Issue of the 'disappeared' in the Troubles not going away

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ASSEMBLY SKETCH:Unionist MLAs anxious to put pressure on senior Sinn Féin figures Gerry Adams and Mitchel McLaughlin, writes GERRY MORIARTY

THE ISSUE of the “disappeared” isn’t going away. It was the focus again yesterday of Northern Assembly members when they returned to the Stormont chamber after the Easter break, with some unionist MLAs anxious to put pressure on senior Sinn Féin figures Gerry Adams and Mitchel McLaughlin.

Two motions were discussed during the four hours from noon to 4pm that the Assembly sat – one from the SDLP calling on anyone with information about the seven bodies who have yet to be recovered to bring it the Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains; the other from the DUP pleading for further marking of the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic to be done in a “solemn and dignified” manner.

The Titanic debate was a relaxed affair, with proper acknowledgment of the terrible loss of 1,517 lives 100 years ago together with mention of the tourist and economic benefits offered to Northern Ireland through remembering the Titanic.

BBC presenter Andrew Marr not unsurprisingly came in for criticism. Referring to the current Titanic overload Mr Marr described some of the events around the centenary of the sinking of the great ship as “sordid and tasteless and dull”.

Members too were keen to replay that well-worn line that the Titanic was fine when it left Belfast, and that it wasn’t any poor craftsmanship on the part of Harland and Wolff shipyard workers that caused it to sink – no, it was the iceberg.

But the debate on the disappeared was a much chillier business item. It’s an issue, obviously, that still causes great anxiety for the families of those abducted, murdered and disappeared during the Troubles, mostly by the IRA – but it’s also a subject that raises difficulties for the Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and for the party generally.

Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice

party, wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to lay into Mr Adams.

He referred to the issue of the Boston College interviews and the attempts to compel the handing over to the PSNI of tapes dealing with the 1972 abduction and murder of Belfast mother of 10 children Jean McConville.

Mr Allister said that Dolours Price, convicted of the 1973 Old Bailey bombing in London, in the tapes admitted driving Ms McConville to the place “where she was murdered and that she drove her as a member of a unit presided over by the current president of Sinn Féin”.

Mr Adams is now TD for Louth and no longer a member of the Assembly, and was therefore not in a position to respond. He has, however, regularly rejected allegations of involvement in her murder.

Neither did the Sinn Féin MLA for South Antrim Mitchel McLaughlin emerge unscathed. Unionist members reminded him how in a TV debate seven years ago he said the killing of Ms McConville was not a criminal act given the context of the Troubles and the claim that she was a British spy.

DUP MLA Lord Morrow and Mr Allister provided him with opportunities to retract the claim and admit her killing was indeed unlawful.

But Mr McLaughlin declined.

It was an issue that could be addressed “in the context of a process of truth recovery and in a process of genuine reconciliation”, he said. Other parties in the chamber were unimpressed and made their feelings known. And what about British security force “procuring murder” and “collusion with murder gangs”, Mr McMcLaughlin was moved to ask.

Lord Morrow seemed to think that eventually more may be forthcoming from Sinn Féin.

“I think he still has to deal with the issue, but I will give him his time. He seems to need more space on this one,” he said.

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