Northern Ireland

Gerry Adams says Jean McConville murder 'totally wrong'

Gerry Adams gave evidence at Laganside Court in Belfast on Monday. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press.
Gerry Adams gave evidence at Laganside Court in Belfast on Monday. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press.

FORMER Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams insisted he had "no part to play" in the murder of Jean McConville at a trial linked to the killing of the widowed mother-of-10 as he described her killing as "totally wrong".

The former West Belfast MP, now a TD in Louth, made the comments while appearing as a witness at a trial of the facts at Belfast Crown Court.

The trial examined the evidence against veteran republican Ivor Bell, who was accused of two charges of soliciting the murder of Jean McConville.

The 38-year old was dragged from her home in the Divis area of west Belfast in late 1972 and was taken across the border where she was shot once in the back of the head.

In 1999 the IRA admitted killing her and she became known as one of the 'Disappeared'. Her remains were discovered on a beach in Co Louth in 2003, and her grieving family were finally able to lay her to rest alongside her husband Arthur 31 years after she was kidnapped and murdered.

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On Monday, Gerry Adams gave evidence on behalf of the defence and denied being in the IRA. The details can only be reported now. He also said he had "no part to play" in Mrs McConville's murder and said: "The IRA were totally wrong to have shot and secretly buried these folks."

Earlier in the hearing audio recordings from the Belfast Project were played. On the tapes, Ivor Bell claimed a meeting held to discuss Mrs McConville's fate was held - and while these tapes have since been deemed as "inadmissible" by trial judge Mr Justice O'Hara, they were made public for the first time.

As five of Mrs McConville's children - Archie, Jim, Thomas, Susan and Michael - sat in the public gallery, they listened intently as Mr Bell spoke on tape and accused their mother of being a tout, that 'Gerry' was instrumental in her disappearance and that he was opposed to her being buried.

Mr Adams was called as a witness, and was asked to comment on the allegations made, the Louth TD said: "I want to deny categorically any involvement in the abduction, killing and burial of Jean McConville.

Mr Adams - who swore on the Bible to tell the truth after being called to the witness box - said: "I have never hidden my association with the IRA. I have never sought to distance myself. I have denied IRA membership."

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The former Sinn Fein president also "the IRA did things, including this, that were totally wrong."

In the tapes, Mr Bell claimed that Gerry Adams and a man now deceased called Pat McClure discussed Mrs McConville's fate at a house in west Belfast in late 1972. He told the tapes: "We were out in the back kitchen talking. He said, first and foremost, he said about this woman. She was a tout.

On the tapes Mr Bell continued: "So I said, 'well Pat, she's a tout', I said, 'and the fact she's a woman shouldn't save her'. Now I wasn't told she had ten kids and no husband. Had I been told that, I can't say for sure I would have said 'no, don't shoot her.' But I may have had second thoughts and say 'hold on, what are we doing?."

Mr Bell also said later in the tapes that he didn't agree with plans to bury her, which were also discussed at the meeting: "I said, 'whatever is decided, I will back that up.'

"I said, 'I don't have a problem with shooting touts', but I said that - but then they said 'we are going to bury her' I said 'no, I don't agree with that.'

"And I didn't agree with that. I said 'if that happens it is done without my agreement.' I said 'it defeats the entire purpose.' And the meeting broke up at that."

He added: "To kill and bury her, I couldn't understand why they would bury her. She had ten kids. If you are not going to throw her in the street, don't shoot her at all."

When he was asked to comment on allegation on the claims made about him on the tape, Mr Adams denied he was at the meeting, and that he was the Officer Commanding of the Belfast Brigade of the IRA at the time of Mrs McConville's abduction and murder.

Barry MacDonald QC, for the defence, relayed the alleged conversation at the meeting where Mr Bell said Mrs McConville was being paid for passing information to the British Army, that the discussion included what to do with her, and that Gerry had talked to the local priest, who had refused to help with the situation.

Suggesting "the Gerry referred to you was you, Gerry Adams," Mr MacDonald said: "The question I have for you Mr Adams is whether that conversation ever took place?"

Mr Adams replied: "It didn't. I never had any discussions with Ivor Bell or indeed any others about Jean McConville. I want to deny categorically any involvement in the abduction, killing and burial of Jean McConville."

When he was asked if he thought she should have been shot, Mr Adams said "No, I don't think Mrs McConville should have been shot." Mr MacDonald then said "it has been suggested you have been involved in a plan to abduct and murder Mrs McConville and that Mr Bell was involved in it. Were you involved in it?" Mr Adams replied "no."

Ciaran Murphy QC, for the prosecution, also questioned Mr Adams about the meeting, and the issue of Mrs McConville having ten children.

Mr Murphy said: "During these interviews, Z states that had it been known she had ten kids, you may have looked at it differently."

Mr Adams said: "Well, I have already answered the question that I was not at the meeting and I did not have any discussions about Mrs McConville. You see, I have never hidden my association with the IRA. I have never sought to distance myself. I have denied IRA membership, even though at the time that was a legitimate response to what was happening in republican working class communities.

"Also, the IRA were totally wrong to have shot and secretly buried those folks. In particular that should be compassion shown to Mrs McConville - a lone woman with ten children. That should have begged compassion."

Citing his work with a Commission establishing with the assistance of the Irish and British Governments to receive information on those missing, Mr Adams added: "I have exhaustively spend my energy trying to correct this wrong.

"I cannot bring Mrs McConville and the others back, but at least I can try and rectify the injustice that has been done. I regret there was a conflict. I can say the IRA did things, including this, that was totally wrong."

Mr Murphy then asked Mr Adams "what is your attitude to touts?" He replied: "I accept if people - I don't like the word tout by the way - if people are agents or informers, that would go for me as anybody, then they were liable to be shot."

He was then asked "would it be fair to say you personally don't have a problem shooting informers?", to which Mr Adams said "I would have a problem shooting anyone. I think that's a very leading question. I'm not on trial here."

And when asked if he supported the IRA's policy of shooting informers, Mr Adams said he didn't support all the army's actions, adding "I have been critical of a number of atrocities that have occurred. I don't have a carte-blanche support for the IRA.

"I also think, as we reflect back on what has occurred in my lifetime, I am lucky enough to have survived."

Mr Adams again referred to his work with Fr Reid and the Commission which he said has been "harrowing, not least to the families."

"There was a dig just ended in the last two weeks for Columba McVeigh." He also appealed for information on the remaining missing bodies of Captain Robert Nairac, Joe Lynskey and Columba McVeigh, and said the remains of those already found were returned because people were prepared to come forward and also "down to the good work of the Commission and those involved in it."

Mr Adams said he knew nothing about the internal workings of the IRA. Asked again about the meeting, Mr Adams said "I know you have to take me through all of this but if I was not at the meeting, how on earth can I comment on that."

When it was put to him that Mr Bell said in the tape that 'Gerry' gave the order to kill and disappear her, Mr Adams questioned why Mr McIntyre was not here, then said "I am being asked to comment on an alleged conversation they had about a meeting I have said clearly I was not at, discussing something I was not privy to."

Mr Murphy spoke of Mr Bell's detailed account, and Mr Adams said: "He did an interview which was not to be released until after his death, isn't that correct? I am not going to take lectures from somebody like that. I have stated my position in relation to the IRA. Whatever his position was is a matter for him."

Mr Adams was also asked if he had any idea why someone would suggest on the Boston Tapes that he was involved in Mrs McConville's murder.

He replied: "Well reading the transcripts, I thought it was interesting that the interviewee Anthony McIntyre asked a lot of leading questions.

"Anthony McIntyre was involved with others in opposing, which he was entitled to do, the strategy I and others were involved in which subsequently led to the peace process and the IRA cessation and the end of the IRA, effectively."