The former First Minister was a polarising figure but eventually became key to Northern Ireland's fragile peace process.Aljazeera
12 Sept 2014Protestant preacher and former Northern Ireland leader Ian Paisley has died at the age of 88, his Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has said.
After years of opposing reconciliation with Irish Republicans in the British-ruled province, Paisley's unlikely alliance with his Catholic rivals helped belatedly to bring peace to Northern Ireland.
Paisley was one of Northern Ireland's most polarising politicians throughout its three decades of civil strife, during which the evangelist's blistering oratory was often blamed for fueling the bloodshed that claimed 3,700 lives.
In 2007, however, he delivered the province's first stable unity government between Protestants and Catholics.
"Dr No," as he was widely known, finally said yes, and his powerful U-turn cemented a peace process that he had previously done so much to frustrate.
From the conflict in Northern Ireland's earliest days, Paisley had prophesied damnation for any Protestant politician or church leader who dared to build bridges with the Catholic Church and Irish nationalists.
As the leading light of hardline Unionism, which wants to maintain links to the United Kingdom, he had opposed any concession to the mainly Catholic nationalist community's desire for closer ties with the Irish Republic to the south.
He refused to join the talks that led to the Good Friday agreement that provided for a power-sharing government between the main Protestant and Catholic communities, objecting to sharing a table with Sinn Fein, the political ally of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) guerrilla movement.Unlikely alliance
He consistently opposed the agreement as a sell-out of Northern Irish Protestants' British heritage, and his mantra of "No surrender" to the IRA appeared to make him ill-suited to run the province when he became first minister in 2007.
Once in office, he forged an unlikely friendship with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, a senior Sinn Fein figure and a former member of the IRA, with whom he gained the nickname "the Chuckle Brothers".
"I think we confounded the world by him, a pro-British, pro-Unionist politician, being able to work in a positive spirit with myself, an Irish Republican," McGuinness told the Irish national broadcaster RTE.
"A friendship grew out of that, and it's a friendship that lasted to this very day."
Yet at Paisley's insistence, they never shook hands. McGuinness said he understood and did not push the issue.
Paisley stepped down as leader of the government and the Democratic Unionists in 2008. The coalition between his party and Sinn Fein continued to govern Northern Ireland with harmony, but far less humour.
He retired from the House of Commons in 2010 and from Northern Ireland's Assembly in 2011. The British government elevated him to the upper House of Lords, giving him the title Lord Bannside, a reference to the river that divides Northern Ireland.
He is survived by his wife, three daughters, two sons and many grandchildren.
Northern Ireland secretary says IRA members who received 'letters of comfort' should no longer rely on them
Henry McDonaldThe Guardian
3 Sept 2014IRA "on-the-runs" should realise that they can no longer rely on secret letters given to them to escape prosecution from past Northern Ireland Troubles-related crimes, the secretary of state Teresa Villiers has told a parliamentary committee.
But the government will not be publishing any of the names of the IRA activists who were brought into the scheme that critics say gave republicans get-out-of-jail cards, Villiers also confirmed on Wednesday.
More than 200 IRA members who fled to the Irish Republic or further afield to escape prosecution hold so-called "letters of comfort" which Tony Blair's government drew up during the final phase of the peace process. Villiers warned IRA members who received these letters that "they should not rely upon them any longer".
In a message to the IRA fugitives, she said: "If they drew some comfort from these letters in the past they should not do so in the future."
She accepted that there had been a "very serious failure in the way the scheme was run".
Villiers told the Northern Ireland affairs committee there would be a "clear general statement to parliament" to publicly confirm that the letters were no longer "get-out-of-jail cards" for wanted IRA fugitives.
Villiers said there was "no 100% guarantee" that the production of these letters in court could not result in the collapse of future trials of IRA fugitives.
The existence of the letters to some of the IRA's most wanted emerged during the trial of John Downey, a convicted IRA member, earlier this year. Downey stood accused of being behind the 1982 Hyde Park bombings in which 11 soldiers were killed. The trial against the 62-year-old Donegal man collapsed when his legal team produced one of the letters, which stated that the police were no longer seeking him for any Troubles-related crimes.
The North Down MP Sylvia Hermon challenged Villiers to publish the names of all the IRA members who had received the letters. But the secretary of state said she had taken a decision not to publish the names of those on the scheme due to issues of personal security and the rights to privacy of individuals under European legislation.
Villiers acknowledged that the existence of the scheme was "extremely hurtful" to IRA victims, but she said: "The publication of the names of those who went through the scheme would not be appropriate."
There was a further exchange between Lady Hermon and the secretary of state over the 13 convicted IRA members given full royal pardons. Villiers rejected Hermon's demand that these 13 be named.
"In effect secretary of state, some people are above the law?" Hermon asked.
In response to unionist anger over the clandestine scheme drawn up between the Blair government and Sinn Féin, David Cameron announced a judicial inquiry into the deal.
Lady Justice Hallett, who led the inquiry, found serious failings in the on-the-runs scheme – but also that letters sent to terrorism suspects "did not amount to an amnesty".
As well as Downey, other leading republican fugitives were given "letters of comfort" from the then Labour government.
These include Rita O'Hare, who is wanted in connection with attacks on British troops in the early 1970s and once ran Sinn Féin's office in Washington DC.
Other on-the-runs are Owen Carron, the former Sinn Féin MP who succeeded Bobby Sands as MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone after Sands's death in the 1981 hunger strike; and two men wanted in connection with the murder of the garda Gerry McCabe in the Irish Republic in 1996, one of whom now lives in Latin America.
Opinion: ‘Sadly, the 20th anniversary of the ceasefires has been marked by the death of one of the most important of its authors, Albert Reynolds, and a few months previously of the most vital of intermediaries, Fr Alex Reid’
Martin ManserghIrish Times
4 Sept 2014‘The Downing Street Declaration proved to be the hoped-for catalyst for peace.’ British prime minister, John Major, with the taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, during a press conference in London, following the Downing Street declaration. (Photograph: Peter Thursfield / THE IRISH TIMES) Until 1993-1994, the prospects of achieving peace in Northern Ireland any time soon seemed bleak. Each year, in the latter stages of the conflict, between 80 and 100 people met violent deaths, with many more badly injured, bereaved or otherwise traumatised. Whether victims were random or targeted, the risks restricted normal life in countless ways. There was always a danger that a series of retaliatory attacks would go out of control and ratchet up the scale of casualties.
Neither the Republic nor Great Britain, though less affected, were immune. The best efforts of their governments and security forces had not succeeded in creating a negotiated settlement across the middle ground or in defeating the paramilitary campaigns.
British-Irish relations were often strained, despite their increasing institutionalisation; and North-South relations were constantly so. The economic effects were negative and held back the whole island. There were unwanted side effects in terms of organised crime and the spread of the drugs culture, which might have been better checked if Garda resources had been less tied up in Border security. The reputation of Ireland abroad suffered, with the island sometimes depicted as still being caught up in an atavistic religious war.
There had been numerous initiatives, governmental and otherwise, to restore peace since the early 1970s. Many of them represented important building blocks or stages towards the ultimate goal, Sunningdale and the Anglo-Irish Agreement being the most important examples. By the early 1990s the futility, cruelty and dangers of ongoing conflict were apparent to nearly everyone, but what was missing was any mechanism for ending it with the support of militants most closely involved.
Sadly, the 20th anniversary of the ceasefires has been marked by the deaths of one of the most important of its authors, former taoiseach Albert Reynolds, and a few months previously of the most vital of intermediaries, Fr Alex Reid.Political risk
On taking office, Reynolds took up the threads of an initiative arising from discussions between John Hume and Gerry Adams, which would involve a statement of principles between taoiseach and British prime minister. To bring this to a point where it could be considered by the British government, Reynolds took the considerable political risk of authorising direct contact with the leadership of what was euphemistically described as the republican movement.
Later, he recognised the need to develop additional lines of communication with both moderate unionist opinion and loyalism. There was initially much resistance to this approach from the British side, but eventually British prime minister John Major agreed to negotiate what became the Downing Street declaration of December 15th, 1993. It proved to be the hoped-for catalyst for peace.
While rehearsing and developing the exclusively peaceful and democratic means by which Irish unity could be brought about, if the people in both parts of Ireland so consented in an act of concurrent self-determination, it also confirmed that the door was open for full participation in future negotiations and normal democratic life for all those who definitively renounced any further resort to violence. A lengthy statement of the need to build trust with unionists and a set of rights that loyalists were prepared to recognise were also incorporated.
