The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
A Regime of Silence

Several members heard Berta give her name and Moreyra actually saw her alive when the hood was put over her head. She was hurt and they struck her mercilessly while they insulted her. One heard a military person say: "She is about to go" and another answered: "Put the bag on her." After this she was not heard again. Her body was identified by family members - Description in a human rights petition of the murder and disappearance of Berta Calvo by the Argentinean military junta

Anthony McIntyre • 7 September 2003

For the most part, whether imposed or as the result of self-censorship, a regime of silence has established itself within many sections of the media since the discovery of a body on a County Louth beach believed to be that of Jean McConville, a victim of a 1972 war crime carried out by the post-Seamus Twomey Provisional IRA leadership in Belfast. How that self-proclaimed organ of professionalism and first class journalism, and unrivalled purveyor of the truth in the face of 'yellow press' onslaughts, the Andersonstown News, missed the scoop raises questions as to the raison d'etre of the paper. After all it was first out of the traps to interview Spookaticci. And if press reports merit further consideration - including those in the Sunday Business Post - he may be the type of character that would find putting people like Jean McConville 'down a hole' no more than a day’s work. Yet not a line in the West Belfast tabloid pointing to the discovery on Shelling Hill. Is it hopelessly cynical to suspect that the management took its cue from Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, who publicly stated, 'I really think the least said about these matters the better.'? So much for editorial independence; not even an inkling of understanding Andre Vltchek’s observation on East Timor that ‘''reconciliation'' based on silence never worked.’

Unfortunately for the West Belfast MP, where the press has speculated much of its focus alludes to his alleged role in this war crime. The Irish Independent has claimed:

Jean McConville was murdered by the Belfast Brigade of the IRA. Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, was the leader of that brigade at that time. Did he order her death? Did others disappear at his command?

Adams has refuted any such thing, insisting that the 'allegation is wrong.' And while the fact that he also denies ever having been a member of the IRA damages his reputation as an adherent to the truth it cannot be inferred from one spoof that he is automatically lying on other matters. We can hardly fail to acknowledge that the majority of us simply have no way of knowing the identity of the war criminal behind the disappearance of Jean McConville. And for many, perhaps more so in West Belfast, the notion that Mr Adams may have had a hand in such a depraved act of ferocity, is such an 'appalling vista' that suggestions to the contrary can only be the work of securocrats and their allies. If the man we return time after time to serve us in the British parliament should rightfully be in the Hague what does it say about us? How would the international community view us given our very voluble discourse on justice over the decades? The same perhaps that the it felt about Austria when the country decided to elect Kurt Waldheim as its president at a time when he was suspected of having committed war crimes during World War Two? As a constituency of victims we do not want to go there and see our somewhat artificial perception of ourselves subverted and the meaning we inscribed into our struggle shorn of authenticity. Security lies in the comfort of having sustained rather than inflicted.

The type of silence that has taken grip must cause reflection in some quarters on the role of the so-called securocrats. It is said that on one occasion when, after having used the term in conversation Gerry Kelly was asked to define a securocrat, he shrugged and said 'I don't know what it means. Martin McGuinness used it and the rest of us followed suit.' True or not, this is hardly surprising for a movement that is leadership led and mouths the line dutifully even if it means mouthing the opposite of what was mouthed thirty minutes earlier. No understanding is required, just an ability to remember the lines, or a willingness to tramp on the toes of somebody else when memory fails. But if the securocrats really existed in some quarantined space into which either the will or the interest of the British Government fails to penetrate, where they work day and night to sabotage the peace process, now would seem the time for them to be making their presence felt. Yet they hold their tongues on this matter when, if they really wanted to shower acid rain on the peace process, they could be adding their voices as well as donating their classified security files to the Sunday Independent's campaign for a public enquiry. We have the strange phenomenon of the dog that has not barked. Either the securocrats exist and they want the peace process to succeed because of the victory it hands the British state, or they are the much needed imaginary bogey-man Sinn Fein deploy to mask what the party really signed up for in the Good Friday Agreement.

