Which is more important Justice or Peace? Is it right to deny someone justice in order to safeguard peace?
Today in Ireland there is a major discussion happening around this very topic. Gerry Adams, the leader of the political party Sinn Fein, has been arrested in the North of Ireland and is being questioned about the murder forty years ago of a widowed mother of ten children. Gerry Adams is a man with a very questionable past. He has been linked to the leadership of the IRA, yet incredibly always denied ever being a member. As an alleged leader he was linked to many atrocities which happened in the North and within Britain. On the other hand, in the past many years, there is no denying that he has been a strong supporter of the Good Friday agreement which has helped to bring about the peace we know in this country at present. He has also managed to convince the majority of republicans to continue to support the peace process.
In the name of Justice, Gerry Adams is now four days in custody answering questions on the murder of Jean McConville. During those four days we have seen the stirrings of unrest. The reopening of old wounds. The distrust of past enemies. The remembering of past wrongs and the reawakening of old hatreds.
If we support the calls of Jean McConvilles family for Justice, there is a very real possibility that the peace we have begun to take for granted may be in danger and a new generation will learn to hate once more.
With so much to lose you may think the answer is obvious. However it is not so clear cut. You have yet to hear the cries of the family seeking Justice, the family of Jean McConville.
In 1972 Jean McConville was aged thirty seven. She was a widowed mother of ten children. One night a group of twelve members of the IRA, some men some women, burst into her flat. Some were masked. Dragging her away from her crying children, she was bundled into a car and driven off to a secret location south of the border. The children never saw her again.
The rumours were spread that she had run off with a British soldier. Her son, aged 11, was taken away. He was tied up and told he’d be killed if he ever revealed the names of those who had taken his mother.
The real heartbreak of the story is what happened next. Having witnessed their mothers abduction the ten children were left in the care of their fourteen year old sister. Neighbours, too afraid of reprisals, did not help them. For five weeks the children were left alone, hungry and terrified, trying to discover what had happened their mother. Eventually their sister went to the Civil Rights office, who drew media attention to the plight of the children. They were subsequently taken into care and placed in orphanages and foster care.
In August 2003, a walker on a beach discovered skeletal remains. They are later identified as the remains of Jean McConville. Thirty one years after her “disappearance” her children got to say goodbye.
This was a shocking sickening crime. It happened at a time when many believed they were fighting in a war. They believed Jean McConville was an informant and they seemed to have no conscience disposing of her. Abroad, particularly in the United States of America, there was much support for the IRA. Money was given to “The Cause”. Many did not think further than that, yet crimes such as this were part and parcel of “The Cause”, as were intimidation, murder and bombings. Within America today many are appalled at this crime and shouting for justice. I wonder how many of them in the past have sympathised with or contributed to “The Cause”?
Today the old wounds within the North are opening. There is now talk within republican sides that the police service of northern Ireland, the PSNI, are pandering to politicians. That this arrest of Gerry Adams is politically motivated, as there are elections taking place in a few weeks. That this is not about justice but politics and the settling of old scores.
Equally there are shouts from the unionist side who are fighting their corner, shouting back at republicans. And so the name calling begins.
I fear in a matter of days this name calling will escalate, and we will be transported, in the blink of an eye, back to darker days. All that was gained quickly lost. There are many who have an ulterior motive. They have never agreed with the ceasefire and are strongly critical of Gerry Adams for selling out. They are now stirring the pot furiously adding to the confusion and openly participating in the rhetoric of hate.
I would not like to be the one to say I think peace is more important than the McConville family getting justice, but in this case I believe we have little choice. The alternative is an Ireland I never wish to see again. My children do not even remember a time of conflict. In order to maintain a long and lasting peace we need to ensure we rear a number of generations in peace. We have yet to rear one.
So it is that today I watch with baited breath to see what happens hundreds of miles from my home. We are living in a time when history will tell us if these are the days when everything changed. If the sins of the past will come back to haunt those who have moved on, and who have helped the country to move on. If Jean McConvilles family will ever get justice, or if those in the know decide to chose peace over justice?
We can only watch and wait as I wonder “Is peace more important than justice?”.