I can’t say I knew ‘Big’ Bobby Storey at all well, not least because he was in jail for a lot of the time that I worked as a journalist in Belfast. And when he came out of jail the peace process was in acceleration mode and my life was dominated by the need to keep up with that story.
But I knew that he had been an acolyte of Gerry Adams’ down to his fingertips in jail and that Adams recognised that he needed to keep Storey on his side as the process trundled towards…well, where it is now.
I also suspected then and more so later, that such was his uncritical adoration of the Big Lad that he was either naive in the extreme about Adams, what drove him and where he was going politically, or that he chose cynically to ignore the obvious.
My suspicions in this regard were rooted in the episode I know best about Storey’s relationship with Gerry, and that was about the disappearance of Jean McConville.
In pursuit of the fiction that none of this had anything to do with him, Adams had given Storey the job of finding out what had happened to Mrs McConville, who had been involved in her disappearance and, most importantly, where her remains had been buried.
This was at a point in the peace process when clearing up the issue of the ‘disappeared’ had assumed urgency and priority, so much so that Bill Clinton had taken sides in favour of justice for the disappeared.
For Adams to ask Storey to find out what happened to Jean McConville was like Stalin asking Beria to discover who gave the order to bury an icepick in Trotsky’s skull. Gerry knew, and knows more about what happened to Jean McConville and why, and who was involved in her ‘disappearance’ and how, than anyone still living.
When Storey went to interview Dolours Price he was, according to her account to me, astonished to hear her side of the story, which was of course that Gerry had given the order to ‘the unknowns’ to send Jean McConville to her maker. Clearly Gerry had denied all knowledge and put the blame on others, especially Ivor Bell, a line the British state and their police chiefs dutifully followed in later years.
From that point on ‘Big’ Bobby knew the truth but it didn’t seem to faze him in the slightest or raise doubts in his mind about his leader, who he continued to serve unquestioningly and, in terms of his intelligence work, very effectively.
But he must have known, or at least strongly suspected that Gerry had lied to him about Jean McConville and in the process laid the blame for his actions onto comrades. In that respect he was the Big Lad’s patsy, or maybe his Beria would be nearer the mark.