CHRIS BRAY: PSNI Theatre of Shadows

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air
Chris Bray
Friday, July 11, 2014

In October 2012, news stories announced that the Police Service of Northern Ireland would be pursuing subpoenas of tapes and notes from interviews with former IRA member Dolours Price. The PSNI had already gone after Dolours Price interviews archived at Boston College, but this new effort was to be directed at the newspaper and TV journalists who had interviewed Price about the BC subpoenas. In the crosshairs: CBS News and the Sunday Telegraph.

More than a year and a half later, there is no evidence that those subpoenas ever arrived. When Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams emerged from his four-day interrogation at the PSNI’s Antrim station, he said that police had confronted him with material from the Boston College interviews; he made no mention of CBS or Telegraph materials. And my own tedious search of Pacer, the federal court case management website, turns up no evidence of subpoenas served on CBS News headquarters in New York.

To be sure, we can’t see very far into the underlying events, and it’s not clear what kind of contest may have taken place over this threat of subpoenas directed against journalists. I’ve been asking journalists and public affairs staff at CBS News and the Telegraph if they received subpoenas, or discussed the possibility of subpoenas with the PSNI, but those questions have gone entirely unanswered. Liz Young, the public affairs director at the PSNI, offered this careful non-answer to my questions: “Given that investigations are ongoing we are not in the position to either deny or confirm that a subpoena was sought and no inference should be taken from this.” So the conclusion has to balance the likely with the wholly unknown: It appears that the PSNI threatened journalists with subpoenas, but then didn’t follow through, and it’s not possible at this point to know why the threatened subpoenas apparently didn’t arrive.

Now: Spot the pattern. In May of this year, a new round of news stories announced that the PSNI would be seeking new subpoenas to secure every Belfast Project interview archived at Boston College. Again, no one is answering questions, but there’s no sign that those subpoenas have arrived.

Meanwhile, the high-profile arrest of Gerry Adams resulted in nothing more than the four-day-long collapse of the PSNI’s souffle. Three years after the Grand Inquisition began, Adams is a free man, and would not seem to have much reason to worry. The other big event in the PSNI’s supposed murder investigation was the March arrest of former IRA leader Ivor Bell, long purported to have been chief of staff to Adams in the 1970s IRA in Belfast. Bell was charged with aiding and abetting McConville’s murder, not with committing it; as yet, the PSNI hasn’t charged a single person with actually kidnapping McConville or actually killing her. And Bell is also a free man, released on bail as the Public Prosecution Service tries to decide whether or not to bother taking the charges to trial. They do not seem to be in any particular hurry.

So the PSNI’s “investigation” into the 1972 murder of Jean McConville — an investigation opened 39 years after the event — has made more noise than progress: some arrests that led to the release of those arrested; an arrest, with weak and likely to be abandoned charges, of someone who isn’t alleged to have killed McConville; and a storm of threats and promises that have mostly seemed to evaporate.

The available evidence continues to support the argument that I’ve now been making for more than three years: The PSNI is putting on a show, not a murder investigation.

But then spot the other pattern: Many news stories reported the PSNI’s claim that it would subpoena CBS News and the Telegraph; none reported that the subpoenas didn’t arrive. Many news stories reported that the PSNI would be pursuing the whole Belfast Project archive at Boston College; no news stories have reported that those new subpoenas haven’t been served. Many news stories reported the dramatic arrests of Adams and Bell; few journalists appear to have noticed that the air has leaked out of those arrests.

In Indonesia, puppeteers perform Wayang Kulit, a theater of shadows in which images are projected on a screen by performers who stand behind it. The PSNI is the Dalang, the puppeteer, in the shadow play of the Jean McConville “investigation.” And the news media continues to treat the play as real life.

Revealed: Secret murder tapes that ‘name’ Gerry Adams over IRA execution of mother accused of passing information to British

Revealed: Secret murder tapes that ‘name’ Gerry Adams over IRA execution of mother accused of passing information to British

  • Adams is accused of ordering execution of mother-of-ten Jean McConville
  • IRA woman who drove Mrs McConville to her death recorded a confession
  • The tape had languished for ten years in a Boston College library
  • It has now been handed over to the Police Service of Northern Ireland

By BOB GRAHAM
Daily Mail
PUBLISHED: 21:10 GMT, 6 July 2013

The night of December 7, 1972, is forever branded on Michael McConville’s memory.

