little boy, and watching men and women come and take your mother and going and talking to people and asking them where she was? Begging for her to come back? The children lived in fear. The family was broken up, and they couldn't find their mother. And they went on, and on, and on looking for their mother over the decades."
The rewriting of history and attempted sanitisation of the IRA's actions during the conflict, dressed up in romanticised rhetoric, is an ongoing project by some republicans to convince the electorate that the IRA were a legitimate army acting under duress against the might of illegal occupation.
They can't have it both ways. Either they allow themselves to be scrutinised and tried under the International Criminal Court, which states that acts of "enforced disappearance" constitute a "crime against humanity" under Article 6, or they admit that they were not engaged in a "war".
Jean McConville's post-mortem results point to torture, another contravention of international war rules. Sinn Fein's attempts to 'explain away' her murder have verged from the ridiculous to the downright cruel, and their comments are now clearly having a torturous effect on her children, some of whom spoke publicly this week.
Mrs McConville's daughter Helen McKendry called Adams "a liar". Michael McConville labelled him a "hypocrite". Sinn Fein continues to defend the IRA's actions by proxy, using the conflict to deflect. In 2005, Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin, now speaker of the North's Assembly, was asked on RTE's Questions and Answers whether he believed the killing of Jean McConville was a crime.
"No, I do not," was his answer, after conceding that it was "wrong". It was more than wrong. It was an absolute atrocity. Gerry Adams's comments on CBS indicate that little has changed. Sinn Fein are prepared to state the obvious, without conceding the obvious. Yes, it was wrong, but… appears to be the order of the day.
The entry of Mary Lou McDonald to defend the Sinn Fein president during the week was ill judged. Although Adams' comments were shocking, people have come to expect his foot-in-mouth syndrome. To defend her leaders' comments on a past that isn't hers, particularly when he is speaking about the murder of a mother of 10, will not sit well with the electorate.
Although she has stated what happened to "the McConville family" was "absolutely horrific and wrong", she needs to also publicly state explicitly that not only was the murder and "disappearance" of Jean McConville a crime, but an act of depravity.
"The truth is, in the course of the conflict, awful things did happen. They happened on all sides," said Mary Lou.
There are, of course, many victims of the conflict in the North, and British troops and loyalists were responsible for "awful things" also. But Sinn Fein have consistently publicly added insult to injury to the McConville family since the IRA belatedly admitted to her murder in 1999.
When Adams was arrested by the PSNI last year it was Mary Lou herself who stated at a press conference that the party believed there was "an old guard" element within policing and that the timing of his arrest was "politically motivated".
A rally was hastily arranged in west Belfast and hundreds of republicans gathered under a 6ft mural of Gerry Adams painted overnight to hear former senior IRA man Bobby Storey, flanked by Martin McGuinness, ominously roar from the platform "that they would dare touch our party leader, the leader of Irish Republicanism!".
Sinn Fein has never apologised to the McConville family for their comments made over the years about their mother, just as the IRA never apologised to them directly for their actions. Republicans have treated the McConvilles appallingly and continue to do so.
The least they can do is to stop traumatising them further with comments that are designed to gloss over the individual horror of the way in which she was murdered by hoping the detail is lost in the wider context of conflict. There is no escape from the spectre of Jean McConville for the republican family. It was shameful and shocking and disgusting and should never be excused.
What would justice be for the McConvilles now? Accountability and taking full responsibility - no ifs or buts. That's what should "happen" in "war", Gerry.
It won't bring their mother back, or account for their stolen childhoods, but it's the least Jean's 10 children deserve. Republicans have put them through enough as it is.