Northern Ireland secretary due to give evidence to parliamentary select committee on controversial amnesty scheme
Henry McDonaldThe Guardian
3 Sept 2014The Northern Ireland secretary, Theresa Villiers, is giving evidence to a parliamentary committee on a secret controversial scheme to allow IRA fugitives to return home, which one unionist MP claims she will rescind as null and void.
Villiers will outline the government's position on the On-the-run scheme, which a judge ruled was not an amnesty for past crimes related to the Troubles.
About 200 IRA members who had fled to the Irish Republic or further afield to escape prosecution hold "letters of comfort", which Tony Blair's government drew up during the final phase of the peace process.
The existence of the letters to some of the IRA's most wanted emerged during the trial of John Downey, a convicted IRA member, earlier this year. Downey stood accused of being behind the 1982 Hyde Park bombings. The trial against Downey, 62, from Donegal, collapsed when his legal team produced one of the letters, which stated that the police were no longer seeking him for any Troubles-related crimes.
In response to unionist anger over the clandestine scheme drawn up between the Blair government and Sinn Féin, David Cameron announced a judicial inquiry into the deal.
Lady Justice Hallett, who led the inquiry, found serious failings in the OTR administrative scheme, but also that letters sent to terrorism suspects "did not amount to an amnesty".
Villiers will speak about the scheme on Wednesday to the Northern Ireland select committee at Westminster.
As well as Downey, there are other leading republican fugitives who were given "letters of comfort" from the then Labour government.
These include Rita O'Hare, who is wanted in connection with attacks on British troops in the early 1970s and once ran Sinn Féin's office in Washington.
Other OTRs are Owen Carron, the former Sinn Féin MP who succeeded Bobby Sands as MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone after the hunger striker's death in 1981, and two men wanted in connection with the murder of garda Gerry McCabe in the Irish Republic in 1996, one of whom lives in Latin America.
One unionist MP, Jeffrey Donaldson of the Democratic Unionist party, claimed on Wednesday that Villiers will announce the scheme is null and void.
The Lagan Valley MP said: "We have made it clear all along that these letters were unacceptable and called on the secretary of state to rescind them. It's unacceptable in a democratic society that anyone could be deemed in any sense to be above the law in terms of their involvement in terrorist activity.
"We hope that the NIO [Northern Ireland Office] will send out a very clear message that victims are entitled to justice and there is no question of an amnesty being granted for a terrorist crime."
Four decades after her mother was abducted and murdered by the IRA, Helen McKendry is still seeking justice
Elizabeth DayThe Guardian
6 July 2014Helen McKendry, daughter of Jean McConville: 'We knew the IRA had taken her, but being 15 you don't think they're going to kill her.' Helen holds the only photograph the family has of their mother. (Photo from Independent.ie.) The year 1972 was the worst of Helen McKendry's life. It started with the death of her father, Arthur McConville, from a brain tumour in January. It ended with the brutal abduction and murder of her mother, Jean, by the Provisional IRA just before Christmas.
Jean McConville was 38 at the time and the mother of 10 children. On the evening of 7 December a mob of four women and eight men stormed into the family's home in the Divis Tower in Belfast, a high-rise block of flats that looms over the intersection between the Falls and Shankill roads.
The 15-year-old McKendry had gone out to get fish and chips for tea. She left behind her six younger siblings, ranging in age from 11 to six-year-old twins. They witnessed their mother being hauled out of the flat at gunpoint and bundled into the back of a van, struggling for her life.
"When I came back, the kids were all screaming and shouting, 'They've taken our mother!'" McKendry recalls. "I was out of the house for 20 minutes. When I came back, she was gone. That was the time it took to take her."
She never saw her mother again. For a long time, the orphaned McConville children never knew what had happened to her. They were mystified as to why she had been targeted. There were rumours, in the aftermath, that their mother had been passing information to the British forces because her husband, Arthur, had been a soldier in the British army, like his father before him. There were whispers, too, that she had abandoned her family to pursue a love affair with a British soldier or that she had gone to live with a loyalist paramilitary and that she'd had more children with him.
"I'd like to know how, given she had a hysterectomy after the twins," McKendry says now with a short, bitter laugh.
McConville was taken at the height of the Troubles, at a time when the long-running conflict between unionists and republicans had escalated into regular bomb attacks and terrifying sprees of violence. It was a nightmarish era when bad things just happened and no one wanted to ask questions as to why they were happening for fear of swift and brutal reprisal. For years, no one spoke out. The police did not investigate properly. The children were split up and went into care.
In 1999, the IRA finally admitted responsibility for the murder. Jean McConville's body was not recovered until 2003, when it was found by walkers on Shelling Hill beach in Co Louth, across the border in the Irish Republic. In the intervening years, a fragile peace had broken out, cemented by the 1998 Good Friday agreement and the eventual disarmament of the IRA.The sons of Jean McConville carry her remains to St Pauls church, in October 2003, past Divis Tower, from where she was abducted. (Photograph: Getty Images)
More than four decades have passed since the night of her mother's abduction but McKendry still remembers every detail with horrible clarity. She remembers that her mother was wearing black trousers, a white blouse and a purple cardigan. She remembers that her mother had been running a bath. She remembers, too, the last thing Jean ever said to her: "Don't be stopping for a sneaky smoke. Get straight back."
McKendry chuckles as she repeats the words. She is sitting on a garden chair on the open terrace of the house near Strangford Lough she shares with her husband, Seamus. The house has wooden shutters and flowerbeds filled with mature roses, and overlooks a stretch of fields. The beauty and peace of the setting sit oddly with the story McKendry is recounting. But the deep lines on her 56-year-old face tell a different tale: of endurance, pain and survival. She takes a final long drag on a cigarette, stubbing it out in an ashtray already littered with butts.
"I'm back on the cigarettes, which I was off for the last year," McKendry says. "And then, come April, when Mr Adams was arrested, the first thing I did was reach for a cigarette."
Just over two months ago, Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Féin, was arrested by Northern Ireland police in connection with the Jean McConville murder. His name had been cited by two former republicans, Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, in a series of interviews with ex-paramilitaries conducted by Boston College in America as part of an oral history project on the Troubles. The tapes were made on the proviso that no material would be released until after the participants' death.
But the Police Service of Northern Ireland launched a legal battle in 2011 to gain access to the transcripts and they were eventually handed over. Both Price and Hughes, who viewed Adams as a traitor for negotiating the Good Friday Agreement, had claimed that he was involved in McConville's murder and that McConville was an informer to the British army. Hughes, a former hunger striker, alleged that Adams, as a fellow IRA commander, had ordered McConville's killing and her secret burial so that her death could not be blamed on the organisation.
When Adams presented himself at a police station on the evening of 30 April for questioning, he dismissed the case against him as "malicious allegations". Sinn Féin said the arrest was politically motivated, coming as it did just a few weeks before the European elections. He was released after four days of questioning.
But McKendry believes that Adams was involved. She is waiting to see whether there is enough evidence for the Public Prosecution Service to proceed. If not, she is considering mounting a civil action against him.
Have the McKendrys ever confronted Adams with what they claim to know?
"We had a meeting with him years ago, in early 1995," says Seamus. "He arrived at our front door on a Sunday with bodyguards…"
"…like he was a celebrity," Helen interjects.
"It was all the usual bullshit," Seamus continues. "[He said] 'Sinn Féin can say categorically they aren't involved.' He wouldn't look Helen in the eye."
"He wouldn't use my mother's name," she says. "He just referred to her as 'she' and 'her'."
At some point during the meeting, Helen started listing the names of the people she believed to have been involved in the abduction of her mother.
"Each name, he'd say: 'Och, I know her. She's a great girl. There's no way she'd do anything like that,'" says Seamus, shaking his head.
Despite seven arrests, the only suspect charged to date in relation to the McConville case is veteran republican Ivor Bell. The 77-year-old former IRA negotiator with the British government has been charged with aiding and abetting the murder, which he denies. Even if he is found guilty, the other members of the mob who broke into the McConville flat that winter's night in 1972 are still at large.
Today, the McKendrys insist they are ready to cooperate with the police. "I will name names," says Helen. "I'm not scared of dying. If I die, I know I have five children who will carry on the campaign." Helen is convinced she knows who kidnapped and killed her mother, terrorising six small children in the process and dramatically changing the course of her own life. She says she sees some of them in the street. Once, she ran into one of them in McDonald's in Belfast when she was with her 15-year-old daughter and the woman in question started shouting at McKendry to stop "harassing" her.
Whoever the perpetrators might be, there is little doubt that there has been a conspiracy of silence around the McConville killing. For years she was categorised simply as one of the "disappeared" – one of the lost people abducted, killed and buried at secret locations by the IRA whose ghosts were never quite laid to rest.
