IRA's role in the hunt for bodies is criticised

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THE IRA was accused last night of point-scoring over the discovery of the body of a woman who was murdered by the IRA and secretly buried during the 1970s.

As relatives of Jean McConville - abducted and murdered in 1972 after she comforted a British soldier who had been shot outside her door in Belfast - awaited official confirmation that her remains had been found on a beach in Co Louth, the Republican movement claimed that it told the Dublin authorities weeks ago to extend the search.

The mother of ten is one of the so-called "Disappeared", who were murdered by the Provisional IRA and secretly buried during the 1970s.

But Mrs McConville’s son-in-law, Seamus McKendry, insisted that any detail passed on by the IRA was worthless.

He said: "The Provos are trying to jump on the bandwagon. There’s always going to be somebody wanting to score brownie points, and it seems that’s what they are engaged in."

Republicans claimed Irish authorities were asked to widen two searches to locate more bodies. A Sinn Fein source said: "It is our understanding the IRA carried out an exhaustive review of all of the information available to it. There was an assessment that, at two particular locations, the area of the search should be widened. One of those was the McConville site. That information was passed on a number of weeks ago."

Relatives of Mrs McConville believe remains discovered by a man walking with his children at Shilling Hill beach, near Dundalk, on Wednesday are those of the widow. A post-mortem examination disclosed that the victim had been shot in the back of the head. It could be several weeks before the identity is known, but if it is confirmed to be Mrs McConville, it will bring to four the number of bodies recovered.

The bodies of five others are still missing. They were all abducted and murdered by the IRA after being accused of informing to the British security forces - allegations that have never been corroborated by hard evidence.

But as the McConvilles’ anxious wait continues, Mr McKendry insisted the information passed on by the IRA made no difference. "It would only have increased the original dig at Templeton Beach, which is not where Jean was buried," he said.

The Victims Commission, set up by the British and Irish governments to help families of the disappeared, insisted no details had come through it.