Former Sinn Fein councillor Pat Rice is the latest to be arrested in connection with the IRA execution in 1972 of informer Jean McConville, but appears to have been an embarrassing victim of mistaken identity.
Pat Rice (pictured), a former grammar school teacher, served as a member of Sinn Fein’s international department as well as Sinn Fein’s spokesman on education. Now elderly, he was taken from his home in Poleglass on the outskirts of west Belfast this week but was released unconditionally some hours later. He had apparently been mistaken for a veteran republican with a similar name, Paddy Joe Rice.
His lawyer has said he is to lodge legal proceedings against the PSNI for wrongful arrest, and make a complaint to the Police Ombudsman.
“It was confirmed by police during the course of his interview that the PSNI do not have any evidence, whether forensic or witness statement, implicating my client in this incident nor was he named or identified by anyone who participated in the ‘Boston College Project’,” Mr O Muirigh said.
“This arrest is reminiscent of the abuse of draconian legislation by the RUC during the conflict where such arrests were used primarily for political purposes and/or as an intelligence gathering tool.
“It appears little thought has been given to the propriety or legality of the methods used by the PSNI and to the damage to confidence in policing in the west Belfast area as a result of the actions of the PSNI.”
Paddy Joe Rice, a close friend of the late Brendan Hughes, parted ways with the mainstream republican movement and has been an outspoken opponent of the Sinn Fein political strategy and the party’s leader Gerry Adams.
The arrests are linked to the Boston College ‘Belfast Project’ - a series of interviews with republicans who were falsely promised their confessions would be secure until after their death.
One man, Ivor Bell, has already been charged based on an interview he is alleged to have made as part of the project. The 77-year-old who is on bail denies the charges. During a previous court hearing his lawyer Peter Corrigan argued that “the Boston College project was a complete sham”. He said he is being treated unfairly compared to British soldiers who opened fire on Bloody Sunday.
Mr Bell appeared before Belfast Magistrates Court this week for an update in proceedings against him. His lawyer argued that it was “untenable” for Crown prosecutors to have yet to make a decision on whether to continue with the prosecution.
As well as challenging the prosecution’s request to bring in a voice expert, Mr Corrigan described his client as an elderly man facing the stress of being charged with conflict-related offences.
According to the lawyer, resource constraints have impacted on the PSNI’s ability to properly investigate other episodes from the conflict.
He cited the Bloody Sunday case where British troops killed 13 civil rights marchers in Derry, and the activities of the loyalist Glenanne gang - a sectarian murder squad that included members of the police and British Army.
“My client is entitled to be treated equally before the law,” Mr Corrigan insisted.
“If he’s treated in some way differently from the soldiers on Bloody Sunday it’s something we intend to put forward as part of an application. Why is Ivor Bell and why is everybody not being treated equally for conflict-related offences?”
Mr Bell was released on continuing bail to return to court in December.