A new documentary drama about Dolours Price features footage of a detailed interview in which the late IRA member talks about her involvement in the murder of Jean McConville and other members of the Disappeared. JOANNE SAVAGE speaks to producer Ed Moloney
An astonishing new film produced by veteran journalist Ed Moloney tells the story of the IRA career of the late Dolours Price, who was famously imprisoned in 1973 for her part in a car bomb attack outside the Old Bailey in London.
Shocking footage of Price talking in unprecedented detail about her part in the IRA campaign, including her involvement in transporting some of the Disappeared to their deaths, is evocatively spliced with dramatic re-enactments of key moments in her life, beginning with her upbringing in a staunchly republican family, swearing allegiance to the republican cause when she came of age, her membership of a secret IRA unit called the Unknowns and her eight years in prison.
Price agreed to be interviewed by Bronx-based journalist and author Moloney in 2010 about her IRA past on the condition that the material would not be made public until after her death. Price, who was married to actor Stephen Rea and had two sons, died from an accidental overdose of prescription pills in 2013 at the age of 61 after struggling with PTSD and depression.
The footage shows a composed and reflective Dolours, blonde-haired and carefully made-up for the camera, her eyes a penetrating blue, testifying about her part in one of the most appalling atrocities of the Troubles: the 1972 abduction and murder of Belfast widow and mother of ten Jean McConville.
Price, who claims Ms McConville was guilty of being an informer, was responsible for driving her from her home across the border to Dundalk. “We regarded informers as the lowest form of life,” says Dolours, who explains that McConville did not fear for her life after her abduction because she was told she was to be relocated by a charitable organisation called the Legion of Mary. Price claims she only realised the woman she was driving to her death was a mother when Jean asked if her children would be brought to join her. But it was a realisation that did not deter Price from completing her mission.
When the Dundalk IRA unit refused to kill Ms McConville, “because she was a woman”, Price and two other volunteers shot the mother of ten; the trio each fired a shot “so that nobody could say for certain who had been the person to kill her”.
This was a comforting fiction: after McConville’s bones were discovered in 2003, by a man walking along a beach in Louth, a coroner ruled that the cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the head, and only one bullet was recovered with the bones. If the other two did fire shots, they missed. “She was left in the grave,” Price says. “The local unit buried her.”
Dolours relates all this with quite remarkable detachment, her republican fanaticism clearly having blinded her to the sheer immorality of what she was involved in.
“They [informers] knew the penalty,” says Dolours. “I certainly advocated that the bodies of informers should be thrown out on the street to put the fear of God and the republican movement into anybody that would choose that form of life.”
Price also details how she transported IRA men Seamus Wright and Kevin McKee to the border where they were also shot for the perceived cardinal sin of becoming British informers. Wright and McKee were told that their lives would be spared, so they happily joined Dolours for the journey. Another IRA colleague, Joe Lynskey, met a similar fate, joining her on the drive to the border in the full knowledge that he was about to meet his death. It’s while recalling the latter case that Price becomes tearful; Joe had been committed to the cause and didn’t try to resist the chain of command.
“For Dolours. Joe [Lynskey] represented a form of principled republicanism that she saw as being betrayed by the peace process,” explains Moloney, who conducted the groundbreaking interview. “He went with her willingly. They were close. I believe she was very much haunted by his death.
“Dolours took a very dim view of informers and in her mind those guilty of that particular crime had brought the death sentence upon themselves. The IRA were at war with the British state and Dolours was committed to carrying out commands with the diligence of a soldier.
“You have to remember that Dolours grew up in a republican family - her parents, grandparents, and two aunts had all done time in Armagh jail. She was radicalised at 19 and her commitment to the cause was absolute. One of the cardinal beliefs was that the lowest form of human life was the traitor within your own ranks.
“You have to remember the history of republicanism in Ireland which is that every single struggle since the United Irishmen has been let down by informers. They had to be dealt with. That was in the marrow of the IRA.”
Moloney explains that the Unknowns - the IRA unit Dolours was a member of - was led by a man called Pat McClure who answered to the officer commanding in Belfast, who she alleged to be Gerry Adams. Dolours maintains that it was Adams who sent her on various missions involving bombings and killings. Adams continues to strenuously insist that he was not a member of the IRA.
The film also features harrowing scenes with Lorna Larkin depicting Dolours in her youth when she describes herself and other IRA members as “idealistic and committed”. Jailed for her part in the Old Bailey bombing alongside her sister Marian and Gerry Kelly, she immediately begins a hunger strike in custody demanding that she be allowed to serve her sentence in a Northern Irish jail. Marian joined her on the hunger strike which lasted for over 200 days because both were force-fed by the authorities. The process was brutal and traumatic. They were eventually transferred to Armagh prison. After eight years Dolours was released on sympathetic grounds suffering from anorexia.
The great achievement of I, Dolours is the objective view it gives of a woman who risked all in the name of the republican struggle and who was led to commit terrible crimes because of her warped commitment to this ideology. In Price’s view the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement were a betrayal of the ultimate republican cause. Disillusioned, Dolours broke the IRA code of omerta and decided to share her story with Moloney.
During the interview Moloney asks Dolours if she is haunted by the memory of the Disappeared.
“Yes,” she replies, looking pensively at the camera.
“I think back on those who I had responsibility for driving away. I’m not a deeply religious person, but I would say a prayer for them.”
Moloney asks if she regards such forced disappearances as a war crime, and Price responds, “Yes, I think it’s a war crime. Yes.”
I, Dolours is released in cinemas on August 31.