In any event, securocrat silence is every bit as instructive as the IRA call for a specified abandonment of silence is obtuse. The organisation in a statement has called on those with any knowledge about the disappearance of Gareth O'Connor to 'make that information available to the O'Connor family'. And if, as Sinn Fein argue, 'the families of those people killed during the conflict have a right to justice' is the same courtesy to be extended to the McConville family? Would the IRA find itself in the contradictory position of arguing only for information to be passed in the case of Gareth O'Connor where it could result in hefty jail terms yet withhold information in the McConville case which in terms of punitive sanctions it would be rendered negligible as a result of the Good Friday Agreement providing a get out of jail free card?

But contradictions are what we have come to expect of Pinocchio O’Neill. The IRA in its recent statement on the disappeared talks of execution and burials quite impervious to the concept of war criminality. This contrasts vividly with the position taken up by An Phoblacht/ Republican News when it cast its critical eye over Chile where the disappeared is:

the legacy of terror of dictator Augusto Pinochet ... In Chile most of those responsible for murders, torture and disappearances occurred during the dictatorship have never been incarcerated ... Even more poignant is the decision of Chile's political elite to grant immunity to those responsible for the deaths of their compatriots

The paper further reported on the hunger strike of thirteen relatives of the Chilean disappeared demanding that the current government prosecute those responsible for the crimes of the dictatorship: The relatives are quoted as saying 'For our part, we are tired of lies, promises and disappointments ... the political authorities are resisting to accept these offences as crimes against humanity.'

Just drop Chile and this type of language becomes exactly what has been hurled in the direction of republicans since the discovery of the body on Shelling Hill. The parents of the disappeared Gareth O’Connor and Columba McVeigh, have launched stinging invective at the IRA which the organisation finds difficulty evading given its track record for lying.

But it is not only here within our own conflict that the corrosive effects of a corrupting peace process undermine the attainment of justice for those least powerful. One is forced to conclude that the peace process has so hollowed out the notion of truth in both the media and the body politic, leaving in its place a mere regime of truth where the discourses of the powerful determine what is. How else do we explain the inertia with which the Dublin government has responded to the mounting campaign by both European and other governments, as widely dispersed as Japan and Canada, to seek justice on behalf of the descendants of their own citizens who were butchered or disappeared during the rule of the generals in Argentina? Dublin's ambassador to Argentina stated that his government had no intention of seeking the extradition of anyone for the crimes perpetrated on Irish citizens. The peace process sets the scene in which the loudest and most legitimate word in its vocabulary is 'hush' - even to the extent that tactically keeping stum on war crimes carried out on its own de jure jurisdiction means behaving likewise when the war crimes are the handiwork of Argentinean generals and their victims are Irish. Whatever the short term merits of the peace process, its corralling of public discourse into a darkened cul de sac gives rise to the reign of the obscurantist who will gleefully defoliate the public consciousness of its intellectual sustenance. This is not the type of closure the culture of inquiries was intended to herald.

Republicans for their part may feel an obligation to defend the war that they prosecuted for so long. But such a defence can only be plausibly mounted if the war is dissociated from the war criminals.




Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

7 September 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Bush, Coke-a-Cola and the Nazis
Eamonn McCann


A Regime of Silence
Anthony McIntyre


Lower Falls Memories
Kathleen O'Halloran


My Axis of Evil
Pedram Moallemian


In Memory of Israfil Shiri 1973-2003
Debbie Grue


IRPWA Calls on Paul Murphy to Reveal Recommendations
Martin Mulholland


A Letter to Mr Foley
Matthew Kavanagh


4 September 2003


US Denies It Gave Safe Harbor to Brian Nelson
Fr Sean Mc Manus


Between Theory and Reality
Eamon Sweeney


In the Name of Security
Jim J Kane


Caught at it Again
Anthony McIntyre


The History of the Troubles According to the Provos
John Nixon


Moving Forward Past the Past
Davy Carlin


More Questions than Answers
Mick Hall


In Memory of Robert Emmet

Charles Murnick


Attempted Suicide by Iranian Asylum Seeker
Debbie Grue


Dublin: Maghberry Briefing Meeting
Mags Glennon


Belfast Anti-War Movement
Public Meeting




The Blanket



Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices

To contact the Blanket project with a comment, to contribute an article, or to make a donation, write to: