Tuesday, 30 March 2010
Cruelty, betrayal and truth
Consider this: what if Jean McConville had been a man? A single man, say, in his late thirties or early forties. And what if that man, let’s call him John McConville, had been passing information to the British army and/or the RUC, during a period when the IRA was at war with those forces. And supposing the IRA became aware of this, warned McConville to stop his activities, he refused to do so, and was shot dead. Would you – would I – view the McConville case differently than we do today?
The latest claims in Ed Moloney’s book that Gerry Adams was responsible for the death of Jean McConville, the mother of ten children, brings us to a series of basic questions about violence. If you are a pacifist, then Mrs McConville’s killing – any killing – is wrong, full stop. But most Irish people aren’t. Most Irish people believe that Padraig Pearse, James Connolly and the others who fought in 1916 were patriots and their actions heroic. Fast forward fifty-plus years to the 1970s and you’d be hard pressed to separate the IRA of the 1970s from the IRA of the early part of the century. Not everybody does, of course, but it’s a safe bet, at a distance from the horror of bloodshed, history will draw major parallels between the two campaigns. And in such campaigns, what is the fate of those found to have been passing information to the enemy? Death. Grim and cruel, but if you accept the campaign as justified, this treatment of informers follows inevitably.
But maybe some informers should be spared? Say married informers or informers with children? Again, the logic of such a campaign cannot allow for such humane considerations. The passing of information is ruinous to the campaign, often costs the lives of those mounting it, so no exceptions to betrayal can be permitted. And if it was a woman who passed the information rather than a man? To make exceptions because of the informer’s sex would equally make no sense.
And so we come back to Jean McConville. If she was shot dead because she comforted a dying British soldier, her death would be barbaric. Fr Alex Reid did as much some twenty years later and no one would dream of suggesting his actions merited death. But if – IF – she were passing information to the British army and/or the RUC, the fact that she was a woman or a mother would, in the grim logic of war, make no difference.
But that’s the one thing that reports into her death avoid. The loss of a single human life is a horror, but the refusal to deal with all the facts surrounding it is a betrayal of truth.