That night a gang of masked IRA terrorists smashed down the door of his family’s West Belfast home and dragged out his mother Jean, as several of her ten children clutched at her skirts and screamed.

It was the last time Michael, then 11, was to see his mother alive.

Horror: The remains of IRA murder victim Jean McConville are recovered from an area near the Templetown beach in County Louth in 2003

Now, at last, the McConville children are on the verge of hearing – from beyond the grave – the confession of the IRA woman who drove their mother to her death.

Yesterday, 11 clandestine tapes recorded by Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries, which have languished for ten years in the archives of the Burns Library in Boston College in the US, were handed over to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

They include an admission from Dolores Price, one of the IRA’s most infamous terrorists, that she ferried Michael’s 37-year-old mother to the Irish Republic where she was tortured, tied up and shot in the head.

And she asserts it was Gerry Adams who sanctioned the murder.

Adams, who now sits in the Republic of Ireland’s parliament, has always strenuously denied belonging to the IRA and any involvement in terrorist murders.

But Michael McConville, now 51, believes the tapes’ shocking contents could lead to fresh arrests – among them that of Adams.

Price’s damning revelation is corroborated in another tape, made by Brendan ‘Darkie’ Hughes, the terror-hardened deputy commander of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade.

He, too, insists it was Adams who signed the Catholic Belfast housewife’s death warrant. Yet Adams claims credit for shaping the 1996 peace agreement that ended Ulster’s Troubles after he swapped the ArmaLite for the ballot box.

Price and Hughes, now both dead, agreed to make the tapes with Irish academics on the strict proviso they remain locked away while they lived. Price’s death in January this year freed the Boston College from its obligation to keep them secret.

The release of the tapes has been at the centre of a bitter legal wrangle. Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly and a self-confessed former IRA commander, and US Secretary of State John Kerry have waged a high-profile battle to have them suppressed on the grounds that they could derail Ulster’s fragile peace process.

For Michael and his siblings, their hope is that the recordings may at last lead to their mother’s executioners being brought to justice.

‘If Price mentions Gerry Adams in the tapes, that he was in some way involved and if it can be proved, he should be tried,’ Michael says. ‘At the very least I’d like to see him stand in court and answer the accusations.

‘You can’t turn around and say it is right to kill someone the way they did, especially a mother, no matter what your beliefs are.’

Michael’s mother, Jean, a Protestant who converted to Catholicism when she married husband Archie, had moved to the staunchly Republican Divis Flats in the Lower Falls area after being intimidated out of a Loyalist area.

When the IRA eventually confessed to abducting and killing her, they claimed it was because she was a ‘tout’ who was passing information to the British Army.

The McConville family has always insisted that their mother’s only involvement with the Army was that she once gave succour to an injured squaddie.

Michael has yet to hear the tapes. But shortly before she died Delores Price chillingly told me of her role in the murder of his mother – one of 17 IRA victims known as the Disappeared. She told me that her memoir, including her role driving away the Disappeared, was recorded in the Boston Project – as the collection of tapes are known.

Price, who led the IRA terror squad that bombed the Old Bailey in 1973, admitted she drove Mrs McConville to Dundalk in the Irish Republic.

She confessed she was a member of a select unit of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade, codenamed the Unknowns, whose mission was to take those believed to have betrayed Republicans for interrogation.

For those found guilty by the Republican kangaroo courts, the only sentence was death. ‘I never knew for sure their ultimate end, I was simply told by Gerry Adams to take the people away,’

Price admitted. ‘Some, I knew their fate, some I didn’t. I took seven in all. My job was to hand them over to others. I don’t even remember some of their names.

‘I drove Jean McConville away. She was a very, very unpleasant woman. I know I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead and I don’t think she deserved to die. I didn’t know she was a mother.

‘I had a call one night and Adams was in a house down the Falls Road. McConville had been snatched and held for several days.

‘It was part of my job to take them across the border to hand them over. She got into my car and as far as she was concerned she was being taken to a place of safety by the Legion of Mary [a Catholic charity].

