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Pól Ó Lorcáin
Paul Larkin

Chroniclers are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time and place.
Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge, Chapter The Ninth

Why stop at poor Jean McConville?

Some readers of this blog  may not be aware that Jean McConville’s rise as the cause celebre of certain media types reached a new high point last week when she received headline billing in two allegedly highbrow newspapers on the same day - one Irish and the other English.


Jean McConville with two of her ten children

Jean McConville’s story is heart breaking. Here was a mother of ten children who (in December 1972) was abducted by the IRA from her home in the lower Falls area of Belfast and simply disappeared. Her ten children were left orphaned and handed into the care of the state in a very traumatised society - given the hostile military conflict that prevailed at that time. There is a very good and suitably sober account of what happened to Jean McConville here at Wikipedia -

The Wikipedia account reports the allegations made by the Provisional IRA that McConville had been an informer who was passing information regarding IRA activities to the security forces. Equally, it reports former police ombudsman Nuala O'Loan's rebuttal of such claims and her reasons for exceeding her usual remit to investigate these claims. O’Loan said that this was related to the fact that so many children had been left motherless and with the stigma of informer upon their family name.

There we have the two sides of the argument in a nutshell. Irish Republicans will argue that Jean McConville knew exactly what she was getting into when she started passing information on to the security services and then paid the price. People who take O'Loan's position will say that the IRA is just making excuses for the brutal murder of a defenceless woman.

There is of course a third position, which is that no act of murder can be excused. However, what we generally find is that “respected” journalists in Ireland go after IRA murders and tend to ignore those committed by the British security forces and/or pro British paramilitary groups in our country. And there my good readers is the rub.

A week yesterday, the Irish Times television reviewer Bernice Harrison wrote gushingly about an “extraordinary and compelling documentary” that she claims told the Jean McConville story, amongst other Troubles related stories, via the prism of dead  men talking. The review can be read here -

The film being referred to is Voices From The Grave, shown on RTÉ recently, and the dead men talking are Brendan “Darkie” Hughes, a now deceased but legendary figure, who was an IRA commander in the area in which Jean McConville lived. The other now deceased character in the film is David Irvine, a former UVF commander from West Belfast (yes the loyalist Shankill Road is in West Belfast). The title Voices From The Grave is based on Ed Moloney's book of the same name and vein.

"Darkie" Hughes (right of picture) with Gerry Adams during more comradely times

Unfortunately, Bernice Harrison does not mention the political and/or paramilitary background of other people in this "riveting piece of TV" who are very much still in the land of the living; so we don’t discover from her review, for example, that Richard O’Rawe, Dolores Price, Paddy Joe Rice, Anthony McIntyre and Tommy Gorman are all ex IRA volunteers who have fallen out with Sinn Féin and the IRA and are vehement opponents of the peace process - as derived from the IRA ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement. They could, in other words, be said to have extremely sharp axes  to grind with Gerry Adams. They all of course agree with the loyalist “voice from the grave” David Irvine when he says that the IRA was defeated by accepting the peace process.

The undeniable inference that is left is from this documentary, and Bernice Harrison's review of it, is that Gerry Adams not only steered the Provisional republican movement on to the treacherous rocks of defeat but also that he almost certainly ordered the callous abduction and murder of Jean McConville.

Isn’t it passing strange that we should so suddenly see so many former members of the IRA appearing in a film being shown on RTÉ? Or that they are positively reviewed in the Irish Times?

 For the best part of two decades, RTÉ journalists and film makers proactively operated a blanket ban on any person who expressed views sympathetic to Sinn Féin or the IRA. I speak from my own experience in RTÉ in saying that it was always extremely difficult to get the testimony of IRA activists on air. The Irish Times, meanwhile, has consistently  called a plague upon the house of Sinn Féin and IRA, describing that organisations and its members as “fascists”, “ghouls” and “monsters" – I could go on and on; the anti IRA rhetoric was endless.