Even now that her body has been found, feelings still run high. On the drive out to the McKendrys' house there is a red-brick wall on the outskirts of Belfast scrawled with graffiti denouncing Jean McConville as a "tout" (local slang for an informer).
It is an accusation McKendry has no time for – and indeed a police ombudsman investigation found no evidence to support the charge that she was an informer. "My mother brought us up to respect law and order," she says. "Any sign of trouble at all, she made sure we were all in the house. If she heard my brothers were picking up stones to throw, she'd have been mental, like."
But in the Lower Falls district, it was Jean McConville's misfortune to stand out. She had been born a Protestant, had married a British soldier and had no family roots in the area. She had once been seen helping a wounded British soldier in the street outside her home. Her card was marked.
When, in the autumn of 1972 the Provo leadership in Belfast was concerned about information being passed to British soldiers by local women attending discos in the army barracks at Mulhouse Street, it seems they decided to make an example of someone. They chose Jean McConville.
There are those who believe the McKendrys should let sleeping dogs lie, that by continuing their fight for justice they are raking over the past and doing more harm than good. They point out that if Adams is put on trial, it has the potential to derail Northern Ireland's fragile peace.
"Those who say that have never really been harmed by what went on in this country," Helen insists. "It's easy for them to say. I just want them to tell the truth. That's all."
The McKendrys are used to threats – in 2000, their neighbour's barn was set on fire in an attack the police believe was meant for them. Until three years ago, they had security cameras surrounding the house and a direct line to the police station.
"We took everything down," says Helen. "I didn't want my grandchildren being around it. That's not a way to live. I spent my life being afraid of those people and I refuse to do it any longer."
Isn't she scared?
"No," she says. "Not at all. Because if I give up fighting, they've won."Jean McConville's children being interviewed on TV in 1973, after their mother had been abducted.
It took a long time for Helen McKendry to fight. In the immediate aftermath of her mother's disappearance, she was left in charge of her younger siblings. Her older brother and sister went to live at their grandmother's. Her eldest brother, Robert, had been interned as soon as he turned 17, after the authorities deemed him a terror suspect. So at the age of 15, McKendry found herself in loco parentis. She had no money and no one she trusted to call on for help. For a week she roamed the local streets, looking for her mother.
"We knew the IRA had taken her," McKendry says now. "But being 15, you don't think they're going to kill her."
For six long weeks, she battled to keep everyone's head above water. Clothes went unwashed because she had no money to go to the launderette. She had to beg neighbours for bread and butter. On Christmas Eve, a community worker turned up and took her to the local shop where a shopkeeper handed over a bag of toys.
"He told me my mother had been paying those toys off for weeks," says McKendry. "That Christmas morning, no one wanted to know. And the Christmas before, we'd had to take the decorations down because my father was expected to die on Christmas Day."
In January, a man appeared at the door and handed over Jean McConville's purse, which contained 52p and three of her rings. Still, McKendry refused to believe her mother was dead: "I thought they'd found it somewhere."
Eventually, McKendry cracked. The younger children were "going a little bit wild. I think it was to draw attention to ourselves so that someone would help, but no one did… I just couldn't take it any more so I asked welfare to take us into care. We were all split into different homes."
She talks neutrally, in an even tone. There is no visible emotion as she recounts this horrifying period of her young life. Her entire demeanour suggests a kind of forced acceptance, as though terror and trauma were simply things you had to live with and get through as best you could. Because Belfast in the 1970s was a place where you got used to mayhem.
The McConvilles had already been "hit from every side" during the course of the Troubles. Jean, born a Protestant, had converted to Catholicism to marry her husband. In 1969, the family were dragged out of their house in a loyalist area and made to leave. When they ended up in Divis Tower, their home was raided "every other night" by the IRA.
"You just lived with it," McKendry explains. "You spent half your time outdoors because there was a bomb indoors. We didn't have normal teenage years. You hadn't really much of a life."
Nor was this the first time Jean McConville had been kidnapped. McKendry says that the night before her death, the IRA had bundled her into a van and taken her to a derelict building but she had managed to escape and was later found by soldiers wandering the streets barefoot and bedraggled.
"I had to go to the barracks and bring her home," says McKendry. "She didn't want to go to bed. She barricaded up the front door. I begged her to go to her mother in east Belfast, but she wouldn't do it."
Her decision to stay with her family would prove to be a fatal one. And it would have lasting consequences on the lives of all her children.
When the children were taken into care, Helen ended up in Nazareth Lodge, a children's home run by nuns on Belfast's Ravenhill Road. She hated it. The nuns were strict and subjected their charges to physical punishments.
"We weren't shown any love or affection or anything," Helen recalls.
"They ran it like a stalag," says Seamus.
It was at Nazareth Lodge that the couple first met. Seamus had been working in the home as an apprentice joiner for his uncle and he remembers Helen catching his eye in the canteen. Two years later, they met again at a working men's club where Helen was waitressing. They married at 18.
From the beginning Seamus, who describes himself as "a serving republican", was committed to finding out the truth of what had happened to Jean McConville. But he told his young wife that if he ever discovered she had indeed been an informer, he would walk away.
"As a friend said to me: 'You must be the only man in Ireland going out looking for his mother-in-law.'" He laughs.
Tentatively, the couple began putting out feelers – asking the odd discreet question here and there and seeking out people who might be able to tell them what happened. But it wasn't until Helen's eldest sister, Agnes, died in 1992 at the age of 39 that she realised she had to go further. Agnes had suffered a brain injury as a baby and lived a life in and out of institutions.
"The coffin came into the house and I looked inside and she looked so like my mother – so like her," Helen says. "I made a promise to my sister that she would be the last one to go to her grave without knowing what had happened to my mother.
"Before the campaign I suffered an awful lot with depression. I was drinking. I relied on drink to get me to sleep at night and I didn't want to be an alcoholic. The only thing to do was get off my arse and do something about it."
By the early 1990s, Northern Ireland was changing. There was open talk of a ceasefire. On the 22nd anniversary of Jean McConville's disappearance, Helen gave an interview to a local radio show demanding that the Provisional IRA admit responsibility for the killing. For years, she had lived with the shameful feeling that no one believed her.
"The day the programme came out, the phone was ringing off the wall," she says. "Call after call after call of people saying 'We're so sorry, we never knew…'"
Her candour encouraged many other relatives of missing loved ones to come forward and the issue of the "disappeared" finally emerged from the silent shadows.
But it hasn't been easy. Her openness caused a rift with some of her siblings, who thought the best thing to do was to keep quiet. Her brother Michael had told his children their grandmother died of cancer. It seemed less painful that way.
It has taken a toll, too, on the McKendrys' marriage and their five children. There were occasions when they thought they wouldn't make it. They had blazing rows and Seamus would disappear for days at a time.
"It was pent-up anger," he says now. "Campaigning publicly gave us a release valve."Jean McConville (left) with three of her children before she vanished in 1972. (Photograph: Pa/PA Archive/Press Association Image)
At one point they thought about emigrating to Australia, but Helen couldn't leave with questions unanswered. She still can't.
She tells me she is not resentful about the past – there's no point: she was just unlucky to get caught up in the mayhem. In the end, all you could do in that mad, mad time was withstand. All you could do was keep on surviving. You couldn't try to understand it.
"It makes no sense," she says. "What should have been the best years of our lives were ruined. And for what?"
There is only one photograph of Jean McConville. It's black-and-white, a bit blurry. Over the years, Helen has got used to posing with it in her hands for television interviewers and newspaper photographers, but she doesn't think it does her mother justice. She was, Helen says, a good-looking woman – dark-haired and olive-skinned, what the Irish call a "Galway Spaniard". The photograph doesn't capture her, not entirely.
Helen prefers to remember her at a party, when both her parents were still alive.
"My mother didn't drink but somebody had given her a drink that night and she got up and started singing," Helen recalls. "My father was very embarrassed. He was saying 'We have to get you home.' She sang I'm Nobody's Child. She always loved that sort of country and western music."
McKendry lets the thought drift, like a wisp of smoke from the cigarettes she should have given up. It was the last song Jean McConville would ever sing: Nobody's Child, but somebody's mother to the end.
As a member of the Guildford Four, a victim of one of Britain's worst miscarriages of justice
Gareth Peirce The Guardian
Sunday 22 June 2014 Gerry Conlon outside the Old Bailey, central London, after his conviction was quashed in 1989. (Photograph: Photopress Belfast)
When Gerry Conlon, who has died aged 60 of lung cancer, met survivors of the US's Guantánamo Bay detention camp, he found that their 21st-century experiences mirrored his in the 1970s. He too had been hooded, shackled and subjected to rendition – from his home in Northern Ireland to a police station in Surrey – threatened, brutalised and tortured until he confessed to the IRA bombings in 1974 of pubs in the garrison towns of Guildford and Woolwich. Yet the claim that four innocent and improbable young people were responsible should have been immediately derailed by the cast-iron alibis of two. Instead, the intimidation of alibi witnesses, or in the case of Gerry, the burial of a statement that proved he could not have been anywhere but at a hostel in Kilburn, north-west London, for young Irish men, overcame that obstacle.
