There couldn’t have been a more intimidating sight to the children of Jean Mc Conville than the scores of republicans who turned up on Saturday afternoon, and who congregated at the top of Derby Terrace in the Divis estate in West Belfast, and spilled onto the Falls Road to listen to speeches at the unveiling of a wall mural dedicated to the Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams.
A few yards up again, old comrades of Brendan Hughes, from D Company, or “the dogs”, as they were locally known, were out with flags and black regalia, commemorating in the memorial garden.
Graffiti had also appeared that week citing “Boston College Touts”, in strategic places on the Falls Road.
Intimidating, because Michael McConville had that weekend, given an interview to BBC Radio Four, in which he stated he couldn’t hand the names of those who he believed to be involved in his mother’s murder to the police, because he “would be shot”.
Sickening, because the location of the rally, and the wall mural, is a few hundred yards from where Jean McConville was dragged from her home, in front of her screaming children.
Michael McConville was further asked why he felt there would be reprisals for him if he named the members of the IRA involved. “Everybody thinks the IRA have gone away,” he said “but they have not.”
At that rally held by Sinn Féin, a former IRA head of Intelligence, Bobby Storey – now the chair of Belfast Sinn Féin, told the gathered crowd he was sending a direct message to both governments and the “cabal,” adding the following phrase “we aint going away, you know”. Those were carefully chosen words. Bobby Storey should be asked to clarify them.
There was no public outrage at this fact. A few newspaper columnists picked up on it, but there were few hard questions asked of Sinn Féin about the perceived threat to Michael McConville, which he had explained publicly the previous day.
Sinn Féin used their brass neck to hold a rally where they turned the victim in the Jean McConville case from the widowed mother of ten who was murdered, to Gerry Adams. Key figures made sure they were in attendance. There, was Sue Ramsey, seen laughing and joking with her sister, father and other close friends. There, was Martin Mc Guinness, suited and booted. There, was Martina Anderson, looking like a grief stricken woman, forlorn and clutching onto a poster of Gerry Adams with Nelson Mandela, looking, for all accounts and purposes like a relative holding a missing person poster.
The irony was not lost. Are Sinn Féin completely devoid of all traces of humanity? Gerry Adams, by that stage, had only been away from the republican family for a matter of days. Jean Mc Conville, the real victim in this case, in case anyone had lost sight of that fact in the resultant Sinn Féin spin, had been missing for years from her children. She is 42 years dead this year. Her body wasn’t found until 31 years after the IRA secretly buried her after breaking her bones and shooting her dead. Her children were all split up and taken into care. The effects have been far reaching across the Mc Conville family, and they continue to this day.
What ordinary decent person could be failed to be moved by their plight? But – for Sinn Féin, it wasn’t about supporting the McConville family in their search for justice and accountability for their mother’s murder. It was about making a martyr and a victim out of Gerry Adams. It was about applying political pressure to try and thwart the criminal investigation. It was also about an election campaign. Adams gave a press conference, flanked by key election candidates under a Sinn Féin election poster. Wall to wall coverage resulted. The press conference by some of Jean McConville’s children was swallowed up in the media furore.
Michael McConville should have nothing to fear from the IRA. He is publicly protected in the sense that should anything happen to him, people will know exactly who was behind it. Republicans are not stupid. They have succeeded in the short term, to have their leader released to the delight of his supporters. However, the court of public opinion will be with the family of Jean McConville throughout the rest of this murder investigation. Sinn Féin should report the names of those who were involved themselves to the police, in a show of solidarity with Michael McConville. If they really do support policing, what’s the problem?
After all, the dogs on the street know who did it.