Belfast Telegraph

Jean McConville's daughter tells of fears over 40 years after IRA killing: I'm relieved my mother hasn't been forgotten

By Rebecca Black

Helen McKendry thought nobody would remember her mother 40 years on. She was just 16 when Jean McConville was bundled screaming into a van and never seen again.

"All those years went by and I realised she was dead, I thought to myself, 40 years from now who is going to be around? If the Troubles were still going on she'd never be spoken about because of the fear," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I am pleased things have changed."

Helen and her nine siblings suffered further trauma after their mother's disappearance with little sympathy from the local community and separated by the State into different care homes.

It was at a care home that Helen met young joiner Seamus McKendry and the pair started a campaign for justice, which 40 years later has catapulted them into the world spotlight.

The quiet country road where they now live has been blocked with local and international television crews since last Wednesday when Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams submitted to police questioning about Jean's abduction.

"It's been exhausting, thoroughly exhausting," Seamus added.

"We have even had Colombian television on; they know quite a bit about disappearances in that neck of the woods.

"The empathy from the media world has been incredible. We have journalists turning up here that we had dealings with 20 years ago. They are coming in with hugs. It's heart-warming.

"This is what we have always aimed for and we always said this day will come, if you'll forgive the pun.

"We were always prepared for it, but it's been pretty hectic I have to admit, these last three or four days.

"It's unreal. I live on a wee rural road and it's been a no-go area because of Press vans."

While Andersonstown-born Seamus promised Helen justice for her mother when the pair were just 16, he admitted he said he'd walk away from it if it was ever proven that Jean had been an informer, as the IRA had claimed. But his attitude has mellowed over the years.

"I met Helen when she was taken into care. I was an apprentice joiner in the home but I didn't see her for six months. I met her one night because she was a waitress in a social club and that was us hooked," he said.

"We would have been about 16. We were married when we were 18. In truth, we have been campaigning ever seen.

"Initially it was quite discreet because there were a lot of guns about, and we are still here 38 years later.

"I always told her I'd find the truth. I told her I didn't care what it took, I would find the truth for her.

"I must admit I did tell her in the early days that if I found out her mother had been an informer I'd walk away from it. I wouldn't walk away from her, but I'd walk away from campaigning.

"But the older I get the more I realise that even if Jean McConville had been a 'tout', as they call her, there's no way she would have deserved what happened to her. There is no justification for that.

"They made a serious faux pas, they certainly did, and she paid with her life. That will come out, believe me."

Seamus revealed that the pair had received support from many across the republican community, even members of Sinn Fein.

"Sinn Fein don't communicate with us any more, we never worked with them, we had meetings with them," he said.

"The first meeting we had with them, Helen gave him (Adams) the names of those that she knew abducted her mother. Adams just went through all the names and said: 'No, I know her, she's a great girl, definitely not her'. All while he looked at the floor, he didn't even look at her.

"He dismissed her like the proverbial bit of s*** on his shoe.

"Of course, there are people in Sinn Fein who are disgusted with the disappearance of Jean. You wouldn't believe the amount of people I would describe as diehard republicans who have shaken my hand and said 'No one can fault you for what you are doing.'" The McKendrys plan to launch a civil action against Gerry Adams within weeks.

They have been offered help and advice by families of the Omagh bomb victims, who successfully sued those arrested for the 1998 blast.

"We have specifically asked that nothing goes into motion until it is incredibly well thought out," he said. "The Omagh victims have passed word on to us that we are more than welcome to go up and discuss with them how they won their case."

Helen said, after years of living in fear, she was determined to finally get justice for her mother.

"I have been living in fear for far too long.

"I thought to hell with them, they did this, they killed my mother, now they have to pay for it," she said.

"It would bring me closure and maybe then we will learn the full truth of what happened and why it happened."

She also issued an appeal for anyone who knows anything about the Disappeared who have never been found to come forward. "It's really hard for the other families when they hear things like this," she said.

"I would really like people to sit down and think about those that still haven't got their loved ones back and if they know anything at all contact police, the families or even give me a call."

Robinson: I'll help McConville family get justice

Peter Robinson has personally offered to help the McConville children get justice for their murdered mother Jean.

The First Minister said he is arranging a meeting with Michael McConville after hearing him talk on the radio yesterday about his mother's abduction and killing.

The DUP leader said no one in Northern Ireland should feel they are above the law and no one should be left to feel they have no route to see justice done.

Mr Robinson added: "Whilst Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein have been playing the victim, it is important to remember that the real victims are the McConville family. Ten children were left orphaned and have never received justice. I plan to meet Michael in the coming days and discuss how I can be of any help to him and the wider McConville family.

"The fact that Gerry Adams was questioned for four days demonstrates that this was a serious and significant element of the police investigation. It is important to note that the investigation is ongoing and now lies with the PPS to take forward.

"The PSNI decision to arrest Adams has sent out a clear message that no one is above the law.

"In recent days, some have expressed a desire to draw a line under 'the past'. I disagree.

"Victims should always have access to justice and criminals should always fear justice."

'It is possible to live in peace and still have justice'

A victim of the Omagh bombing in which 29 people were killed has insisted that it is possible to have peace with justice.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden died in the 1998 Real IRA bombing of the Co Tyrone town, said every sane person in Ireland and Britain wanted an end to violence, but not at any price.

Gerry Adams was proclaimed a peacemaker by his supporters – but his arrest has exposed the deep divisions which still exist between some in the nationalist and unionist communities.

Mr Gallagher (below) favours a mixture of prosecutions and some form of truth recovery in cases where trials are unrealistic.

He added: "Peace is getting stronger and I am very happy about that. Every sane person in Ireland and Britain wants peace, but that has to be built upon a firm foundation and we cannot forget the people who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, the victims.

"The police have to investigate and any possibility to prosecute should be taken, but in some cases we have to recognise that prosecutions will not be a reality."

The arrest of Mr Adams showed how the justice system can be used to deal with the country's painful past.

But senior Sinn Fein figures indicated that their support for the police – a critical plank in the peace process – would be "reviewed" if Mr Adams was charged.

First Minister Peter Robinson denounced those remarks as "bully boy" tactics.

At the heart of the Jean McConville case was a mother-of-10 dragged from her home in front of her family and murdered.

Her son Michael has renewed his vow to seek justice for her death.

So how can such cases be dealt with while protecting community cohesion?

To some, including Sinn Fein, the toxic influence of history needs to be dealt with through a South African-style truth-telling and reconciliation commission where those who took part, in their view war combatants, can speak free from fear of prosecution.

But amnesty has become a controversial word, for example Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has expressed opposition to amnesty for on-the-run IRA fugitives who received letters telling them they were not wanted for prosecution. Mr Robinson has said everybody should be equal before the law, including politicians.

Victims themselves remain divided on the issue, some overcoming bitterness against perpetrators while others are resolute in pursuing justice.

For some it is a question of right and wrong.

Victims' campaigner Kenny Donaldson said: "Northern Ireland has no future if terrorism continues to be placated, the moral compass of this place must be reset."

Stormont's Attorney General John Larkin has suggested an end to Troubles prosecutions, police investigations, inquests or inquiries involving paramilitaries, police officers and soldiers.

His comments came during months of talks led by former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass which failed to reach agreement between the main five parties on dealing with the past and victims.

A mooted Commission For Information Retrieval would allow all forces responsible for conflict deaths, from the IRA to the British Army, to give evidence in a truth commission-style forum.

His suggestions would also work towards an agreed version of what happened during the conflict.

But they have not been implemented by the Executive.

The reaction to Mr Adams' arrest and release would suggest there is still work to be done to achieve that consensus.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph