A veteran republican charged in connection with the IRA murder of Jean McConville is suffering from dementia and would not be able to fully participate in his trial, a court has been told.
Lawyers for Ivor Bell (79) told a judge their client had been diagnosed with a vascular form of dementia.
The diagnosis is likely to prompt a defence application that Bell is unfit to stand trial on two counts of soliciting Jean McConville’s killing in 1972.
The defendant, from Ramoan Gardens in west Belfast, did not appear at the pre-trial hearing in Belfast Crown Court on Monday.
His barrister, Dessie Hutton, revealed the outcome of a defence commissioned medical examination to judge Seamus Treacy.
“He suffers from dementia which has a cardio vascular cause and he wouldn’t be able to properly follow the course of proceedings,” the lawyer said.
A prosecution lawyer told the judge that he would like to commission a psychiatrist to examine the defendant. He also requested full access to Bell’s medical files.
Judge Treacy adjourned the case until December 16th when lawyers will provide a further update on how the case will proceed.
Ms McConville’s son, Michael, was among those watching on from public gallery of the court.
His 37-year-old mother of 10 was dragged from her home in Belfast’s Divis flats complex by an IRA gang of up to 12 men and women.
She was accused of passing information to the British Army, an allegation later discredited by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman.
Ms McConville was shot in the back of the head and secretly buried 50 miles from her home, becoming one of the “Disappeared” victims of the Troubles.
It was not until 1999 that the IRA admitted the murder when information was passed to police in the Irish Republic.
Her remains were eventually found on Shelling Hill beach in Co Louth by a member of the public in August 2003.
Nobody has been convicted of her murder.
The case against Bell is based on the content of tapes police secured from an oral history archive collated by Boston College in the United States.
Academics interviewed a series of former republican and loyalist paramilitaries for their Belfast Project on the understanding that the accounts of the Troubles would remain unpublished until their deaths.
But that undertaking was rendered meaningless when Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) detectives investigating Mrs McConville's death won a court battle in the US to secure the recordings.
It is alleged that one of the interviews was given by Bell — a claim the defendant denies.