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The truth about the man who accuses Adams...

Back in the sixties, when I was starting to research my book on the IRA, Andrew Boyd arranged that I be brought to Belfast's Linenhall Library where I was sworn to secrecy, brought down to a locked basement wherein a locked steel box was opened and I was given access to the library's collection of IRA documents -- a few handbills and a copy of the booklet Operation Harvest, which was written by a former sub-editor colleague of mine on the Evening Press, Sean Cronin.

Such was the impact of the Special Powers Act and the state of republican documentation at the time. Consequently, as a writer committed to the principles of free speech, I must support the appearance of Ed Maloney's Voices from the Grave.

But the support has to be accompanied by a health, or rather a provenance, warning. In his introduction, Moloney, who is unquestionably both a courageous and a skilful journalist, sets forth the background to the book, which is based on revealing interviews with two leading figures from opposite side of the Northern struggle, the republican Brendan Hughes and the loyalist David Irvine.

These owe their publication to the late Adele Dalsimer's famous Irish studies programme at Boston College; Moloney's introduction says that the interviewers for the programme's archive have followed the example of the Irish Bureau of Military History, which collected statements from War of Independence veterans.

But the Bureau programme was purely a historical record. It safeguarded the living by guaranteeing no publication until the last interviewee to receive a military pension had died.

The Boston operation only stipulates that nothing be published until the interviewee concerned had either died or given their consent. Hughes died in 2008.

Moloney's introduction thanks his two researchers Wilson McArthur and Anthony McIntyre, for "their individual objectivity and commitment to the truth". McIntyre is described as "a Ballymurphy republican and PhD". Moloney does not indicate that both himself, and McIntyre, an ex-IRA prisoner and blanketman, are two of Gerry Adams's most prominent and relentless critics.

McIntyre left the republican movement after the signing of The Good Friday Agreement. He argued, if I understand him correctly, that it smacks too much of an internal settlement and consistently attacked it, and the Adams leadership, in his (now concluded) on-line journal of dissent The Blanket, to which his friend Brendan Hughes also contributed in similar vein.

Maloney, for his part, in his last book, A Secret History of the IRA, went so far as to suggest that Adams could have had something to do with the betrayal of IRA, active service units, such as those which perished at Loughall and at Gibraltar. This book then is no mere academic exercise.

Based on the words of a dead man, it constitutes a journalistic hand grenade hurled into contemporary Six County politics, which, compounded by the effects of the abuse scandal, has been damaging to Gerry Adams and brought glee to his opponents.

One feels it unlikely that pro-Adams republicans will be inclined to swell the Boston archive by giving further interviews to McIntyre and Maloney.

The Hughes interview completely overshadows that with David Ervine by Wilson McArthur, which is a pity because Ervine was an important figure within loyalism.

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But Gerry Adams is unquestionably one of the most significant figures to appear on the Irish political scene in the last century.

He played a leading role in the destruction of the Orange State and without him there would not be an IRA ceasefire today. Even Moloney has described him as a "strategic genius".

However, the effect of the Hughes interview is to add more sinister tones to this portrait. I never visit Carlingford without pausing at the pathetic memorial to their mother erected on Templetown Beach by the children of Jean McConville , the Belfast mother of 10 "disappeared" by the IRA during the troubles. One would require a heart harder than the surrounding rocks not to be moved by the memorial, tended by the family as though it were a grave.

McIntyre quotes Hughes as saying that Jean McConville was shot on Adams' orders by "The Unknowns" -- a hit squad set up by Adams to eliminate informers. An even more shocking death was that of Paddy Joe Crawford who supposedly hanged himself in Long Kesh. According to the Hughes interview he was thought to be an informer and was brainwashed into allowing himself to be murdered, on a black-draped improvised gallows, because of an order issued by Adams.

In a nutshell, the Hughes interview accuses Adams of being involved in all the major IRA actions of his time, including the Bloody Friday bombings, and describes Adams' -- admittedly puzzling -- denials of IRA membership as a turning "of his back on everything that we did", something in Hughes' eyes equivalent to Holocaust denial.

Hughes, better known as Darkie, was a centrally placed founder and leader of the Provisional IRA. I only met him once when I visited Long Kesh under an arrangement with the authorities, concluded by the then, Taoiseach, Charles J Haughey. Haughey was trying to ascertain whether the 1980 hunger strike which Hughes was leading was a publicity stunt, or contained the potential to destabilise the country.

On the basis of my assessment of Hughes' character I reported to Haughey that the latter was the case. He was then 35 days on hunger strike and, unaided, he had made the lengthy walk from his H-Block cell to the visiting area. He was rational, intelligent and determined.

After he called off the strike, to save the life of one of the dying strikers, Sean McKenna, thereby triggering the subsequent Bobby Sands-led strike, which turned out to be Sinn Fein's contemporary equivalent of 1916, Hughes became a somewhat anguished figure, increasingly embittered and disillusioned.

On his release he drank heavily. Had he been an American officer he would probably have been described as suffering from post-traumatic stress, as indeed could many an ex-IRA operative.

Their lives and the appearance of this book reminds us of what we could return to should the peace process fail.

Buy Voices From the Grave from Eason

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