SF remarks on woman's killing widely criticised
Government and opposition politicians have denounced Mr Mitchel McLaughlin's assertion that the IRA killing in 1972 of Jean McConville was not a crime. Her son yesterday demanded that Mr McLaughlin resign his position within Sinn Féin.
Mr McLaughlin's remarks were made on RTÉ's Questions & Answers programme on Monday night. Asked by the Minister for Justice, Mr McDowell, if he would classify the shooting of Ms McConville as a crime, he said: "I think it was wrong". Asked again if he thought it was a crime, he replied: "No, I do not".
Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10, was abducted and killed by the IRA in 1972. Her remains were found on Shelling Beach, Co Louth, in 2003.
The McConville family has always said she was killed because she went to the aid of an injured British soldier. The IRA said she was an informer, a charge the family has always rejected.
The Labour Party leader, Mr Pat Rabbitte, said yesterday that against the background of Mr McLaughlin's comments "and the clear indications of continuing criminality by sections of the republican movement, one must view with deep concern the stated intention of the Taoiseach to resume contact with Sinn Féin on his return from China as if nothing had happened.
"Any civilised society must consider the abduction and murder of a mother of 10 children to be a crime of considerable barbarism," he said.
"The recent bank robbery, too, which put a number of lives at risk, was a crime the magnitude of which cannot be understated."
The Fine Gael leader in the Seanad, Mr Brian Hayes, said Sinn Féin's "campaign to say that past atrocities were not crimes is part of a campaign to rewrite history for their own propaganda.
"It is important to continue to tell young people who were not around that these were crimes.
"Around 1,500 people were murdered by the IRA, and it is important to say that they were crimes in all cases.
"This notion that in the IRA you cannot commit a crime because your actions are legitimate is an astonishing claim to make."
Mr Michael McConville yesterday called on Mr McLaughlin to resign his position in Sinn Féin because of his comments. "To me taking human life is wrong. It doesn't matter what the circumstances are. It's wrong to kill," he said.
He said he had met the Sinn Féin president, Mr Gerry Adams to discuss the killing, and he hoped to meet him again shortly.
Mr Adams had not made remarks in line with those made by Mr McLaughlin, and he hoped his series of meetings with Mr Adams might be fruitful.
Mr McLaughlin also appeared to agree with Mr McDowell that he (Mr McLaughlin) believed the IRA was the legitimate government of this country.
Mr McDowell said: "Mitchel and his colleagues believe that any volunteer carrying out any authorised action on behalf of the IRA doesn't commit a crime because the IRA is the legitimate government of this country.
"That's what they all believe, and that's why shooting Jean McConville, this poor woman, in the head is not a crime in your book because it was authorised by a court-martial of the IRA."
Mr McLaughlin replied: "Yes, and I believe it happened in the context of conflict."
A Fianna Fáil TD, Mr Brendan Smith, described this remark as "a serious affront to everyone who values our democracy . . .
"It is hard to comprehend how any party can claim to be committed to democratic politics and the path of peace while at the same time maintaining that an unelected, unaccountable military junta is the rightful government of this country."
He called on Mr McLaughlin to withdraw his remarks. "The people of Ireland under our Constitution elect the Government in free elections.
"It is disgusting for Sinn Féin to suggest a backroom cabal are this country's legitimate government.
"As a democrat, I say unequivocally to Sinn Féin: It is the Irish people, not the IRA, who decide who governs Ireland."
On Questions & Answers, Mr McDowell also said he believed the dead IRA hunger-striker Bobby Sands was a criminal.
Mr Arthur Morgan, the Sinn Féin TD for Louth, where the remains of Ms McConville were found by accident in 2003, said yesterday he did not think her killing was a criminal act.
On LMFM local radio he said "dreadful things happen" in war situations, including the killing of informers.