Even more inconveniently, the IRA unit that had carried out some 60 other attacks to which Guildford and Woolwich were identical was captured. Three years later, in 1977, the court of appeal heard first hand the testimony of the IRA unit – they were responsible and no one else. Nonetheless, the four appellants were sent back to prison for another 12 years.
In 1980, Gerry's father Guiseppe died in an English prison. He had travelled from Belfast to rescue his son, only to be charged together with Gerry's aunt, uncle, cousins and a family friend, with possession of explosives. This time it was the turn of the scientists, who asserted falsely that the hands of each tested positive for nitro-glycerine.
Born in Belfast, growing up in the impoverished, warm and close-knit community of the Lower Falls Road, Gerry was the much-loved son of Guiseppe and Sarah. Guiseppe's death from emphysema was exacerbated by working in a lead factory; Sarah, a cleaner in the kitchens at the Royal Victoria Hospital, lived to see Tony Blair's apology in 2005 for Guiseppe's imprisonment, three years before her own death.
Gerry's childhood was one he described as happy. He scraped through primary school at Raglan Street, and at St Peter's secondary school engineered his demotion to class 1D from class 1C, where many of the boys were too studious for his liking. Class 1C learned Gaelic and the orientation of the history that was taught was Irish; had he stayed in that class he considered later he might have possessed a greater awareness of the history of Ireland and a more defined Republican point of view. Instead, he clattered through life in Belfast as a minor delinquent, scuttling back and forth to London.
In no way equipped with self-discipline or even physical stamina or fortified with any political rationale for his fate, he entered the hell of the English prisons of the 1970s, when to be Irish – and even more, IRA – was to be in danger. Year after year of solitary confinement, punishment imposed for endlessly angrily asserting his innocence, movement without notice from prison to prison, often just when his mother was using her one week's holiday to visit her husband and her son at different ends of England, humiliation, degradation and fear nevertheless fuelled an insistence that he could and would take charge of his own fate.
He clamoured and shouted and wrote and in the later years telephoned and besieged the great and the good until gradually there was movement, by the slowest of degrees. The release when it came, came with the sudden falling of the citadel; all of the evidence had been fabricated. Everyone had been wrong and he had been right.
The euphoria of release almost immediately evaporated in the pandemonium of public attention; the longed for reunion was with a family too damaged to accommodate the ways in which he was haunted by demons. He had nevertheless an acute, intelligent and articulate raw voice which vividly communicated his experience of injustice. From his book Proved Innocent (1991) there followed a film, In the Name of the Father (1993).
However, for many years he fell into an abyss from which he could not climb out, hiding like a recluse in a tiny apartment in Plymouth, Devon, knowing no one, physically and mentally broken. Unable to find joy, he resorted to drugs, attempting to experience what was otherwise inaccessible. Finally, a psychologist in Plymouth and a psychiatrist in Belfast began to identify, if not to fix, some of the broken pieces; Gerry's persistent reactivation of trauma was as bad as any observed throughout the conflict in Northern Ireland; he exhibited extraordinary recall, remembering the pattern of the policeman's tie in the Surrey police station, the tic of the prosecutor's face, the horror of his father's last days. Every night was a torment.
But despite these struggles, this brave and endearing human being made an enormous mark. He travelled all over Australia to challenge injustices there, most emphatically those to the indigenous Australian population; he spoke at every prestigious university in the US about innocent prisoners; he proffered himself as the best evidence of why the death penalty should be abolished, he visited the family of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and campaigned for his release, berating Irish Americans for their instinctive failure to extend their support to a new suspect community, the Muslims, in the same way they had to him when he was wrongly detained.
The diagnosis of his cancer came three weeks before his death, and in that time he came to understand the volume of affection for him across the world.
He is survived by his partner, his daughter and two sisters.
• Gerard Conlon, born 1 March 1954; died 21 June 2014
Restrictions may hide details of former IRA members Freddie Scappaticci, known as Stakeknife, and Martin McGartland
Owen Bowcott and Henry McDonald The Guardian
15 June 2014Two partially secret court hearings involving Northern Ireland informers are due to take place in London and Belfast this week, as the government deploys fresh legal powers.
The applications for closed material procedures (CMPs) appear designed to prevent details emerging about the controversial roles of Freddie Scappaticci, the west Belfast man alleged to be the military informer codenamed Stakeknife, who ran the IRA's internal security unit in the 1990s; and Martin McGartland, a former RUC agent who infiltrated the IRA. Lawyers allege the cloak of national security is being used to resist legitimate claims.
The coincidence of restrictions being imposed on both historic intelligence cases suggests Whitehall departments and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) are determined to exploit the controversial procedure in domestic as well as international cases. Earlier this year, the Northern Ireland Office indicated it would also apply for a secret hearing in a third case involving a former dissident republican who was reimprisoned after his release on licence was revoked without the full reason being given.
CMPs allow the judge and one party to a civil dispute to see sensitive evidence but prevent claimants and the public from knowing precisely what is being alleged. They were introduced by the Justice and Security Act, which came into force late last year. Most of the arguments during the legislation's passage through parliament focused on operations of the intelligence services in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The more commonly used public interest immunity (PII) certificates prevent evidence being used by either side in a court case. CMPs add a new legal weapon to the government's armoury, permitting intelligence to be introduced into a case but withheld in full from a claimant. Supporters, including the cabinet minister Ken Clarke, who ushered the act through parliament, argue it enables the government to resist ill-founded claims. Critics say courtroom battles are no longer fought on a level playing field.
The Belfast case has been brought by Margaret Keeley – whose husband was the MI5 informer known by the pseudonym Kevin Fulton – against the Ministry of Defence, the PSNI and Scappaticci. She alleges she was wrongly arrested and falsely detained in 1994 to protect her husband.
Her solicitor, Kevin Winters of KRW Law, Belfast, told the Guardian: "In order to proceed with her claim against the British government for the violation of her human rights, Mrs Keeley requires disclosure of documents relating to her arrest and interrogation and the collusive role of the state in this.
"Both the MoD and PSNI have applied for such information only to be disclosed to the judge and a special advocate in a closed material hearing. This is a controversial procedure under the recent Justice and Security Act 2013, which means that Mrs Keeley will be excluded from the assessment of the material.
"[We] oppose these applications for CMPs. This procedure is not applicable to historical intelligence material which is no longer live and was never intended for use in proceedings relating to the conflict-related cases. The procedure is an offence to the principle of open justice."
Scappaticci rose through the republican movement to head its internal security unit or "headhunters". Their task was to unmask, interrogate and kill informers working inside the IRA. But at the same time as Scappaticci was overseeing the murder of state agents, he was providing RUC special branch and MI5 with high-grade intelligence on senior IRA figures and operations. At first he and Sinn Féin denied he was working as an informer but the republican leadership has since admitted Scappaticci was Stakeknife, although Scappaticci has always denied it.
Nogah Ofer, of Bhatt Murphy solicitors, who represents McGartland, said: "The claim is only to do with resettlement. There's nothing in it that requires exploration of his work as an IRA informant.
"It's purely that they failed to provide for psychiatric help for his injuries and failed to pay the disability benefits they had promised. He was shot by the IRA in 1999. There have been public statements by state bodies about him confirming his former role, including that he has given valuable service to the state.
"He was named in the Bloody Sunday inquiry so the government cannot rely on saying they 'neither confirm nor deny' his role when it[The government] has already confirmed publicly that he has been an agent. There's no need for closed hearings. It's part of a pattern of creeping secrecy."
McGartland worked for the security services in Northern Ireland between 1987 and 1991 when his cover was blown. He was kidnapped by the IRA but managed to escape by jumping from a third-floor window.
He was moved to north-east England but was tracked down after his address was released during a trial. He was shot seven times but survived and now suffers from post-traumatic stress.
9 May 2014
• Wee Oscar's Twitter account: https://twitter.com/Wee_Oscar Five-year-old Oscar Knox passed away on ThursdayOscar Knox, the County Antrim boy whose long battle against an aggressive form of cancer captured the hearts of many people in Northern Ireland, has died.
Oscar, who was five, died on Thursday after a two-and-a-half year battle with neuroblastoma.
His family launched the Oscar Knox Appeal campaign during his illness.
