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Will voices from the grave extract heavy price from Adams?

So much then, for the assumption that dead men tell no tales From beyond the grave this week, a former comrade of Gerry Adams has been giving his account of the background to a number of Troubles atrocities — including the appalling murder of mother-of-ten Jean McConville back in 1972.

The testimony of Brendan Hughes, who played a pivotal role in the PIRA campaign, was recorded by academics at a Boston university after it had been agreed that nothing would be published during his lifetime.

But Hughes who died in 2008 must surely have known the impact that his words would have when they were eventually released. As a lifelong republican who had almost died himself on hunger strike it would have been unthinkable for Hughes to attack the movement to which he had been so devoted.

But tellingly he did not spare Gerry Adams — the former friend he accuses of ordering the murder of the vulnerable and pitiful Jean McConville.

The interviews with Hughes are featured in a new book, Voices from the Grave by the highly respected journalist and author Ed Moloney. Gerry Adams has, of course, denied the Hughes claims. He has also denied being a leader of the IRA. He has even denied ever being in the IRA.

Hughes himself makes scathing reference to Mr Adams’ denial of IRA membership. “I never carried out a major operation without the okay or order from Gerry. For him to sit in his plush office in Stormont or wherever and deny it, I mean it's like Hitler denying there was ever a Holocaust.”

Hughes was undoubtedly a bitter man — bitter about what he saw as the betrayal of a particularly close friend. “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,” he told his interviewers.

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Hughes’ anger (and he is not alone among the republican grassroots in this) stemmed from a sense (in his eyes) that the foot soldiers were being asked to retrospectively assume the responsibility for the horror of IRA operations — while others within the hierarchy basked in the glory of the peace process.

In his defence, Gerry Adams suggests that Hughes was not a well man when he gave the interviews. But it is not a great defence... Not least because those who have heard tapes of Hughes’ testimony (which we’ll all hear in time, via an upcoming television documentary) say he spoke robustly and lucidly. Ed Moloney points out: “When he did these interviews, he (Hughes) was perfectly fit, mentally and physically, and put in quite an impressive performance.”

The interviews were recorded in 2001/2002. As usual there has been an attempt by Sinn Fein to shoot (figuratively speaking) the messenger — in this case the highly professional Moloney, a journalist of enormous integrity. Moloney is now accused of “bias.”

But it is the voice from the grave that is actually making the accusations. And it is the powerful, persuasive voice of a man who was particularly close to the top. The allegations against Adams are shocking in the extreme. But as he attempts to counter them, Gerry risks alienating others in the republican grassroots to whom Hughes is a hero.

Meanwhile Helen McKendry, the brave, determined daughter of Jean McConville, who first highlighted the long-hidden horror of the Disappeared, says she plans to sue. It is a particularly 2010 response — and one that may haunt all those accused of being prominent in paramilitary leaderships, on both sides, in the past.

For it holds for them the fear, not just of the testimony from the grave, but the potential of litigation beyond it.

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