Now, we seem to have gone from a situation where IRA activists were described as “the progeny of a sow’s litter” (Kevin Myers, Irish Times) to one where they are holders of eternal truths.  They speak lucidly and clearly and none of their antecedents or antagonisms are mentioned (if my own recall is correct, Brendan Hughes was a chronic alcoholic in the latter stages of his life). But there is a catch, those IRA people on film must speak ill of the republican leadership in general and of Gerry Adams in particular.

We can compound this set of “Get Adams” images from Ireland with the fact that on the very same day that Bernice Harrison's column appeared, the Guardian's hero of the week was none other than Jean McConville.

I have no idea whether Gerry Adams personally ordered the arrest of Jean McConville but there is no doubt that during the course of his remarkable career (history will no doubt record) as a guerrilla leader and major strategist within the IRA and Sinn Féin, he took decisions which would seal the fate of British soldiers, leading loyalists, British politicians and also alleged informers. Questions from journalists about Adam's role are legitimate and as a major player, he is "fair game" but, in the overall scheme of reporting such investigations, these should, in my view, be framed by an acknowledgement that it was in all senses a Dirty War. The dirt does not just stick to one particular set of alliegances.

My question is whether others who were involved in the vicious conflict that we have seen in the latest (and hopefully last) round of the Troubles will also be subject to similar scrutiny.

Take for example Ronnie Flanagan. Will those same journalists and film makers be running to his door and forensically scrutinising the role he played as an RUC Special Branch commander and the life and death decisions he took as a leading RUC “player”?

Will journalists be beating a path to former Northern Secretary Tom King’s door and asking him to explain why he took the decision, on the advice of the Security Service - MI5, to place Brian Nelson (a convicted torturer of Catholics) back in the field of operations as a UDA intelligence officer? Will the family of one of those tortured Catholics, Gerald Higgins, be interviewed and Nelson’s minders "outed” in riveting drama documentaries?

Will individual victims of security force collusion with pro British paramilitary death squads be highlighted (indeed féted) in the way that Jean McConville has been and the leads followed all the way back to the instigators of such attacks?

Don’t hold your breath.


A Phóil, a chara,
Surely one day there will be a just and transparent appraisal of events in Ireland.
It certainly, at present, does not bode a serene enviroment with information being fashioned and orchestrated.
I remain firmly convinced that truth will heal wounds and solve problems, thus begging the eternal question of why the media 'chooses' to tell lies?
'The pen is mightier than the sword' has so often been a way of decrying violence and enabling peaceful written protest. I amn't sure how innocent the 'pen' is today and only hope with more and more information circulating we can open more constructive dispute and discussion ending up with just solutions to ever festering problems.
I was late for the Facebook evening and regret. Hopefully next time I will be more organized.
Love to all
Slán Agat
by: Finn Anson (contact) - 08 Nov '10 - 20:30
Maith thú Finn a chara

Answering your point properly entails a thorough examination of the output of those journalists and broadcasting bodies who claim to be free of bias but who clearly have a hidden agenda, or hidden background.
Much of the history of disinformation in Ireland in modern times goes back to the Official Republican movement's "entryist" tactics, which saw large numbers of their ideologues gaining positions of influence within the Irish media.
I'm going to write further on this point very shortly.

They haven't gone away you know.
by: Pol (contact) - 08 Nov '10 - 21:02
Well, I suppose, the last two 'comments' prove that communication has taken a dangerously 'abrupt' turn for the worst with ridiculous forms of publicity pirating a serious writer's blog-site.....unless, of course, (and please excuse my flippancy) the author has an ingrained interest in luxurious attire.
by: Finn Anson (contact) - 10 Nov '10 - 11:49
sorry Finn - the problem with spamming attacks on sites like these is almost out of control now and I'm seriously thinking of disabling comments as, previously, it would have been the odd day but now it is just wave upon wave. I don't think its just this site that is being targeted. The problem is across the board.

anyway - what's wrong with "luxurious attire"?
by: Pol (contact) - 10 Nov '10 - 22:52


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Title: Why stop at poor Jean McConville?
Date posted: 07 Nov '10 - 17:23
Filed under: General
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