On Friday they tweeted: "Our beautiful, amazing and much loved son Oscar James Knox gained his angel wings yesterday afternoon. Sleep tight little man."
In a full statement, his family said: "Oscar has brought unimaginable joy to our family with his smile and his infectious personality.
"Our little superhero achieved so much in his short life and inspired so many people throughout the world to do so many amazing things. It is something we are incredibly proud of.
"We wish to take this opportunity once again to thank all of Oscar's followers the world over for everything they have done for us and for the wonderful kindness and generosity that has been shown.
"We also want to thank the teams at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children and NI Children's Hospice whose kindness and compassion has been nothing short of amazing.
"Nothing can ever take the pain away but knowing we were supported so much and that Oscar was loved so much, brings great comfort."
The family have asked for privacy in the coming days.
A ceremony, described as a "celebration of Oscar's life", will be held in St Bernard's Church, Glengormley, on Sunday, 11 May.
"We welcome friends, family and supporters of Oscar to join us in procession from the NI Children's Hospice at 10.15am on May 11 and onwards to St Bernard's Church."
A strictly private cremation will follow.
Oscar was first diagnosed with the disease in November 2011.
After intensive treatment, 'Wee Oscar' was finally given the all clear in April 2013, but it returned in August 2013.
In October 2012, he received specialist treatment in America after his family reached their £250,000 fundraising target to pay for the immunotherapy treatment.
After his initial diagnosis, his parents set up the Twitter account so they could update friends and family on Oscar's condition each time he was in hospital.
However, the account quickly attracted thousands of followers.
Among them were families whose children have the same condition.
The Twitter account became a phenomenon in June 2012, after a group of Irish football fans posed for pictures in Dublin airport before heading off to the European football championship with a flag saying "Angela Merkel thinks we're at work".Celtic fan
Oscar - who had been allowed to stay up late to watch the matches - and his father Stephen, made their own flag saying "My ma thinks I'll be in bed early" and then tweeted a picture of it.
The 'Merkel lads', as they became known, were so touched by the picture they decided to auction their flag to raise money for the toddler.
When they arrived back in Dublin they drove straight from the airport to Mallusk to meet Oscar
Oscar, was a fan of Glasgow Celtic and the football club joined in the fundraising campaign.
Last July, when Belfast side, Cliftonville, went to Glasgow for their UEFA Champions League qualifier, Oscar donned his green and white shirt and led Celtic out before the game as team mascot alongside captain, Scott Brown.
In a statement on Friday, Celtic said: "This is absolutely devastating news and our thoughts and prayers are with Oscar's parents, Stephen and Leona, and his little sister, Izzie, at this desperately sad time.
"We can't even begin to understand the pain of their loss, but I hope that there will be a small measure of consolation in knowing that there was genuine love and affection for Oscar from the Celtic family throughout the world.
"Oscar's courage throughout his illness was truly inspirational, and it was a real pleasure for everyone at the club to meet Oscar when he was our team mascot last July."
Belfast boxer Carl Frampton said it was very sad news.
"I'm kind of in shock, because with the wee man, I knew he was very, very sick, but you always expected him to get better because he is such a fighter," he said.
"It's just heart-breaking."
_________Remembering Oscarby Peter Coulter
I was walking down a street in Belfast city centre about a year ago when a mother was walking along with her young child.
The child stopped and looked at a picture of Oscar Knox in a shop window and asked his mother why that little boy had no hair.
She explained that he was very sick and told her son he was being treated for cancer and that had made his hair fall out. The child nodded and asked a few more questions with this new understanding of cancer.
It was two years ago when BBC News NI first met Oscar Knox and since then his family has tirelessly campaigned to raise awareness of high risk neuroblastoma and the importance of blood donations.
His parents Stephen and Leona began their Twitter account to provide a support network for other parents whose children had the same condition.
Raising awareness has always been top of his parents list. Blood donations in NI and understanding of high risk neuroblastoma did increase during their campaign.
Oscar Knox was a normal five-year-old who loved pizza, Sugarpuffs, playing with his sister Izzy, Scooby Doo and Spiderman.
Oscar loved his doctors and nurses and they adored him. It will be a tough time for the medical staff who have supported him over the last two and a half years.
JIM CUSACK Sunday Independent
04 May 2014Gerry Adams, Madge McConville and former PIRA chief of staff Joe CahillPat McGeown photographed beside Gerry Adams.THIS is Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams with two members of the gang that dragged Jean McConville from her screaming children to be brutally beaten, murdered and disappeared.
Madge McConville (no relation to Jean) was the head of the women's wing of the IRA in the lower Falls Road area at the time the widowed mother of 10 was murdered. She died in May 2009 and was eulogised by Sinn Fein as representing "what republicanism was about and ... the embodiment of our history".
The photograph was taken in January 2000 at a ceremony to mark the re-burial of Belfast IRA man Tom Williams, who was hanged in 1942 for the murder of RUC constable Patrick Murphy. Williams had been buried in the grounds of Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast after his execution. He was disinterred and re-buried in west Belfast, with Adams and Madge McConville as lead mourners.
In the other photo, Adams is alongside Pat McGeown who was also part of the gang that abducted Mrs McConville.
McGeown, who died in October 1996, was a 17-year-old member of the junior wing of the IRA at the time. He subsequently became a Sinn Fein councillor in Belfast.
McGeown and Adams are together with a group of Sinn Fein leaders after the count in the May 1996 elections to the Northern Ireland Peace Forum. Adams and McGeown were close associates and shared the same prison hut in the Long Kesh internment camp outside Belfast in the early Seventies.
Republican sources in west Belfast say it was the 17-year-old McGeown who shot Mrs McConville through the back of the head as she knelt in front of her burial site on Sheeling Beach in Co Louth.
On his death the Sinn Fein newspaper An Phoblacht
reported McGeown "was a political prisoner in the infamous Cage 11 along with such notables as Gerry Adams and Brendan Hughes".
Brendan Hughes was the first IRA man to publicly name Gerry Adams as his "officer commanding", alleging that he was the one who gave the order for Mrs McConville's murder and disappearance. Adams continues to deny this.
McGeown was one of the republican hunger strikers in the Maze Prison in 1981 and spent 47 days without food before it was called off. His period of starvation led to ill-health and his early death at the age of 44 from a heart attack. After his death, Sinn Fein launched a community endeavour award in his name and Adams described him as "a modest man with a quiet, but total dedication to equality and raising the standard of life for all the people of the city''.
Madge McConville was given the job of stopping young women fraternising with the British soldiers who were initially welcomed by Catholics after they stopped the invasions by loyalists mobs in the area.
The soldiers held discos in a factory they had commandeered as a barracks. Young Catholic women who were identified as attending the discos were abducted and beaten up. Several were also tied to lamp posts, their heads shaven, and covered in black paint and feathers in the same way French women deemed collaborators with the Nazis were tarred and feathered after the Allied invasion.
A decision was made not to kill any of the young Catholic women, many of whom were driven out of the area, because of their local family connections. But according to local sources, Mrs McConville was sentenced to death because she was a Protestant who had married a Catholic, Arthur, who had died in 1971 leaving her alone to bring up their 10 children. She had no family connections in the Falls area.
Mrs McConville was allegedly targeted because she gave a cup of water to a soldier who had been injured outside her maisonette in the Divis complex in the lower Falls. A gang of up to 20 male and female IRA members abducted and murdered her.
The intention of the IRA leadership was to ensure that there was no relationship between the local community and the soldiers or police. The tarring and featherings and finally the murder of Mrs McConville ensured this.
Michael McConville says he took Sinn Féin president warning of backlash if he disclosed suspects' identities as a threat
5 May 2014A son of IRA murder victim Jean McConville has said Gerry Adams warned of a "backlash" if he released the names of those he believed were responsible.
Michael McConville said his family's fight for justice would go on after the Sinn Féin president was freed, but maintained he could be shot if he disclosed the identities of suspects to police.
Adams, 65, was released from Antrim police station, pending a report being sent to prosecutors, after four days of questioning about the notorious 1972 killing of McConville and other alleged links with the IRA.
McConville told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Gerry Adams says to me, 'Michael, you are getting a letter of support from the republican people'. He says, 'if you release the names I hope you are ready for the backlash'.
"I took it as a threat."
Adams has vehemently rejected allegations made by former republican colleagues that he ordered the mother of 10's abduction and killing – denials he repeated on Sunday night.
The decision whether to charge him with any offence will be made by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) at a later date after reviewing evidence presented by police.
McConville alleged the "threat" was made at about the time a report being drawn up by Northern Ireland's then police ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, into claims that his mother was an informer was close to being finalised.