‘She went on and on about “them f****** Provies, they wouldn’t have the balls to shoot me. F*** them”. I was saying to myself “please don’t say any more”. But she went on and on, she convicted herself out of her own mouth.

‘It wasn’t my decision to “disappear” her, thank God. All I had to do was drive her. I even got her fish and chips and cigarettes before I left her.’

Price refused to enlarge on why Adams ordered Mrs McConville’s execution, but commented: ‘You don’t deserve to die if you are an unpleasant person, as she was, but you do deserve to die if you are an informer. Particularly in a war. That is the Republican way.’

For the McConville children, their mother’s death blighted their lives for ever. Today a fragmented family, they rarely meet or discuss the trauma of her being taken.

Michael remembers his older brother Archie, then 16, followed the terrorists dragging his mother onto the street, begging: ‘Can I go with my Mammy?’ One of the gunmen took him aside, put his pistol to the teenager’s temple and told him to ‘f*** off’.

He added: ‘Not long after she was taken, a local IRA man knocked on the door and handed Mum’s purse and wedding ring to my sister.

I knew then she hadn’t just been murdered but executed. We found out she had been taken to a beach, had her hands tied, was knocked to the ground beside what would be her own grave and shot in the head.’

The Provisional IRA immediately imposed a menacing omerta among the West Belfast community. To talk of Jean McConville’s fate was to invite a visit from a death squad.’

When, 30 years after her abduction, the IRA admitted they had killed Mrs McConville, exhaustive searches found no body. Then, in August 2003, walkers stumbled upon her remains buried on Shelling Hill beach, Dundalk.

Now, for Michael McConville and his family, justice is at last in sight.

FF backs call for Adams to ‘tell truth’ about past

FF backs call for Adams to ‘tell truth’ about past
By JIM CUSACK
Sunday Independent
October 14 2012

TD joins McConville family in IRA allegations

Fianna Fail has joined the family of Jean McConville in calling for the questioning of Gerry Adams and convicted IRA bomber, Dolours Price, over her television claim that she drove the widowed mother-of-ten to her murder on a Co Louth beach in December 1972.

Price, 61, told an interviewer from America’s CBS last month that Adams also gave her orders to take part in the IRA’s bombing of the Old Bailey in London in 1973 in which one man was killed and more than a hundred injured. Price, her sister Marian, along with two men including Gerry Kelly, now a senior Sinn Fein figure, were arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Adams denies any involvement in the murder of Mrs McConville and also denies Price’s claim that he ordered her to bomb London. He also denies ever having been in the IRA.

In her interview with CBS television last month, Price was asked if she drove Mrs McConville to meet her death. She replied: “I drove the car, yeah.” She was then asked if she was aware of the likely consequences. She replied: “I was aware that that would be her end, yeah.”

Asked if this had bothered her, she answered: “No, no, not at all.”

Price, once married to actor Stephen Rea, now lives in Malahide, north Dublin. She has yet to be questioned by gardai about her claim to be directly involved in the murder of Mrs McConville, who was abducted in Belfast and driven to Templetown beach in Co Louth, where she was killed with a single shot to the back of the head and buried in a secret grave. Her body was discovered after part of it was exposed in 2003.

Yesterday, Mrs Helen McKendry, Jean McConville’s eldest daughter who, along with her husband, Seamus, started the campaign for the discovery of her mother’s remains, called for Price to be arrested and questioned about the murder.

“She’s shooting her mouth off talking about driving my mother to her murder. Of course she should be questioned,” says Helen McKendry.

“Her sister Marian is back in jail in the North [her parole was revoked for alleged involvement in dissident republican activity] and she should be back in jail now, too. I don’t know why she has not been arrested, and Gerry Adams.”

Fianna Fail’s justice spokesman Niall Collins TD launched an attack on Sinn Fein and its leader, saying: “Their refusal to tell the truth about Gerry Adams is a sinister and cynical betrayal of the support that the Irish people gave for the peace process in the first place.

“We know from the security reports of successive, cross-party Irish Ministers for Justice that Gerry Adams was not only a member of the PIRA, but a senior commander within the organisation. Now, we have the clear and unambiguous claim from a former close colleague and friend that he was personally involved in the abduction, torture, murder and disappearance of mother-of-10 Jean McConville.

