A new book published this week reveals details of controversial interviews given by legendary IRA figure Brendan ‘The Dark’ Hughes to Boston College in 2001 and 2002.
Dozens of IRA Volunteers and unionist paramilitaries told their stories on condition that the unedited versions of the interviews would not be published until after their deaths.
Mr Hughes, who took part in the project, passed away two years ago from ill health which some attributed to his involvement in the 1980 hunger strike.
In the interviews, Mr Hughes details a number of IRA actions from the early 1970s. Most controversially, he posthumously speaks of a key role played by the current Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams in the IRA in west Belfast at that time.
The interviews and those for former UVF paramilitary turned politician David Ervine are contained in a new book, ‘Voices From The Grave’ by journalist Ed Moloney. Moloney is also the author of the ‘Secret History of the IRA’, which used unnamed sources to make controversial allegations against the Sinn Fein leadership in 2002.
Mr Hughes claimed that Gerry Adams was his commander when he ordered the killing and burial of Jean McConville, an informer shot dead by the Provisional IRA in 1972. He also suggested that Adams gave the order for the IRA to hang one of its own members in Long Kesh in June 1973 after the 22-year-old passed information to the RUC police under interrogation.
Hughes also claimed that he helped secure a large number of votes for Adams’s election as MP in west Belfast in 1987, and again in the council elections of 1989, through personation.
“I find it so difficult to come to terms [with] the fact that this man has turned his back on everything that we ever did,” Mr Hughes said in one interview.
“I never carried out a major [IRA] operation without the okay or the order from Gerry [Adams]. And for him to sit in his plush office in Westminster or Stormont or wherever and deny it, I mean it’s like Hitler denying that there was ever a Holocaust.”
Responding yesterday Sinn Fein said the allegations were “not new”.
“Gerry Adams has consistently denied these. In the last years of his life Brendan Hughes was very ill and he publicly disagreed with the strategy being pursued by republicans,” the party said in a statement.
“Other former republican activists involved in this project have a malign agenda and have been opposed to Sinn Fein’s peace strategy from the outset.”
Mr Adams has always denied any involvement in the killing of McConville and being a member of the IRA.
As a result of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, membership of the Provisional IRA is no longer a prosecutable offence under British law, although all other offences can warrant a prison sentence with the possibility of release under licence after two years.
There has been criticism in recent years among some republicans and unionists that Mr Adams and other members of the Sinn Fein leadership form a “protected species” in that they have appeared immune to prosecution, while others -- most recently Tyrone republican Gerry McGeough -- have been singled out for trial.
In the interviews, Mr Hughes said Ms McConville was interrogated and warned by the IRA after a British army transmitter was discovered in her Divis Flats home in west Belfast.
“She was an informer; she had a transmitter in her house. The British supplied the transmitter [to watch] the movements of IRA volunteers around Divis Flats at that time,” Hughes said. “I sent a squad over to the house to check it out and there was a transmitter. We retrieved [it], arrested her, took her away, interrogated her, and she told [us] what she was doing.”
Hughes said he wasn’t “on the scene at the time”, but insisted that his unit took possession of the transmitter and, because she was a woman, released McConville with a warning.
He said that despite this warning a short time afterwards, her fate was sealed when another transmitter was found.
“She was still co-operating with the British . . . getting paid by the British to pass on information. The squad was brought into operation then,” he said. “And she was arrested again and taken away.”
He says Mr Adams argued that because she was a woman it would be better for her killing not to be made public.
Earlier this month, prominent republican Dolours Price also claimed Mr Adams was her commander when the abduction of McConville took place. Her body was not recovered until August 2003.
Mr Hughes says he was sent to the US by his Mr Adams to improve the IRA’s arsenal.
“I think we did put the war forward more than anyone else. And I think Gerry Adams was largely responsible lor that.” he says.
“It was Gerry who sent me to America to get Armalites to escalate the war.
“Same reason for the London bombings -- to escalate the war, to bring the war to the British.
“The Gerry Adams I’m talking about then and the Gerry Adams I’m talking about now are two different people.
“lt was Gerry who sent me to New York. We had people in D Company [IRA] who were on the QE2; we had the American connection.~
Weapons were later brought into Ireland via Southampton in England by workers on the luxury liner and transported to west Belfast, where they were immediately put to use.
Mr Hughes was a supporter of the political process until the late 1990s when he became disillusioned with the Sinn Fein leadership.
He later claimed that his flat in Divis tower block in west Belfast had been bugged by Sinn Fein because of his anti-Good Friday Agreement stance. He suffered from alcohol problems and bouts of depression following his release from prison in 1986. His physical health also deteriorated, due in part to the length of time he had spent on hunger strike. He died in February 2008 at the age of 59.
When Mr Hughes died in 2008, his funeral brought the lower Falls to a standstill and his former ‘D Company’ comrades, some of whom had embraced the peace process and others who had, like Hughes, become disillusioned, cast aside political differences to form a guard of honour for their one-time leader.
Among those who carried his coffin was Gerry Adams.
Mr Adams this afternoon again denied involvement in the death of Mrs McConville, who was accused by the IRA of being an informer, or of being a senior IRA figure. He accused Mr Moloney and colleague Anthony McIntyre of being biased against him.
“I knew Brendan Hughes well. Better than Ed Moloney or Anthony McIntyre,” he said. “He wasn’t well and hadn’t been for a very long time, including during the time he did these interviews. Brendan also opposed the IRA cessations and the peace process. That was his right.”
“I reject absolutely any accusation that I had any hand or part in the killing and disappearing of Jean McConville or in any of the other allegations that are being promoted by Ed Moloney.”
However, the daughter of Jean McConville is planning to take a civil case against Mr Adams over the death of her mother, according to reports today.
Mrs McKendry said of her intention to pursue a civil case against the West Belfast MP: “Gerry Adams has to come out and tell people the truth. It is not just my family. It is everybody that was disappeared, that was hurt, killed or whatever during the whole Troubles in Northern Ireland. He needs to tell the truth.”
* The book, ‘Voices From The Grave’, by Ed Moloney and published by Faber and Faber is available from the Republican Bookshop at https://www.republicanbookshop.com/product437.html