Terrorist tapes may come back to haunt Adams
The PSNI's latest victory in a legal fight to seize Boston College's IRA interviews shows truth and reconciliation is a double-edged sword, says Alan Murray
The old Troubles cliche, 'Whatever you say, say nothing', may have been an apt caution to the participants in the Boston College Belfast Project.
An academic experiment in attempting to chronicle the violence-laden decades of the Troubles through the perceptions and words of some of the combatants was always going to be a controversial exercise, however useful to historians.
Unforeseen implications, triggered by the publication of some of the recollections of one of those former combatants, have now put academics and police investigators at loggerheads.
At stake is more than just the academic freedom to record and preserve first-hand accounts of darkly wicked deeds for posterity. At risk may be the liberty (not to mention the high self-esteem) of some senior Sinn Fein figures.
Gerry Adams, if the directive of the United States Appeal Court is upheld, can expect to receive an invite to speak with PSNI detectives in the company of his lawyer in the months ahead.
Adams has been questioned before by police, during the period of the RUC, and infamously has denied any and every allegation made about his role in directing terrorism throughout the duration of the conflict.
The former West Belfast MP has denied any connection to the IRA - even though he was once flown to London courtesy of the Royal Air Force to participate in secret talks with British Government officials.
Presumably, it was a case of mistaken identity, for the then-prisoner, as Adams was in 1972. But, in spite of such a ridiculous blunder, he remained in the company selected for him by HMG and seemingly innocently participated in major discussions about the IRA's objectives and demands.
What is astonishing, if one believes Adams' account of his role, is that the others present, including Martin McGuinness, did not protest to the British officials that the Belfast barman was not one of their number and thus should not be privy to their secret discussions.
Given the danger of a barman - moreover, one who had served in a pub, The Duke of York, frequented by journalists - burbling their business upon his return to Belfast, it is fortunate for Adams that the IRA did not dispatch him in the way it had dispatched many of the unfortunates who crossed its path.
One such was a mother-of-10, Jean McConville, whose disappearance in 1972 two of the Boston contributors, Dolours Price and the late Brendan Hughes, have placed firmly at Adams's door.
Convicted along with her sister, Marian, and later-to-be-MLA Gerry Kelly of the 1973 Old Bailey bombing, Dolours Price suggested in a newspaper interview that she actually travelled in a car with the kidnapped Mrs McConville to the lonely spot where the widow was interrogated and then murdered. Price is doubtless a material witness to the murder of Jean McConville - if only on her own apparent admission.
Given that admission, it is incumbent upon the Chief Constable, Matt Baggott, to direct that his investigating officers retrieve any material which touches upon, or supports, Price's apparent admission to involvement in, and knowledge of, Mrs McConville's murder.
The McConville family and the public would expect no less from a professional police service, unfettered by political restrictions - just as the families of the Bloody Sunday victims would expect nothing less, even if the cost of that investigation will exceed £10m over a four-year period. And, if deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness's role that January 1972 day is touched upon, then so be it.
It would be a tad unfair to suggest those who demand a form of 'truth commission' should be careful what they wish for, as the old saying goes, but they should ponder all the implications.
What if, like the family of Jean McConville and the families of the Bloody Sunday victims, other families demand investigations and prosecutions on foot of disclosures made at such evidence-taking hearings?
The prospects of sound convictions being secured in relation to murders committed in 1972 at this point, in the absence of an accused's verified confession, may appear to be extremely slim.
But offering a blanket immunity to all and sundry for their sectarian and 'political' murders remains an unpalatable prospect to most law-abiding citizens.
Several alleged members of the UVF recently stood trial largely on a plank of flawed 'supergrass' evidence and there is the prospect of a further attempt to secure convictions against that terrorist group, through a similar exercise with more credible witness evidence.
The families who lost their loved-ones at the hands of the UVF, like the McConville and Bloody Sunday victims' families, similarly would be unlikely to welcome the abandonment of the prospect of convictions being secured against the perpetrators of murder.
There is very good reason why Adams is referred to as 'Teflon man' in relation to the Troubles: he has never publicly admitted to being a member of the IRA, never mind a long-standing member of its ruling army council.
The policy of 'Whatever you say, say nothing' has served his interests very well - up to now, anyway.