“The response from Sinn Fein is to deny that he was ever a member, mutter about ‘media agendas’, and then talk in vague and meaningless terms about an ‘international conflict resolution process’. Gerry Adams doesn’t need an international panel of experts to shed light on what happened in the North. He just needs to start telling the truth.

“When asked about why he wouldn’t sue another individual who claims that she took orders from Adams personally for a bombing campaign in Britain, Gerry claims that he couldn’t afford to take a case.

“When reflecting on how disingenuous he is being with an answer like that, it’s worth remembering that before he moved to Dundalk, he received over €1m in expenses during his time as an absentee MP in West Belfast. This was on top of the ‘average industrial wage’ he received as an MLA in Stormont.”

Will CBS and Sunday Telegraph Defy PSNI Demands For Dolours Price Material?

Will CBS and Sunday Telegraph Defy PSNI Demands For Dolours Price Material?
Ed Moloney
The Broken Elbow
October 8, 2012

This weekend a number of news reports claimed that the PSNI has requested that journalistic material from the US broadcaster CBS and the British newspaper, The Sunday Telegraph concerning Dolours Price and the abduction and ‘disappearance’ of Jean McConville be handed over to detectives investigating her death.

The Telegraph interviewed Dolours Price about her alleged role, inter alia, in the disappearance of Jean McConville by the IRA in 1972. It is believed that the paper’s reporters tape-recorded their interviews with her. She said Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams had given her the order for these operations which included the 1973 bombing of London, for which she was arrested and imprisoned. CBS News’ London bureau also interviewed Dolours Price and an item based on the interview was broadcast on national US television and radio. It is likely that the PSNI are seeking film that was not broadcast.

If past practice is a reliable guide, it is likely that the PSNI have requested that this material be handed over voluntarily by these two organisations and if they refuse will then serve them with subpoenas. It remains to be seen what the response is from The Sunday Telegraph and CBS but hopefully a voluntary handover is not on the menu at either organization!. More crucially, what will they do if, having refused to hand over the material voluntarily they then are served with subpoenas? Will they move in the courts to quash them? Not to do so will set an alarming and dangerous precedent because this will entail two of the foremost media concerns in the Western world accepting the unbridled, unchallenged right of the police to use journalistic material in criminal investigations while implicitly accepting that journalists can and even should work alongside police detectives to supplement their work. Where CBS and The Sunday Telegraph go today, others will follow tomorrow.

It is the thin end of a very dangerous wedge. It would end by cementing the police and the Fourth Estate together as partners, the latter collecting information for the former to use, degrading the supposed independence of the media in a most disconcerting way and undermining its ability to hold society and its institutions, including the police, to account and under scrutiny. With the Leveson inquiry due to recommend tighter state oversight of the media, this move by the PSNI holds great destructive potential for a free society in Britain. In the US, CBS’ capitulation would mark another depressing waypoint on a post-911 journey that has seen civil liberties erased and media independence eroded. These are bad days for this to happen.

The nature of the crime under investigation, the “disappearance” of alleged British Army informer, Jean McConville by the IRA some forty years ago may tempt CBS and the Sunday Telegraph to hand over the material, on the grounds that the crime was so monstrous that nobody could stand in the way of bringing the matter to a just end. While not wishing to minimise the sheer wrongness and wickedness of what happened to Jean McConville, it would be unfortunate if that did happen and both institutions should reflect on a number of realities before contemplating that path.

They should remember that there were many, many monstrous crimes committed during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and quite a few of them were carried out by the state. Those crimes however remain uninvestigated and untouched by the same police force that now seeks to discover what happened to Jean McConville. They were carried out by the PSNI’s predecessors, the RUC, by British Military intelligence and by the Security Service, MI5 – the gory details are well known in Northern Ireland – yet no subpoenas are ever slapped on their desks. And we all know they won’t be. There are double standards at work here.

Secondly, for the most part of the last forty years neither the police nor any other security force agency cared a damn about Jean McConville, to the extent that only recently did they even classify her death as a murder, even though their intelligence files must have been bursting with information about her fate .

