There was no excuse for Jean McConville's murder

Amid the recent controversy over whether Jean McConville was or was not an "informer", the central issue is obscured. A woman was murdered without trial or due process or justification by people who had no authority to administer justice of any kind. This was, and remains, a shocking crime and everyone associated with that crime – those who perpetrated it, those who ordered it, those who knew of it and remained silent, those who gave even a semblance of justification for it – are guilty of an enormous wrong. The argument about whether she informed the British army about IRA operations or affairs is an irrelevance. Even if she had informed – and even if she had informed on a regular, persistent and egregious basis – her murder was and is still an abomination.


The crime was compounded by her burial in a secret location and the refusal on the part of her murderers to tell her family what had happened to her. That, too, was a crime and an awful deed. But that, too, is a side issue. It was her murder that was wrong, criminal, abominable, beyond justification, beyond excuse, beyond thin expressions of regret, beyond the withheld apologies.

Have we lost our compass with regard to the vile, monstrous crimes perpetrated in Northern Ireland, the Republic and Britain? Evil was perpetrated then and it is evil now to gloss over what happened, or to obscure what happened, or to condone what happened. Not that we need to be caught forever in that time-warp of evil – of course the ending of violence is welcome, of course the progress made in the peace process is welcome, of course the compromises made with those who perpetrated evil are justifiable, but it doesn't and shouldn't obscure the evil that was done.

And yes, evil was perpetrated, not just by one organisation or one side. There was and is evil being perpetrated by loyalist gangs. The British security services did evil. But let's not let others off any hook here. There was evil done by the IRA, done by its members, leaders, associates, hangers-on and apologists and that evil is represented in microcosm by what was done to Jean McConville.

Jean McConville was a widow with 10 children, living in west Belfast. On 6 December 1972 she was taken from her home in Divis St and beaten by members of the IRA. She then managed to escape. The following day, four young IRA women dragged Jean McConville from her bathroom at gun point. She was taken away and never heard of again. As recounted in that extraordinary monument to all those who were killed in the Northern Ireland conflict, Lost Lives, when her teenage daughter, Helen, returned to the house immediately after her mother had been abducted she found her brothers and sisters in hysterics. The twins, who were only six at the time, had been clinging to their mother as she was taken away. They were screaming at the abductors to let their mother go but their mother was taken away anyway. All they ever got back were their mother's rings and her purse. Helen said later: "We have learned since that they put a plastic bag over her head and she suffocated. The last story we heard was she left a house in Belfast with four men. They came back five minutes later and she was not with them."

The children tried to survive Christmas 1972 on their own but then the social services moved in. Each of the children was taken into care. The family was broken up.

This was a horrendous act. Everyone implicated, from those immediately involved to the apologists, should feel a deep sense of shame.

Vincent Browne