There’s been a lot of talk, as there always is, around how any of this controversy will or will not affect the political fortunes of the main protagonist, ie Sinn Fein. As with the PSNI investigation into the murder of Jean McConville itself, we simply don’t know.
If the demeanour of the activists I know is anything to go by it won’t be want of spirit or fight. That’s looking determinedly at the story of what was done to Mrs McConville (you can now follow a campaign Twitter feed for her cause) and her family as a political problem.
Tom Kelly in yesterday’s Irish News (should appear here later) hit several nails on the head:
…there is a poem contributed by the Derry born poet Seamus Deane called Phantoms 1968-2001 and within the verse are the lines “Phantoms are beating on the door. Beating to get out.”
Prescient lines for these days of uncertainty as the phantoms of McGurk’s Bar, La Mon, Ballymurphy and Jean McConville are beating at our doors waiting to be heard.
The failure to deliver justice for families of victims from across the divide has come back to haunt the political process like the ghost of Jacob Marley.
And up to date…
Nowhere is this clearer than with the PSNI incarceration of the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and the confused thinking within Sinn Fein in reaction to the arrest. It was not brave either to don balaclavas and abduct and murder vulnerable young adults or shoot teachers in front of a classroom of children or gun down a family on the steps of a church.
Too often in the recent narrative the protagonists of our dirty war only see victimhood through their own narrow prism of green or orange. That is why the voices of the innocent dead are now howling from beyond their graveyards and why, as Seamus Deane said, they are “beating at our doors”.
Sinn Fein has been frenetically screaming at anyone who will listen that the arrest of Mr Adams and its timing was politically motivated, conveniently ignoring that it was Mr Adams who offered to speak with the PSNI and who chose the timing.
Given that investigative policing has failed Jean McConville and her family for over 40 years, there can have been nothing urgent or pressing that meant Mr Adams should present himself during an election.
It is hard not to think that his choice of timing was a PR stunt aimed at improving the electoral prospects of Sinn Fein. What he did not count on was policemen thinking like policemen and not politicians. The police unsurprisingly then went through the formality of arrest for questioning in connection with a serious investigation into a murder.
Adams arrest was routine in serious police in serious investigations…
There are no dark forces at work here, only the need for light to be shone into some dark corners and Sinn Fein is right to look for that light to be shone into the dark corners of security force collusion also. But they can’t have it both ways. No-one is or should be above the law and the risks for the police in arresting any politician are high.
In the 1970s British police arrested and charged the then leader of the Liberal Party, Jeremy Thorpe, for conspiracy to murder – charges he was acquitted of.
More recently the deputy speaker of the house of Commons, the Tory MP Nigel Evans, was also arrested, charged and acquitted of sexual assault. Operation Yewtree, set up in the aftermath of the Jimmy Savile revelations, has investigated nearly 600 historical cases and has involved the arrest and charging of many high profile individuals, some of whom have been acquitted whilst others like Max Clifford have been found guilty.
And he concludes with a key to the peace process politics of all of this…
The process of justice is not intended to simply move on. It exists to give a voice to victims – nothing more, nothing less.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty