Belfast Telegraph

Ivor Bell case: IRA totally wrong to have shot and secretly buried' disappeared victims, Gerry Adams told court

Former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams (right) leaves Belfast Crown Court (Niall Carson/PA)
Former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams (right) leaves Belfast Crown Court (Niall Carson/PA)

As the trial of veteran republican Ivor Bell entered its second week, former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was called to give evidence.

Mr Adams - now a TD for Louth - again rejected claims he was a member of the IRA and said he had "no part to play" in the abduction, murder and disappearance of Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville in 1972.

On Monday, October 14, Mr Adams was called as a defence witness.

Five of Jean McConville seven surviving children attended every day of the hearing. In the public gallery, they heard Mr Adams deny he was a member of the IRA's Belfast Brigade staff when their mother was abducted from her home.

They also heard Mr Adams say "the IRA were totally wrong to have shot and secretly buried these folks" and in his opinion "the IRA did things, including this, that were totally wrong."

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Jean McConville (PA)

The 71-year-old former Sinn Fein president was asked to comment on an oral interview.

Audio of excerpts of the Boston College tapes were played to the jury last week, including sections where 'Interviewee Z' - Ivor Bell - named Gerry Adams as both Officer Commanding of the Belfast IRA in 1972 and of being instrumental in the plan to 'disappear' Mrs McConville.

In the tapes, Mr Bell claimed he attended a meeting in west Belfast where he, Gerry and a man now deceased called Pat McClure discussed an informer.

Barry MacDonald QC, for the defence, relayed the alleged conversation in which Mr Bell claimed the woman was being paid for passing information to the British Army, that the discussion included what to do with her, and that "Gerry" had talked to the local priest, who had refused to help with the situation.

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Ivor Bell (Niall Carson/PA)

Suggesting "the Gerry referred to you was you, Gerry Adams," Mr MacDonald said: "The question I have for you Mr Adams is whether that conversation ever took place?"

Mr Adams replied: "It didn't. I never had any discussions with Ivor Bell or indeed any others about Jean McConville. I want to deny categorically any involvement in the abduction, killing and burial of Jean McConville."

When he was asked if he thought she should have been shot, Mr Adams said "No, I don't think Mrs McConville should have been shot."

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Jean McConville’s children Archie, Michael and Susie (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr MacDonald then said "it has been suggested you have been involved in a plan to abduct and murder Mrs McConville and that Mr Bell was involved in it. Were you involved in it?" Mr Adams replied "no."

He was then asked "do you have any idea why somebody might suggest you were involved?"

Mr Adams said: "Well reading the transcripts, I thought it was interesting that the interviewee Anthony McIntyre asked a lot of leading questions.

"Anthony McIntyre was involved with others in opposing, which he was entitled to do, the strategy I and others were involved in which subsequently led to the Peace Process and the IRA cessation and the end of the IRA, effectively."

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IRA murder victim Jean McConville's son Archie outside Belfast Crown Court. October 17, 2019.

He said Ivor Bell was also opposed to the direction he and others were taking Irish Republicanism, but added "I am only conjecturing that."

Mr Adams continued: "I have learned to put up with many of the accusations that are made against me. That comes with the work that I do, but suffice to say those who make those accusations were and are very very hostile to the work that I was doing."

Mr Adams then said he and Martin McGuinness has been called traitors to the Republican cause and their homes attacked over their involvement in the peace process.

Mr MacDonald then asked Mr Adams about interviews given by Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price - both of whom claimed he was a former comrade in the IRA.

Regarding Mr Hughes, Mr Adams said: "Brendan was a very good friend of mine for quite a long time and his public pronouncements were vitriolic in his condemnation.

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IRA murder victim Jean McConville's son Michael outside Belfast Crown Court. October 17, 2019.

"At one point I saw an interview with him saying I should be shot and that he would do it. But if I bumped into Brendan before his death he would always embrace me and apologise for his latest outburst."

He said Dolours Price also spoke out about his strategy, and that journalist Ed Moloney - who oversaw the Belfast Project - was an "opponent of the process."

He branded the Boston College project "a most suspect project" with no real scholarly or historic value. He also said the situation in which the interviews were conducted as "ridiculous" and said "if they believe in what they are saying, why don't they say it."

Mr MacDonald returned to the allegations that Mr Adams had a role in or discussed the murder and abduction of Mrs McConville. Asked if there was any truth in this, Mr Adams replied: "None whatsoever. May I also say that when an extract of the tape purporting to be Ivor Bell was played to me at Antrim Barracks when I was under interrogation, I didn't recognise the voice of Ivor Bell.

"I haven't talked to Ivor Bell for decades but I didn't recognise the voice as being Ivor Bell's and I said that to the police officer."

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IRA murder victim Jean McConville's daughter Susie outside Belfast Crown Court. October 17, 2019.

Ciaran Murphy QC, for the prosecution, then questioned Mr Adams and asked if he was shocked by the allegation made against him. Mr Adams said "not entirely" as he had seen media reports about Mrs McConville then added: "If you are asking me on a personal level whether I was shocked he made this up, yes I was."

Mr Adams was asked about his relationship with Mr Bell and he said they were part of a delegation which met the Secretary of State in 1972. He also confirmed they were interred in Long Kesh together.

Regarding the talks in 1972, Mr Murphy asked "were you not a member of the IRA at that time?", to which Mr Adams said "no." He was then asked what position Ivor Bell held in the IRA at the time, and said "I cannot comment on that. I don't know what his position may have been."

