What is the alternative to sacrificing the McConville family in the interest of ‘the greater good?’ – asks Eamonn Mallie

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The McConville family pictured above. Image courtesy of PA

The McConville family pictured above. Image courtesy of PA


Despite the thousands and thousands of words written and spoken about the arrest of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams no one asked the critical question: should justice for the orphaned McConville family of 1972 be sacrificed in the interest of permanent peace for the children yet unborn?

Of the IRA Gerry Adams said: “while I have never dissociated myself from the IRA and I never will, I am innocent of any part in the abduction, killing or burial of Mrs McConville.”

Presume Mr Adams was linked to that heinous crime in 1972, for the sake of today’s children and the children yet unborn, should Adams and those IRA, UVF, and UDA leaders who navigated those killer organisations away from the killing fields be rewarded by the State?

Should their crimes remain ignored?

This is a hugely ethical question. Is it moral sometimes to act illegally, to wittingly bend the rule of law in the interest of what the State would argue ‘is for the greater good?’

This was the thesis prosecuted to defend a policy of ‘shoot to kill’ (even though the State refused  to call it this) during the Troubles.

The line of argument proffered was ‘in the interest of the greater good.’ The same defence obtained for governments engaging directly with leaders of paramilitary organisations down the years. It happens all over the world.

The arrest of Gerry Adams prompted an uncharacteristic outburst from Martin McGuinness who spoke of a ‘cabal’ within the PSNI.


First Minister Peter Robinson pictured at the launch of the DUP manifesto at the Crescent Arts Centre.

First Minister Peter Robinson pictured at the launch of the DUP manifesto at the Crescent Arts Centre.


There was a palpable anger in the republican camp. There was more than a hint of the bad old days, the hunger strike era etc. The DUP alleged that republicans were ‘blackmailing’ the PSNI.

Whatever the motive of the authorities for arresting Gerry Adams the fallout was immense with alarm bells sounding in London, Dublin and Washington.

Put brutally, if going after every leading paramilitary suspect who helped to broker the peace process, endangers the current administration, is that justified?

What of the rôle of State killers, Ballymurphy, Finucane, spooks, the ‘dark side?’

Ethics, ethics, ethics… morality?

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I am a regular contributor to discussion programmes on TV and radio both at home and abroad. An experienced political editor and author specialising in Politics, Security and 20th Century Art.


  1. Would it not be preferable to hold all victims in similar regard and treat them all on the same footing?
    So many victims have been suffering in silence for years, and must wonder how some gain such celebrity status.
    And the involvement of politicians for their own selfish electoral reasons is obscene, but I’m not sure they could be excluded because the victims will be inclined to grasp at any offer of help.

  2. Eamonn
    Is it worth saving these institutions? I think many victims and survivors may have taken some comfort that they their loved ones had not suffered or died in vain if the peace, so hard won had amounted to something. Peace is not a process. The GFA was an agreement which required magnanimity on all sides to succeed. Our politicians have not only failed the victims, which compounds their sense of injustice they are failing the upcoming generations as well.

  3. Jeremy Bentham teaches us to seek the greatest good for the greatest number. We will never, ever agree on “victims” – yours are guilty of the most unspeakable crimes, mine are heroes even if they innocently erred on occasion; and vice versa.

    Forget it, a collective amnesia. Like the mad Aunt in the attic we must all agree to never, ever talk of this matter again.

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