Differences between charges over McConville case and Bloody Sunday

Opinion: Peter Hain’s intervention came amid a flurry of futile debate about dealing with the past

 Jean McConville (left)  with three of her children shortly before she disappeared in 1972.  Pacemaker Belfast

Jean McConville (left) with three of her children shortly before she disappeared in 1972. Pacemaker Belfast

Thu, May 8, 2014, 12:01

Former Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain said on Monday that, in the wake of the arrest and questioning of Gerry Adams, paratroopers believed to have fired on Bloody Sunday should, as a matter of logic and consistency, be arrested and questioned about their roles in the Derry massacre.

This might open up an appalling vista, he suggested. But sauce, goose, gander. . .

However, there is a number of differences between the cases. Not even his most strident critics have claimed Adams was directly involved in the kidnap and killing of Jean McConville. What has been alleged is that he sanctioned or ordered the killing. The equiv- alents in the Bloody Sunday case would not be the shooters but those who had deployed them and given them orders: senior British army officers and, possibly, senior politicians.Hain did not suggest any of this class of suspect should have his collar felt.

There are other differences. A number of suspects in the McConville killing were arrested in Belfast and questioned recently. One, Ivor Bell, has been charged with aiding and abetting the crime. Others whom the Police Service of Northern Ireland suspected to have been directly involved were brought in for questioning and later released.

But there is no need of investigation to establish the identities of those involved on Bloody Sunday. The names and addresses are known to the authorities. The question that arises is not what they did but whether what they did was unlawful. This is to say that the investigation of the Bloody Sunday killings is far more advanced than the investigation of the killing of Jean McConville. But, unlike the suspects in the McConville case, none of the soldiers has been arrested or questioned.

Further inquiries
The explanation given to families of the Bloody Sunday victims is that all other inquiries will have to be completed before the paras are brought in: a premature move could scupper the case. This seems to the families to make no sense. They have put it to senior PSNI officers that suspects in this or that case, “political” or otherwise, are commonly reported as having been arrested and questioned and then released “pending further inquiries”. Why not the Bloody Sunday soldiers? The repeated response has been: “We will have only one shot at this.” Not the approach taken to the alleged former IRA volunteers rounded up in March and April.

Futile debate
Hain’s intervention came amid another flurry of futile debate about dealing with the past. The debate is futile because there can be no agreement on how to handle the past until there is agreement on how to characterise the past. And there’s no sign of a consensus on that matter emerging.

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