The Sinn Féin president had brokered a series of meetings between him and members of the IRA. McConville said he used to tell Adams what had happened in the meetings and warned him that he would release the names of those involved if O'Loan's report was disputed. At that point he said the backlash was mentioned.
McConville said that "could" have meant a backlash against the peace process but said he took it to mean the "backlash from republican people".
Adams will refocus on election campaigning on Monday as the political fallout from his release from police custody continues to reverberate around Stormont and beyond.
Sinn Féin is holding a European election rally in Belfast on Monday, with a similar event planned in Dublin on Tuesday, as Adams resumes the canvassing activities he claims his detention was designed to thwart.
The rapturous welcome Adams received in a west Belfast hotel on his first public appearance after his release was in marked contrast to the angry scenes outside the police station as loyalists protested at the decision to free him.
There was disorder in the loyalist Sandy Row area of Belfast, with petrol bombs and stones thrown, though no one was injured.
The former MP for west Belfast and now representative for County Louth in the Irish dail criticised the police's handling of his arrest but moved to dispel any suggestion that Sinn Féin's commitment to policing had wavered in the wake of the affair.
Adams's arrest on Wednesday triggered a bitter political row at Stormont, with Sinn Féin accusing an "anti-peace process rump" within the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) of orchestrating the detention with the aim of damaging the party ahead of European and local government elections later this month.
This was angrily rejected by political rivals, whose fury intensified when senior Sinn Féin figures indicated that their support for the police – a critical plank in the peace process – would be "reviewed" if Adams was charged.
The Democratic Unionist Stormont first minister, Peter Robinson, denounced the remarks as "bullyboy" tactics.
Downing Street confirmed that the prime minister, David Cameron, and the Irish taoiseach, Enda Kenny, spoke on Sunday to discuss the situation surrounding Adams's arrest.
Adams questioned the timing of his detention and said police had unnecessarily used "coercive" legislation to detain and question him.
Sinn Fein support for police under question as president to be held over the weekendIrish Mirror
2 May 2014A new mural of Gerry Adams is being painted on Belfast's Falls Road with the slogan 'Peacemaker, leader, visionary' PSNI have been granted an extra 48 hours to question Gerry Adams over the murder and abduction of Jean McConville.
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly has reacted angrily to the news.
He said: “The arrest and continued detention of Gerry Adams is deliberately timed to coincide with the elections in three weeks time.
“This is political policing at its most blatant.
“Sinn Fein will not be intimidated by the action of a small cabal in the PSNI who are opposed to the peace process and political change.”
Sinn Fein support for the police appears under threat as detectives continued to quiz Adams about the murder of the mother-of-10.
Martin McGuinness warned that the party will “reflect” on its support for the PSNI if Gerry Adams is charged with any offences arising out of his arrest on Wednesday by officers investigating the 1972 murder.
The Stormont Deputy First Minister and Sinn Fein veteran said he and colleagues would not be making a “knee-jerk” decision. And he raised the spectre of what would be a huge blow to the peace process in the region as he said it was his understanding police were applying to a judge to extend the period of time they can question Mr Adams at Antrim police station.
Asked if Sinn Fein would withdraw support for policing if Mr Adams is ultimately charged, Mr McGuinness said: “We are very thoughtful and we are very reflective but I think if such a scenario does develop then we will sit down and we will reflect on what will be an even more serious situation than the one we face today.”
With the initial 48-hour deadline looming for officers to either charge or release Mr Adams after his arrest on Wednesday night, the PSNI applied for an extension, the Deputy First Minister confirmed.
Adams, 65, vehemently denies allegations levelled by former republican colleagues that he ordered Mrs McConville’s murder and secret burial in 1972.
Sinn Féin leader says former friend Brendan Hughes was hostile to him over peace process
Gerry MoriartyIrish Times
2 May 2014 Former IRA man Brendan “The Dark” Hughes, in Long Kesh prison with then best friend Gerry Adams. (Photograph: Photopress) Some 3,600 people died in the Troubles. Many thousands more were maimed, injured and bereaved. Yet the circumstances of the murder of Jean McConville can still leave a cold feeling in the pit of one’s stomach.
She was a 37-year-old woman, a Protestant widow who had been married to a Catholic, and was the mother of 10 children who were left orphaned and desolate.
The campaign to recover her body, which was finally found on Shelling Hill beach in Co Louth in 2003, led to the creation of a North-South commission to locate the bodies of 17 people known to have been “disappeared”. So far 10 bodies have been recovered.
The so-called “Boston tapes”, potentially, are why Gerry Adams is being questioned for involvement in the December 1972 abduction, interrogation, murder and secret burial of McConville.
The Boston College oral history of the Troubles project was the brainchild of journalist and writer Ed Moloney and involved the interviewing of former republican and loyalist paramilitaries based on guarantees their testimonies would not be released until after their deaths.
The early deaths of former senior IRA figure Brendan “the Dark” Hughes and former Progressive Unionist Party leader and ex-UVF man David Ervine, both of whom participated in the project, allowed Moloney publish a book, Voices From the Grave, four years ago.
The book recorded Hughes’s account of how McConville was first lifted by the IRA, allegedly for working as an informer by having a British army transmitter in her flat.
Hughes said she was “let go with a warning” but when another transmitter allegedly was put in her house she was abducted by an IRA gang.
“There was only one man who gave the order for that woman to be executed. That . . . man is now the head of Sinn Féin,” said Hughes.Evidence
As this is posthumous evidence there is a heavy question mark over whether it can have much – or any – legal evidential value.
The McConville family and former Northern Ireland police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan rejected the informer allegation against McConville.
Regardless, in his account Hughes said Adams and a senior IRA commander agreed that she should be “executed” but argued over whether her body should be left on the street in west Belfast as a warning to potential informers – as regularly happened – or secretly buried.
Hughes said that Adams won the day, and it was decided she should be secretly buried.
“I think the reason why she [was] disappeared was because she was a woman,” Hughes said.
Adams emphatically denied the allegations, and made the point that Hughes, his former friend and an IRA member, was antagonistic both to him and to how the IRA and Sinn Féin had managed the peace process.
But then Old Bailey bomber, the late Dolours Price, who also gave evidence to the Boston College project, made similar allegations, which Adams again denied.
He also pointed out that she was also antagonistic to him and the peace process.
The result was a huge controversy over the PSNI seeking access to the Boston tapes, which could have proved of evidential value to the police investigation, certainly while Price was alive.Consternation
The police pursuit of the tapes caused consternation because handing them over would mean that the pledge given to participants of anonymity and non-disclosure ahead of their deaths would not be honoured.
It also triggered a quarrel between, on one side Moloney and his chief researcher Anthony McIntyre, a historian and former IRA prisoner; and on the other side Boston College over how to resist the legal challenge from the police.
They accused the college of weakness.
The upshot was that the PSNI won the legal battle and tapes of Hughes, Price and about half a dozen others were handed over to the police.
All these tapes, it was stated in the legal proceedings, had content relating to the McConville murder.
In recent weeks a number of people have been arrested in connection with the murder.
Some of them were released pending reports being sent to the Public Prosecution Service, which leaves open the possibility that prosecutions could follow.
In March, Ivor Bell, now aged 77, was charged with aiding and abetting the murder of McConville.
It was this charging that prompted Adams to offer to voluntarily present himself to the PSNI if it wished to ask him questions. Police sources in the North, along with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, First Minister Peter Robinson and British prime minister David Cameron, have rejected a Sinn Féin allegation of “political policing” in the questioning of Adams.
“The case is driven by investigative necessity,” said one police source.
In the meantime, the McConville family wait and watch to find out if they are any closer to achieving justice for their mother.
30 April 2014
**Video onsite1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing in LondonOn the Run letters could be withdrawn if it is found they were sent in error, according to a key advisor to the attorney general.
Kevin McGinty was giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee about letters issued to republican paramilitary suspects.
Mr McGinty also said the On The Runs scheme was "not corrupt".
However, he said it was "damaging to the criminal justice system".
On The Runs is the term used to refer to people who are suspected of, but who have not been charged or convicted of paramilitary offences during the Troubles.
Controversy over the scheme emerged in February, when the trial of John Downey, the man charged with carrying out the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing in London, was halted.
The trial judge said the case could not continue because Mr Downey had received a government letter, mistakenly saying he was not wanted for questioning by police.
It later emerged that about 200 letters had been sent to republican paramilitary suspects.
On Wednesday, Mr McGinty, who was involved with the scheme, told the committee he believed letters that were mistakenly issued telling republicans they were not wanted by the police for questioning or arrest could be withdrawn.
