A former top IRA man has dismissed Gerry Adams’ claim that he was never a member of the Provisionals.
Des Long, from Limerick, told a BBC NI documentary that he would probably be shot for saying so.
Long, who fell out with Adams after a split in the republican movement in the 1980s, said that the former Sinn Fein leader was on the IRA’s ruling army council and was for a time chief of staff.
Long, who was prominent in the IRA for 17 years and is a senior figure in Republican Sinn Fein, told the second episode of the BBC’S Spotlight on the Troubles — A Secret History: “You can’t be on the army council unless you’re a volunteer.
“And you can’t be chairman of the army council unless you’re a member of the army council,” he said.
“And I’m saying that as having sat opposite him (Adams) at meetings.
“I’ll probably get shot for it but I’m saying it.”
Mr Adams didn’t take part in the documentary series but he has consistently rejected claims that he was ever in the IRA, a suggestion laughed off by Long, who is seen in the documentary giving IRA recruits weapons training.
Lord David Ramsbotham, who was a senior Army officer in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, said of Adams: “We were aware that he was a highly intelligent man and that he had never used a pistol or had thrown a bomb.
“But he was definitely a strategic planner of the highest order and he was, I thought, directing the political direction of the IRA.”
The documentary said that Adams’ importance within the republican movement was evident as far back as the 70s.
It said that after the bloodiest year of the Troubles — 1972, which the IRA wrongly thought would be their ‘year of victory’ — Adams set about rebuilding the Provisionals for their ‘long war’.
The programme said that the Army also took on a new role in 1972 to “seek out the enemy” but was faced with the problem of no-go areas, the biggest of them in what became known as ‘Free Derry’ where the security forces estimated there were 500 IRA gunmen.
But amid the violence there were moves towards peace in the city.
Reporter Darragh MacIntyre is filmed visiting the home of the then Lord Lieutenant of Londonderry Michael McCorkell in Ballyarnett House, which was the venue for the first secret meeting between the IRA and British officials.
McCorkell’s wife Aileen, who helped run the Red Cross in Free Derry, kept a record of the talks.
Spotlight reveals the details of the meetings where the two sides discussed terms for a ceasefire and for a proposed meeting with the former Secretary of State William Whitelaw.
Gerry Adams, who’d been interned at Long Kesh, was at the talks, and a British official said in a report to London that he had no doubt that he and his colleague Daithi O Conail wanted a ceasefire and a permanent end to violence.
The Ballyarnett House meeting paved the way for six IRA leaders to be flown to London for higher level talks. Adams and Martin McGuinness were both on the republican team whose chief demand was for a British commitment to withdraw from Northern Ireland.
The talks collapsed and shortly afterwards sectarian tensions in Belfast boiled over as Catholics fled their homes but were stopped from occupying vacated Protestant houses in the west of Belfast.
“That was the end of the ceasefire,” says former IRA man Tommy Gorman.
The Provisionals resumed their offensive and on Bloody Friday nine people were killed and 130 injured as the IRA unleashed 20 bombs across Belfast.
Lord Ramsbotham, who was aide to the Army’s most senior officer here, told the Spotlight documentary that Bloody Friday provided an “admirable excuse” for the start of Operation Motorman to get rid of the no-go areas.
Some 28,000 soldiers were deployed in what was the biggest military operation of the Troubles.
The Army met little or no resistance and MacIntyre says that was because of the late Derry businessman Brendan Duddy, who had contacts within the IRA and the RUC.
Duddy was at the centre of a secret agreement to reduce the possibility of bloodshed by removing more than 50 Provisional weapons from the city.
Duddy — who died in May 2017 — was to become a vital conduit between the British and the IRA in their discussions for the rest of the Troubles.