Clearly, the big story over the past week has been the arrest and extended questioning of “a 65-year-old man” in connection with the abduction and murder of Jean McConville in 1972. I cannot deny I am staggered, having recently noted that the same man is effectively immune from prosecution. We shall see what the PPS does, but that is not the point here.
It is a gruesome story, even by the standards of the time. An Irish mother who had already been forcibly evicted from a majority Protestant part of the city was literally dragged away from the clutches of her 11-year-old child, and then buried on a beach 75 miles to the south, not to be uncovered for a generation. 10 children were left to grow up not just without their mother, but shunned by those around them (and thus unable to declare who took her away, even though they clearly know). That they have been able to lead any sort of life at all after that is extraordinary.
It is quite obvious that anyone with an interest in any sort of justice, including social justice, would be on the side of the victims here. It is also obvious that those who carried out such an appalling act, just before Christmas as it happens, were not peacemakers or visionaries but heartless thugs; and that they were not “defending their community” but attacking it. They were, of course, members of an organisation which killed more people, and indeed more Irish people and even specifically Irish Catholics, than any other during the Troubles.
Clearly also, no one with any remote interest in child welfare would be on the side of said 65-year-old man, given that he has already sheltered child abusers within his own family. Every nation has its, well, “dark side”. The dark side of the Irish nation is its determination to defend and promote a man who is so obviously a liar, so clearly protected child abusers, and so overtly associates with murderers who orphaned 10 Irish children – the same man was recently declared the most popular political leader in the Irish Republic (if so, frankly, the people of that Republic need to look at themselves).
It is also worth noting at this stage that “Irish Republicans” like to talk grandly of an inclusive Irish nation incorporating Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter; only recently Sinn Féin has talked of incorporating Unionists’ British identity in a “United Ireland”. Yet only a quick glance at a social media feed shows that anyone making the aforementioned obvious points (that in the battle between the shunned innocent orphans and the child abusing apologist for murderers anyone with any compassion would back the former) is instantly derided as a “Unionist”, or a “Brit spy” or a “Protestant lover”. Not content with knee-jerking to support a Leader who so obviously has not a shred of credibility to anyone objective, the so-called “Republican Movement” soon resorts to its fundamental sectarian base with dollops of whataboutery – and, most of all, attempts to limit people’s right to state their view based solely on “what” they are, as if some people’s views are less legitimate than others based solely on their national or religious background. This attempt at restricting free expression of opinion is, of course, as nothing compared to the intimidation of the McConvilles themselves.
Of course, there are smaller groups fully entitled to a but of whataboutery. This arrest came just days after the Ballymurphy families were incomprehensively denied their clear-cut case for a Hillsborough-style review; families of victims from the La Mon massacre to the Birmingham bombing also await some semblance even of the recognition of the lack of justice in their cases; there was a release concerning the McGurk’s Bar atrocity too last week.
Ultimately, this is all yet another example of how our past defines our present, even if we would wish it otherwise – and why we therefore need a managed process to deal with that past. Most of all it is, frankly, why in 2014 we should all deal with each other with a lot more civility than was the norm in the past.