Leading article: Ireland must learn from these victims of the bad old days

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The Independent Culture
THE SIGHT of the Irish police digging up a beach car park in County Louth day after day is not the public relations coup that Sinn Fein would have hoped for once the Provisional IRA had decided to direct police towards the bodies of Northern Ireland's "disappeared". After the recovery of the remains of Eamon Molloy on Friday, the families of the other eight victims believed that they would retrieve their relatives' bodies relatively quickly. But that expectation has now foundered. Seamus McKendry, the son-in-law of Jean McConville, whose corpse lies below that Louth beach, expressed his family's mounting distress caused by the IRA's cruel incompetence in directing the authorities to the grave sites. Growing sympathy for the relatives has been potent enough to force Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, to insist that he opposes "injustices... perpetrated by republicans".

This statement does not yet amount to an apology. The "injustice" in question is the fact of the so-called disappearance rather than the murder. The families of the eight men and one woman who were abducted and murdered and whose corpses were then discarded are looking forward to giving their relatives a proper burial. Despite their sadness, they will be glad to be able to mourn fully. To that extent, the IRA's actions in bringing this information to light is welcome. But the real injustice is the fact of the murder. Mr Adams still glosses over that when he insists that "these things happen in war".

It is unrealistic to expect Sinn Fein to say sorry for the IRA's killings. But the decision to locate these bodies shows that the IRA is trying to make itself more acceptable to the mass of Ulster society. Sinn Fein's leaders have shown themselves to be skilled negotiators in the peace process of the last three years. That skill also extends to intra-republican politics. As they move towards democratic politics they are aware of their need to be able to compete successfully with the nationalist SDLP. Most of the "disappeared" came from the Catholic community. Their crime was to have been suspected of acting against the IRA. Rather than having been universally "reviled", as Mr Adams claimed last week, the disappeared have become the subject of an unanswerable demand for justice and humanity. Sinn Fein is as anxious as anyone to have their remains quickly disinterred and returned.

The evasions and equivocations of negotiating politicians are music in comparison to the sound of bullets and blast bombs. Yet the existence of these bodies reminds the nation just how savage the violence in Northern Ireland has been. Unless people in the province want to return to those barbarous days, the politicians, both green and orange, must not allow themselves to remain stuck in the bog of old thinking.