Gerry Adams has said he doesn’t know whether the IRA murdered “an ordinary wee man” from south Armagh – despite a former IRA man from the area saying that the organisation killed him.
Crossmaglen man Charlie Armstrong was abducted in 1981 – two years after he had searched for a neighbour who had himself been abducted and murdered by the IRA.
In last night’s major television documentary about The Disappeared, broadcast on both sides of the border by the BBC and RTE, Mr Armstrong’s elderly widow Kathleen recalled her husband as “just an ordinary wee man”.
One Sunday morning he left to drive an elderly neighbour to mass but was never heard of again.
As with others disappeared by the IRA, rumours were soon put around that he was alive.
Charlie’s daughter Anna McShane recalled: “People would say, ‘Oh, he was seen sitting in a bar chatting two women up in Carrick’. Another man said that he had seen him getting off a bus in Drogheda.
“We checked them all out. There was nothing .”
Charlie’s widow said: “We went round the roads every Sunday – nothing. That went on for 29 years.”
In 2001 an IRA member broke ranks and wrote to his widow saying he had been buried “three feet down”, with an attached map.
Although that map proved inaccurate, further information led to the discovery of Charlie’s body in 2010.
Charlie’s widow had to identify his remains from artefacts – including a sock – discovered in the shallow grave.
She said: “It was wonderful in one way. In another way it was very sad. I don’t know how I got over it but I was glad to have him back.”
His daughter said that when her father’s body was discovered “half his head was missing, his hands and feet were tied at the front which meant that he was tied and killed and then dropped off”.
Martin McAllister, a former member of the IRA in south Armagh, told journalist Darragh MacIntyre in last night’s Storyville programme that the murders were carried out by the IRA.
“It would have been the local IRA – be in no doubt about that,” he said.
“The reason for disappearing them was a very simple one; the local community – ordinary, decent people in Crossmaglen – would not have stood for it, would not have put up with it, would not have supported it. So no claim, no blame.”
He said that “the rumour mill would have been started” after a disappearance, in an attempt to kill interest in the story.
When asked why the IRA still denies having disappeared Charlie Armstrong, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said: “There are only two reasons for it. First of all, the IRA leadership didn’t authorise that killing. The IRA leadership which carried out the investigation would have uncovered that and said that at the time.
“So whether the IRA didn’t kill Gerard Evans and Charlie Armstrong, they were killed by others which could include other republicans; could even include local republicans.”
Mr McAllister said that Mr Adams “chooses to come up with that answer as opposed to facing the reality that he himself has been told lies by them here locally and perhaps he wants to believe it”.
Last night’s programme also showed how Provisional IRA founding member and former leader Billy McKee reacted with derision when told that Gerry Adams claims to never have been in the IRA.
“Gerry Adams is speaking for himself,” he said.
“Was Gerry Adams in the IRA? Ask him will he come up and say that to me, face to face.”
Meanwhile, the family of one of the Disappeared whose body has still not been recovered, have renewed their appealed for information.
Columba McVeigh vanished on November 1, 1975.
Speaking from her home in Liverpool, Columba’s sister Dympna Kerr appealed to those who have information to give it to the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains (ICLVR).
“Someone out there knows us and they know they can help,” she said.
l Information about the location of the bodies of the Disappeared can be passed to the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains by writing to ICLVR, PO BOX 10827, Dublin 2, Ireland or online at www.iclvr.ie.
The Disappeared will be broadcast again tonight across the UK on BBC Four at 10pm.