What was done to Jean McConville 42 years ago was unconscionable and one of the inconvenient truths of the Troubles, which the Irish, in their lyrical penchant for understatement, call their perpetual civil war.
She was taken from her apartment by force, as her children furtively and futilely clung to her legs, bundled into a car, and driven to a desolate spot. She had her hands tied behind her back, was tortured, and endured a mock trial before a kangaroo court of hooded IRA men who summarily found her guilty of passing information to the British. One of those men stepped forward and put a gun to the back of her head, and, in that moment before he fired, no doubt Jean McConville was thinking of the 10 children she left behind, the youngest 6-year-old twins.
I have often wondered what the people who abducted, murdered, and left Jean McConville in a hidden grave for 31 years would say if their own children had approached and asked, in innocent wonder, “Daddy, what did you do during the war?”
It was a woman, IRA volunteer Dolours Price, who delivered McConville to her executioners. Price and Brendan Hughes, another member of that execution team, told a researcher hired by Boston College that it was the idea of their IRA superior, Gerry Adams, to disappear McConville.
And now it is Adams, leader of the biggest nationalist party in Northern Ireland, who finds himself formally implicated in the killing of Jean McConville.
His guilt or innocence seems irrelevant. McConville’s children, who in the wake of their mother’s disappearance were split up and scattered in Dickensian fashion, believe Adams was the brain behind it all.
Detectives with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the department that was renamed and reconstituted after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 supposedly ended the Troubles as we knew them, not only believe Adams was behind McConville’s killing, one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles, but that he was behind others.
There are many people in Northern Ireland, the rest of the United Kingdom, and even the Irish Republic who longed for what happened Wednesday, when Adams was arrested for questioning in McConville’s killing and humiliated. In Ireland, people die, but grudges do not.
Another inconvenient truth is that the Good Friday Agreement would not exist without Adams. It was he, more than anyone, who led the Herculean effort to turn around the unwieldy battleship of physical force republicanism, convincing comrades-in-arms that armed struggle was archaic, that democratic politics was the only realistic, legitimate way to bring about the republican ideal of a united Ireland. As revolutionaries-turned-politicians, Adams and Martin McGuinness, a former IRA leader and Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator, risked assassination by disillusioned comrades who saw the willingness of Adams and McGuinness to compromise as treachery.
Still another inconvenient truth is that Gerry Adams and loyalist leader Gusty Spence probably deserved to share in the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to moderate nationalist leader John Hume and his unionist counterpart David Trimble. The sensitivities of the day precluded that, just as the politics of today demanded the arrest of Adams.
I have no problem with Adams being subjected to this legal process, as long as the British government sees to it that the British soldiers who gunned down 13 unarmed civilians on Bloody Sunday the same year Jean McConville was abducted are subjected to the same process.
If Northern Ireland authorities believe the peace process is strengthened by a show trial of Adams, who would serve only two years in prison if convicted, then presumably they will go into the BC files and prosecute loyalists who, with the assistance of British security forces, murdered people just as innocent as Jean McConville.
If they don’t go after the other side, their own side, then we’ll know another inconvenient truth, that arresting Gerry Adams is not about justice but revenge.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.