When a killing is not a crime…

There’s an interesting controversy blowing up over Mitchel McLoughlin’s performance on Questions and Answers. It’s already been subject to a vigourous discussion on Slugger here, around the Sinn Fein chairman’s statement that although Jean McConville’s killing was wrong – it was not a crime.The controversy continued on Morning Ireland (towards the end), when Jean McConville’s son Michael expressed anger with Mitchel, but also with politicians who consistently use the killing of his mother as a political football (no doubt the minister’s ears were burning).

He was reluctant to be drawn on his meetings with Gerry Adams over the incident, except to draw a distinction between the tone of Adams’ dealing with him and his family and McLaughlin’s performance on Q&A. The point of those talks appear to be a definitive statement from the IRA that Jean McConville was entirely innocent of the charges made against her at the time – ie, that she was a British Army spy.

On the face of it however, McLaughlin seems to be taking a false rap for simply being consistent with the party’s line on formal law and order. If the writ of the law in Northern Ireland is not yet acceptable to the party (or the IRA), then it (nor any other breach of the civil or criminal code) cannot per se have been a crime.

This was the point of McDowell’s most powerful play on Q&A, when he picked up on Sinn Fein’s refusal “to exclude criminality in December”. He went on to suggest that “then we had the pretence that the only outstanding issue was a photograph”.

When challenged to indicate how far the bar might be raised, he stated that there must be “no exiling, no robberies no kidnappings, no punishment beatings” by organisations associated with Sinn Fein, otherwise it “will exit the process”.

McLaughlin retorted: “that is a matter for the people of Ireland”.