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<bleeding_heart>

Son tells how IRA "disappeared" mother

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DUNDALK (Reuters) - The son of one of Northern Ireland's "Disappeared" has described how he last saw his mother being dragged away by a masked Irish Republican Army (IRA) gang up to 20 strong.

Arthur McConville was giving evidence on Monday at the inquest into the death of widowed mother-of-ten Jean McConville, which was taking place more than 31 years after she was abducted, shot and secretly buried in the Irish Republic by the outlawed group.

In a written deposition read out to the courtroom in the Irish border town of Dundalk, eldest son Arthur said he was 16 when a masked gang of four men and four women burst into their Belfast home on December 7, 1972.

"All the children were squealing... but they said they were only taking her for questioning for a few hours, I asked if I could go," he said.

Outside were between 18 and 20 armed guerrillas wearing balaclavas. Arthur had a gun put to his head, and was ordered to go back up to the family apartment.

"We just waited and waited, from that time, for years and years," he said. "We never saw our mother alive again."

The fate of the Disappeared -- nine suspected informers spirited across the border and killed in the 1970s -- became an embarrassment to the IRA and its political ally Sinn Fein when the Northern Ireland peace process took hold in the 1990s.

It did not admit the McConville killing until many years later when it accused her of being a spy, telling the British about its movements in the Divis Flats, the sprawling housing estate where she lived in the IRA's west Belfast heartland.

Her family have always denied the allegation, saying she was killed for comforting a dying British soldier shot by an IRA sniper outside her home some weeks before.

Seven of McConville's surviving nine children were in court on Monday, and afterwards called on the IRA to clear her name.

"They said she was an informer, the evidence proves she was not an informer," said son Michael. "I will be seeking a meeting with (Sinn Fein leader) Gerry Adams to resolve this."

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