Jean McConville: The terrible case they tried to bury, but it just won't go away
Published 19/03/2014 | 14:30
There was a time when Ivor Bell was very much a 'somebody' at the top tier of the IRA in Belfast.
He was a somebody who remained very close to Gerry Adams in those years that are remembered as the darkest in this conflict.
Like a ghost from that period, the name of Jean McConville still haunts the IRA. Out of the thousands of killings, hers is one that won't go away.
It is the brutal nature of the act that still resonates – taken away from her children in 1972, murdered without compunction and then buried in secret.
Jean McConville was never meant to be found. That is the cruelty and coldness which makes this killing so repugnant.
It wasn't until March 1999, long after the ceasefires and in the period of the post-Good Friday Agreement negotiations, that the IRA eventually spoke in detail about those who came to be known as 'the Disappeared'.
Sitting in a car in west Belfast, 'P O'Neill', the leadership spokesman, read me a statement and a briefing.
The IRA believed it had established the whereabouts of nine graves, and their names were listed.
Jean McConville's was the fourth to be read out. Delivered in a matter-of-fact tone, he spoke her name, followed by the words 'Belfast' and 'civilian'.
He said she was "arrested by Oglaigh na hEireann [in] 1972 and admitted being a British Army informer".
The IRA has never retreated from that line even though the claim was dismissed as part of a Police Ombudsman investigation. Indeed, within hours of its findings emerging publicly in July 2006, another 'P O'Neill' spoke for the IRA leadership.
He described "a thorough investigation" of all the circumstances surrounding the death and added: "That investigation has confirmed that Jean McConville was working as an informer for the British Army."
Now, more than 40 long years after the killing, news came yesterday of the arrest of Ivor Bell – a man, to quote one source, who "left the struggle and stayed out of it".
You will find his name flicking through the pages of Ed Moloney's book, Voices From The Grave. It appears as one-time IRA leader Brendan Hughes describes the events leading to Jean McConville's killing.
But the arrest of Bell was yesterday dismissed by one republican source. "That's for the optics," he said, meaning it was only done for show.
Since the mid-1980s Bell has been anonymous, invisible, with no public profile. Now his name is thrust back into the spotlight.
This investigation into the McConville murder may go nowhere, but it does prove that even after all these years, the IRA still has not been able to bury the horrific story of 'the Disappeared'.