Escapes and attempted escapes from Long Kesh were then discussed, and Mr Adams was asked about Pat McClure. He said they were from the same neighbourhood, they were interned for a period together and when asked what his role in the IRA was, Mr Adams said "I don't know."

He then talked about the McConville family and said when he was approached by the family "about the disappearance of their mum, myself and a man called Father Alec Reid commenced the process of trying to establish what had happened."

He said he and Fr Reid were involved in establishing a commission with the assistance of the Irish and British Governments to receive information on those missing.

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IRA murder victim Jean McConville with her family

Mr Adams said: "I was centrally involved in establishing the commission. Most of those killed by the IRA and buried have been returned but there is still ongoing work for a number whose remains have not been retrieved, and that work I continue to do to this day."

Regarding his role in the commission, he said: "I was trying to give these families what they deserved, which was a Christian burial. My view, my firm belief, was that a grave injustice was done on them, which the IRA apologised for. These families should never have been left in the situation they were left in."

When Mr Murphy raised asked Mr Adams when he first became aware of the murder of Mrs McConville, he replied: "My first recollection of being aware of it was when I met Helen McKendry. I was representative for west Belfast at the time. I'm not sure what year that was."

When asked what he was doing in 1972, Mr Adams said he spent a lot of the time on the run due to harassment by the RUC and was "liable to be interned."

Attention turned again to the Boston Tapes and Anthony McIntyre. Mr Adams said "I wasn't on the Brigade staff". He said he was aware of Mr McIntyre due to his opposition to the peace process and the "controversary around the Boston Tapes...but I don't profess to know him, I certainly have no recollection to having known him."

Mr Murphy said Mr Bell gave a detailed account of a meeting with "Gerry and Pat", and Mr Adams replied "I was at no meeting and had no discussion and had no part to play in the abduction, killing and burial of Jean McConville."

"He has made an allegation I was at a meeting with him and I wasn't." Mr Murphy talked of the "specifics" of the meeting, including an allegation that Mr Adams had talked to a local priest to try and "get her out." This was denied.

Mr Murphy then said: "One of the issues about her being ... she had ten children. During these interviews, Z states that had it been known she had ten kids, you may have looked at it differently."

Mr Adams said: "Well, I have already answered the question that I was not at the meeting and I did not have any discussions about Mrs McConville. You see, I have never hidden my association with the IRA. I have never sought to distance myself. I have denied IRA membership, even though at the time that was a legitimate response to what was happening in Republican working class communities.

"Also, the IRA were totally wrong to have shot and secretly buried those folks. In particular that should be compassion shown to Mrs McConville - a lone woman with ten children. That should have begged compassion."

"I have exhaustively spend my energy trying to correct this wrong. I cannot bring Mrs McConville and the others back, but at least I can try and rectify the injustice that has been done. I regret there was a conflict. I can say the IRA did things, including this, that was totally wrong."

Mr Murphy then asked Mr Adams "what is your attitude to touts?" He replied: "I accept if people - I don't like the word tout by the way - if people are agents or informers, that would go for me as anybody, then they were liable to be shot."

When he was asked if touts should be shot, Mr Adams said: "It is a regrettable fact that when armies are engaged in war, they do kill those who they perceive to have assisted the enemy by giving information or in any way jeopardising ... that goes for all combatants.

"It's regrettable. It happened in the 20s, it happened I presume at other times. I think that the huge achievement of our time is that it no longer happens."

He was then asked "would it be fair to say you personally don't have a problem shooting informers", to which Mr Adams said "I would have a problem shooting anyone. I think that's a very leading question. I'm not on trial here."

And when asked if he supported the IRA's policy of shooting informers, Mr Adams said he didn't support all the army's actions, adding "I have been critical of a number of atrocities that have occurred. I don't have a carte-blanche support for the IRA.

"I also think, as we reflect back on what has occurred in my lifetime, I am lucky enough to have survived."

Mr Adams again referred to his work with Fr Reid and the commission which he said has been "harrowing, not least to the families."

"There was a dig just ended in the last two weeks for Columba McVeigh." He also appealed for information on the remaining missing bodies of Captain Robert Nairac, Joe Lynskey and Columba McVeigh, and said the remains of those already found were returned because people were prepared to come forward and also "down to the good work of the Commission and those involved in it."

Mr Adams said he knew nothing about the internal workings of the IRA. Asked again about the meeting, Mr Adams said "I know you have to take me through all of this but if I was not at the meeting, how on earth can I comment on that."

When it was put to him that Mr Bell said in the tape that Gerry gave the order to kill and disappear her, Mr Adams questioned why Mr McIntyre was not here, then said "I am being asked to comment on an alleged conversation they had about a meeting I have said clearly I was not at, discussing something I was not privy to."

Mr Murphy spoke of Mr Bell's detailed account, and Mr Adams said: "He did an interview which was not to be released until after his death, isn't that correct? I am not going to take lectures from somebody like that. I have stated my position in relation to the IRA. Whatever his position was is a matter for him."

When Mr MacDonald rose to his feet again following Mr Murphy's questioning, the defence QC asked Mr Adams to explain what internment and Long Kesh were, "for the benefit of the younger members of the jury.

As Mr Adams started talking about how Long Kesh was built to imprison internees, Mr Justice O'Hara interjected and said: "The jury does not need a history lesson, Long Kesh became the Maze prison."

He then addressed the witness and said "Mr Adams, you are free to go."

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