Mr McGinty said other letters would not necessarily preclude recipients from prosecution.The collapse of John Downey's trial last month sparked the On the Runs crisis
He also told the committee the Northern Ireland Office had amended the letter sent to Mr Downey to suggest that he was not wanted in the UK.
He said this had been done on advice that the appropriate checks had been made by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) but accepted that the PSNI was not informed that the wording was changed by the Northern Ireland Office.
Mr McGinty insisted that the On the Runs scheme was lawful, but said it was accepted at the time that it would "damage the criminal justice system".
"I am not going to describe it as corrupt", Mr McGinty said.
The scheme, according to Mr McGinty, began at a time in the peace negotiations when Sinn Féin was being "particularly difficult".
Earlier, former chief constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan told the committee that he was aware of letters being considered but not aware of them "actually going out".
Asked whether people in other circumstances could ring up the police and ask if they were wanted, Sir Ronnie claimed the political context at the time, which had also seen the early release of paramilitary prisoners, meant that a "completely normal situation" did not apply.
But he added: "I certainly would never have been engaged in a process that would have allowed anyone to escape justice or evade justice."
Sir Ronnie was also adamant no political pressure was exerted on him to ensure certain individuals were not pursued.
Gerry Adams spends second night in custody in connection with Jean McConville murder
Gerry MoriartyIrish Times
1 May 2014Sinn Féin claims that Gerry Adams is a victim of “political policing” have been dismissed by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, British prime minister David Cameron and Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson.
The party’s complaints that his arrest in connection with the 1972 IRA murder of Jean McConville was designed to damage the party’s prospects in the European and local elections were also rejected.
Mr Adams was spending his second night in custody at Antrim police station last night following his arrest by prior arrangement on Wednesday.
Mr Adams was arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 and technically could be held for up to 28 days. If questioning is to continue beyond 8pm today, the PSNI must seek authorisation from a judge, who must also decide how many additional days he can be held.Three options
The police essentially have three options. They could charge him in connection with the murder; they could release him pending a report to the North’s Public Prosecution Service, which also means he could face prosecution; or they could release him unconditionally.
Mr Adams has repeatedly denied any involvement in the abduction, murder and secret burial of Ms McConville, a widowed mother of 10 children and one of the so-called Disappeared. Her body was finally found on Shelling Hill beach in Co Louth in 2003.
His arrest follows the charging in March of veteran republican Ivor Bell, formerly a close associate of Mr Adams, for allegedly aiding and abetting Ms McConville’s murder.
Several senior republicans including Martin McGuinness, Mary Lou McDonald, TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and MP Conor Murphy alleged or raised questions about Mr Adams being a victim of “political policing” just as Sinn Féin was riding high in the polls before voting in the local and European elections.
The strongest comments came from Mr McGuinness, who claimed “the dark side of policing” was implicated in the decision to arrest Mr Adams.‘Deliberate attempt’
“I view his arrest as a deliberate attempt to influence the outcome of the elections due to take place all over this island in three weeks,” he said.
But First Minister Peter Robinson said it would have been “political policing” if Mr Adams had not been questioned.
Mr Kenny said parties in the South played no part in his arrest. “I hope . . . Deputy Adams answers in the best way that he can, the fullest extent that he can, the questions being asked about a live murder investigation by the PSNI,” he added.
'I am no longer afraid' says Helen McKendry, as Northern Ireland secretary warns of tense moment in peace process
Henry McDonald and Nicholas Watt The Guardian
Thursday 1 May 2014 Helen McKendry, Jean McConville's daughter, holding a family portrait. Photograph: Peter Morrison/APThe eldest daughter of IRA murder victim Jean McConville vowed to "name names" to police, as officers continue to hold Gerry Adams for questioning in connection with her kidnapping into a second day.
Helen McKendry's outspoken intervention came as the former Northern Ireland secretary Shaun Woodward warned that the arrest of Adams marks one of the most "tense and potentially quite dangerous" moments in the peace process.
Speaking to the Guardian McKendry, who has spent 20 years campaigning to bring her mother's killers to justice, said: "I spent the first 20 years of my life being afraid of these people, of fearing to speak out, but now I am no longer afraid."
McKendry, who witnessed her mother being dragged away by the IRA in 1972, said she was prepared to identify the abductors despite a fear or reprisals – in contrast with her brother Michael, who earlier in the day told the BBC he was not prepared to say who was involved.
She said: "If full cooperation into the murder of my mother includes naming those who I saw bursting into our flat, who dragged my mother away from us at gunpoint, and who were directly involved in her disappearance and murder, then yes – I would be prepared to name names. To me that is not informing but doing my duty to my mother."
McKendry said detectives had told the family that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has obtained as many as 11 tapes – testimonies from former IRA members – from a US academic archive relating to the McConville killing.
The continued detention of the Sinn Féin leader over the kidnapping, killing and secret burial of Jean McConville, a mother of 10, has thrown the delicate political settlement in the province back into crisis.
Woodward became the first senior political figure in London to raise concerns about the impact of the arrest. Labour's last Northern Ireland secretary told the Guardian: "This is a very serious and tense moment in the history of the peace process and the political process. So long as Northern Ireland continues to avoid having a mechanism to deal fairly with the legacy issues of the pre-1998 Good Friday agreement there will inevitably be these tense and potentially quite dangerous and threatening moments in the peace process and the political process."
His remarks came after Martin McGuinness said there were elements in the police force – which he and Adams once urged republicans to back – who were determined to hinder Sinn Fein's advance across the island of Ireland.
Northern Ireland's deputy first minister said his party had been told by "senior" and "reforming" elements within the PSNI that "there was still a dark side within policing here in the north of Ireland". He said: "I think we have seen that dark side flex its muscles in the course of the last couple of days."
Sinn Féin had earlier said that the arrest, weeks before the European parliamentary elections, was politically motivated – a suggestion David Cameron rejected. The prime minister said: "There has been absolutely no political interference in this issue. We have an independent judicial system, both here in England and in Northern Ireland. We have independent policing authorities, independent prosecuting authorities. Those are vital parts of the free country and the free society we enjoy today."
Matt Baggott, the chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, said the investigation would be "effective, objective and methodical".
Asked about the investigation, Baggott said: "Effective investigation applies to any unsolved matter and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on any individual investigation other than to say they will be objective and methodical."
Labour figures associated with the peace process made no criticism of the police who had, they said, followed the law. But Peter Hain, Tony Blair's last Northern Ireland secretary, said Adams had told him with great passion that he was not responsible for McConville's death.
Hain said: "Obviously the judicial process has to take its course. Gerry Adams has strongly asserted – as he always did to me when I was secretary of state and he was actually helping track the 'disappeared' – that he had nothing to do with this. In fact we actually discussed the Jean McConville atrocity because that is what it was – a terrible crime. He was passionate about it being wrong and he wanted to find out who was responsible – at least that it is what he told me and those of us seeking to address the 'disappeared' on behalf of the victims because there are many of them."
But Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland's first minister and key partner with McGuinness in the power-sharing executive, said the arrest strengthened Northern Ireland's political process. "I cannot say whether Mr Adams will be charged or released, whether he will be held for a further period, whether even if charged he might be convicted," he said. "But what I can say is that it strengthens our political process in Northern Ireland for people to know that no one is above the law – everyone is equal under the law and everyone is equally subject to the law."
The abduction, fatal shooting and covert burial of McConville, a 37-year-old Protestant who became a Catholic convert, continues to haunt both Adams and the peace process.
In front of her children at their home in the Divis flats complex, the West Belfast woman was dragged away by an IRA gang, driven across the border to the Republic, shot in the head at a remote coastal spot in County Louth, and then buried in secret.
She became the most famous of the "disappeared" – 16 IRA victims shot and buried at secret locations across Ireland during the Troubles.
Former IRA members including Adams's former friend, the hunger striker Brendan Hughes, have alleged that the future Sinn Féin president gave the order for McConville to be "disappeared" after she was shot as an informer. Her family have always rejected any suggestion that she was a British army agent pointing to Northern Ireland's former police ombudsman Nuala O'Loan's investigation,which found no evidence of their mother working as an informer.
Adams has consistently denied claims of involvement in the McConville murder or of being in the IRA. He was arrested on Wednesday evening after handing himself into the PSNI's serious crimes suite at Antrim Town. Before entering the police station, he repeated that he was "innocent of any part" in the murder.
The Sinn Féin leader spent Wednesday night in custody and could in theory be held until late on Friday under anti-terrorist legislation.
The allegations of a supposed police conspiracy against Sinn Féin and its party leader by McGuinness drew an angry response from the McConville family. The murdered woman's son-in-law, Seamus McKendry, who co-founded the campaign for the disappeared, described McGuinness's claims as "totally absurd and a deep insult to the family and the wider community's intelligence".
McKendry said: "This is the same PSNI which Martin McGuinness asked everyone including his own supporters to endorse when devolution was restored. He can't have it both ways. This is just typical spin to deflect from the real story behind all of this, to deflect from the terrible crime inflicted on Jean."
Ireland's prime minister, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, dismissed any notion that the arrest was politically motivated.
"I hope the president of Sinn Féin, Deputy Adams, answers in the best way that he can, the fullest extent that he can, the questions being asked about a live murder investigation by the PSNI," Kenny said.His ministerial colleague Ruairí Quinn said any suggestion Adams was detained in order to interfere with politics south of the border was "ludicrous".
The arrest also refocuses attention on Sinn Féin's past connection to the IRA at a time when the party has been riding high in the opinion polls and seeking to make major gains in the Irish Republic's European and local government elections. Deputy party leader Mary Lou McDonald insisted that there was a political motive behind the arrest given that the country was only two weeks away from going to the polls.
By SHAWN POGATCHNIK
Associated PressWashington Post
30 April 2014Gerry AdamsDUBLIN — Police in Northern Ireland arrested Sinn Fein party leader Gerry Adams on Wednesday over his alleged involvement in the Irish Republican Army’s 1972 abduction, killing and secret burial of a Belfast widow.
Adams, 65, confirmed his own arrest in a prepared statement and described it as a voluntary, prearranged interview.
Police long had been expected to question Adams about the killing of Jean McConville, a 38-year-old mother of 10 whom the IRA killed with a single gunshot to the head as an alleged spy.
According to all authoritative histories of the Sinn Fein-IRA movement, Adams served as an IRA commander for decades, but he has always denied holding any position in the outlawed group.
“I believe that the killing of Jean McConville and the secret burial of her body was wrong and a grievous injustice to her and her family,” Adams said. “Well publicized, malicious allegations have been made against me. I reject these. While I have never disassociated myself from the IRA and I never will, I am innocent of any part in the abduction, killing or burial of Mrs. McConville.”
Reflecting the embarrassment associated with killing a widowed mother, the IRA did not admit the killing until 1999, when it claimed responsibility for nearly a dozen slayings of long-vanished civilians and offered to try to pinpoint their unmarked graves. McConville’s children had been told she abandoned them, and they were divided into different foster homes.
Her remains were discovered only by accident near a Republic of Ireland beach in 2003. The woman’s skull bore a single bullet mark through the back of the skull, and forensics officer determined she’d been shot once through back of the head with a rifle.Jean McConville and children
Adams was implicated in the killing by two IRA veterans, who gave taped interviews to researchers for a Boston College history archive on the four-decade Northern Ireland conflict. Belfast police waged a two-year legal fight in the United States to acquire the interviews, parts of which already were published after the 2008 death of one IRA interviewee, Brendan Hughes.
Boston College immediately handed over the Hughes tapes. The college and researchers fought unsuccessfully to avoid handover tapes of the second IRA interviewee, Dolours Price, who died last year.
Both Hughes and Price agreed to be interviewed on condition that their contents were kept confidential until their deaths.
In his interviews Hughes, a reputed 1970s deputy to Adams within the Belfast IRA, said McConville was killed on Adams’ orders. Hughes said Adams oversaw a special IRA unit called “The Unknowns” that was committed to identifying, killing and secretly burying Belfast Catholic civilians suspected of spying on behalf of the police or British Army. An independent investigation by Northern Ireland’s police complaints watchdog in 2006 found no evidence that McConville had been a spy.
Hughes told the researchers he led the IRA team that “arrested” McConville, but her fate was sealed following a policy argument between Adams and the man he succeeded as Belfast commander, Ivor Bell.
He said Bell wanted McConville’s body to be put on public display to intimidate other people from helping the British, but Adams wanted her killing kept mysterious.
“There was only one man who gave the order for that woman to be executed,” Hughes said in the audio recording, which was broadcast on British and Irish television in 2010. “That man is now the head of Sinn Fein. I did not give the order to execute that woman. He did.”
A 2010 book written by the lead researcher, journalist Ed Moloney, “Voices From the Grave,” also quoted Hughes as describing Adams as the IRA’s “Belfast Brigade” commander who oversaw planning of the first car-bomb attacks in London in March 1973.
Adams and Hughes were arrested together in July 1973, when the British Army pounced on an IRA commanders’ meeting in West Belfast. Both were interned without trial. Adams was repeatedly interrogated for suspected involvement in IRA bombings and shootings, but was never convicted of any IRA offense besides a failed prison escape during his mid-1970s internment.
Last month Belfast detectives investigating the McConville killing arrested and charged Bell, now 77, with IRA membership and aiding McConville’s murder.
Price, who was a member of the IRA’s 1973 London car-bombing unit, died last year of a suspected drug overdose. She gave interviews to journalists admitting she had driven McConville across the Irish border, where another IRA member shot McConville once through the back of the head. It remains unclear what precisely she told the Boston College project.
Adams was the longtime British Parliament member for West Belfast, although like all Sinn Fein politicians he refused to take his seat in London, citing the required oath of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II.
He never held a post in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government, the central peacemaking institution established in the wake of the Good Friday accord of 1998. He stepped down as West Belfast’s MP in 2011 and won election to the Republic of Ireland parliament, where he represents the same border area, County Louth, where McConville’s body was found.
30/04/2014 Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams is tonight being questioned by detectives investigating the abduction and killing of Jean McConville.
Mrs McConville, a widow, was dragged away from her children in her home in the Divis flats, west Belfast, by an IRA gang of up to 12 men and women after being accused of passing information to the British Army in the city.
An investigation later carried out by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman rejected the claims that she was an informer.
She was shot in the back of the head and buried 50 miles from her home. The IRA did not admit her murder until 1999 when information was passed to gardaí.
She became one of the so-called 'Disappeared', and it was not until August 2003 that her remains were found on Shelling Hill beach, Co Louth.
Deputy Adams has vehemently rejected the allegations made by former republican colleagues that he had a role in ordering the IRA killing.
No one has ever been charged with the murder. But after years without progress in the criminal investigation there have been a series of arrests in recent weeks.
A veteran republican – 77-year-old Ivor Bell – was charged last month with aiding and abetting the murder.
In the wake of the recent developments in the case, last month Deputy Adams, who has always denied membership of the IRA, said he would be available to meet with detectives if they wished to speak with him.
That meeting is taking place this evening.
Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald said this evening: “Last month Gerry Adams said that he was available to meet the PSNI about the Jean McConville case. That meeting is now taking place.
“Gerry Adams is right to confront this issue. There has been a concerted and malicious effort to link Gerry Adams to this case for some considerable time.
“He has consistently and forthrightly rejected any suggestion that he had any part in what happened to Jean McConville 42 years ago or that he has any information about these dreadful events.
“I believe the timing of this latest decision by the PSNI is politically motivated and designed to damage Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin.
“It is Sinn Féin's view that legacy issues and dealing with the past, including past conflict events, are best addressed through an independent, international, truth recovery process.
“In the absence of that, we have agreed to and are seeking the implementation of the Haass compromise proposals. These include the right of families to choose whether to pursue legal action or to seek maximum truth recovery.”
In a statement made before meeting the PSNI today, Deputy Adams said: “Last month I said that I was available to meet the PSNI about the Jean McConville case. While I have concerns about the timing, I am voluntarily meeting with the PSNI this evening.
“As a republican leader I have never shirked my responsibility to build the peace. This includes dealing with the difficult issue of victims and their families. Insofar as it is possible I have worked to bring closure to victims and their families who have contacted me. Even though they may not agree, this includes the family of Jean McConville.
“I believe that the killing of Jean McConville and the secret burial of her body was wrong and a grievous injustice to her and her family.
“Well publicised, malicious allegations have been made against me. I reject these.
“While I have never disassociated myself from the IRA and I never will, I am innocent of any part in the abduction, killing or burial of Mrs McConville.
“Sinn Féin has signed up to the Haass proposals for dealing with the past. While I also respect the right of families if they wish to seek legal redress there remains a huge onus on the two governments and the political parties to face up to all these issues and to agree a victim centred process which does this.”
30 April 2014Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has been arrested by Northern Ireland police in connection with the 1972 murder of Jean McConville.
Mrs McConville, a 37-year-old widow and mother of 10, was abducted from her flat in the Divis area of west Belfast and shot by the IRA.
Her body was recovered from a beach in County Louth in 2003.
Police said a 65-year-old man presented himself to Antrim police station on Wednesday evening and was arrested.
In a statement, Sinn Féin said: "Last month Gerry Adams said he was available to meet the PSNI about the Jean McConville case. That meeting is taking place this evening."