If the IRA is telling the truth and she was an informer who was caught but then let go with a warning before resuming her work for the British military, then the Army has some hard questions to answer, not least why they continued to use an agent whose life they must have known was in danger. And is it only coincidence that the state’s new found concern for Jean McConville comes when the Provo leadership has no more peace process cards to play, has disarmed and defanged the IRA and presents a great electoral threat to the Southern establishment parties? When the PSNI embarked on this investigation, with subpoenas served only when Gerry Adams was no longer a member of the British parliament and a potential source of embarrassment for that institution, they knew full well that all paths in their investigation would lead to his door. In these circumstances we are entitled to ask whether the opportunity to wreak revenge against a long-time foe rivals any concern for the death of Jean McConville.

Finally, CBS and The Sunday Telegraph should bear in mind that no matter the distressing circumstances of Jean McConville’s abduction and death, it is the principle that matters above all, that the media should be and must stay independent. It is this that is at stake in this matter. Today it is Jean McConville but tomorrow it may be opponents of war or people protesting the power of Wall Street or the City of London. The day the media accepts without protest or effort to deny in the courts, a role as an active partner with the police, no matter the justness of the cause, is the day they cease to matter and the rest of us lose a crucial if erratic bulwark of freedom. We are too close to that as it is. If, finally, both outlets must hand over the material it can only be after a fierce fight to protect their independence and to reassure their readers and viewers.


The following is a statement I issued in the wake of the weekend reports:

“I view with great concern and no little alarm this effort by the PSNI to further intrude upon media rights by seeking interview material from CBS News and the Sunday Telegraph. It is clear that in the light of recent court decisions in the United States and Belfast, the police feel encouraged to raid for journalistic material rather than conduct investigations under their own steam, as they had many opportunities to do in this case.

“I sincerely hope and trust that neither CBS nor the Sunday Telegraph will voluntarily hand over material to the PSNI and in the event of a subpoena being served on either organisation they will have my complete and unqualified support in resisting it. It is vital to remember that Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides a robust bulwark against incursions into freedom of speech and I trust both organisations will seek its protection against this effort by the PSNI.

“Clearly this case is developing into a major assault on privacy. Not content with assailing academic rights, the PSNI are now set to lay siege to the media as well. Where will this stop? The right and duty of the media to report fully and freely without having to look over their shoulders for prying policemen has to be protected if the media is to perform its role of holding society to account.

“There are a number of points I wish to make about this issue:

“It is clear that the PSNI is substituting the efforts of journalists for basic detective work. I cite one glaring example. In August 2010, Dolours Price, who lives in Dublin, appeared in a Northern Ireland court on a minor charge. The court was full of policemen at the time and the authorities were well aware in advance of her appearance. The PSNI had a perfect opportunity to question her about the allegations in the Irish News and Sunday Life but did not do so. The questions must be asked, why not? And why should media and academic organisations now be asked to pay the price for police incompetence?

“I also wish to point out that notwithstanding a recent decision in the Belfast High Court I am firmly and unalterably of the view that if these interviews from Boston College are handed over, the risk to the life of BC researcher, Anthony McIntyre will be very great indeed. The IRA will view him as someone who encouraged living, fellow former members of the IRA to break their rule of silence in circumstances that could lead to criminal charges against living IRA leaders and members. As someone who has covered IRA matters as a journalist for many years, I know what the penalty for that is. Thankfully, none of the journalists from CBS or the Sunday Telegraph are likely to face the same consequences.

“The speed with which the PSNI have acted against CBS and the Sunday Telegraph is in sharp contrast to its complete inactivity when similar reports surfaced in the Irish News and Sunday Life newspapers in February 2010. One of those reports wrongly claimed that Anthony McIntyre’s interview with Dolours Price contained details about the disappearance of Jean McConville. It did not but that did not stop the PSNI from issuing subpoenas more than a year later against Boston College. Had the PSNI conducted basic due diligence in 2010 those subpoenas would never have been issued.

“In this regard it is worth noting that this move against CBS and the Sunday Telegraph is the first time since this case began that the PSNI has sought to obtain allegedly similar materials through domestic channels.”

- Ed Moloney