By Shawn Pogatchnik Associated Press
DUBLIN — A groundbreaking new book on the Northern Ireland conflict published today identifies Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams as a key Irish Republican Army figure who directed some of the IRA’s most notorious killings and bombings.
Sinn Fein rejects the allegations in “Voices From the Grave,” a book based on interviews provided by Northern Ireland militants to Boston College researchers on condition they not be published until the interviewees were dead.
Most of the book quotes or summarizes interviews with Brendan “The Dark” Hughes, who was an IRA comrade of Adams when Northern Ireland’s social divisions exploded in 1969 into civil war pitting the Irish Catholics of the IRA against the Protestant majority and the British Army. Hughes gave the interviews in 2001 and 2002 and died in 2008 at age 59.
In the book, Hughes chides Adams for disavowing any involvement in the IRA. Hughes is quoted explaining his and Adams’ IRA ranks throughout the 1970s and 1980s, when Hughes admits he was an enthusiastic gunman, bomber and bank robber.
“I never carried out a major operation without the OK or the order from Gerry,” the book quoted Hughes as saying. “And for him to sit in his plush office … and deny it, I mean it’s like Hitler denying that there was ever a Holocaust.”
Boston College recruited Northern Ireland journalist Ed Moloney — who also detailed Adams’ IRA record in his 2002 book “A Secret History of the IRA” — to turn Hughes’ interview transcripts into a book. It also includes the story of Protestant bomber-turned-peacemaker David Ervine, who died in 2007.
No serious historian of the IRA-Sinn Fein movement has ever doubted that Adams was a senior IRA commander, although the politician himself has denied membership ever since he began running for Northern Ireland political positions in 1982.
But this is the first time that a former close colleague of Adams — who helped carry Hughes’ coffin — has portrayed the Sinn Fein chief as instrumental in murder and mayhem. The traditional IRA punishment for pointing the finger at colleagues has been death.
Sinn Fein dismissed Hughes’ reported comments as old news and twisted by Hughes’ deteriorating health.
“The allegations are not new. Gerry Adams has consistently denied these,” Sinn Fein said in a statement. “In the last years of his life Brendan Hughes was very ill and he publicly disagreed with the strategy being pursued by (Irish) republicans.”
Moloney said Hughes’ comments are colored by his disillusionment with Adams for leading Sinn Fein into a coalition government in Northern Ireland, a corner of the United Kingdom that the IRA long sought to force into the Republic of Ireland. The IRA killed nearly 1,800 people from 1970 to 1997, then surrendered its weapons and renounced violence in 2005.
The book quotes Hughes explaining his and Adams’ roles in the 1972 abduction and execution of Jeanne McConville, a Belfast widow whose 10 children were split up into different foster homes following her mystery disappearance.
The IRA branded McConville a British Army informer, shot her through the head and buried her secretly 80 miles away, but didn’t admit responsibility until 1995. One of McConville’s daughters, Helen McKendry, long campaigned for Adams to persuade the IRA to pinpoint the burial site.
The remains were found accidentally in 2003. McKendry says she now plans to pursue a civil lawsuit against the 61-year-old Adams.
Hughes told the researchers he led the IRA team that “arrested” McConville, but her fate was sealed following a policy argument between Adams and the man he succeeded as Belfast commander, Ivor Bell.
He said Bell wanted McConville’s body to be put on public display to intimidate other people from helping the British, but Adams wanted her killing kept mysterious. Hughes credited Adams with overseeing an IRA sub-unit called “the Unknowns” that made several West Belfast civilians disappear.
“There was only one man who gave the order for that woman to be executed,” Hughes was quoted as saying. “That man is now the head of Sinn Fein. I did not give the order to execute that woman. He did.”
The book also describes Adams as the IRA’s “Belfast Brigade” commander who oversaw planning of the first car-bomb attacks in London in March 1973.
Adams and Hughes were arrested together in July 1973, when the British Army pounced on an IRA commanders’ meeting in West Belfast. Both were interned without trial. Adams was never convicted of any IRA offense besides a failed prison escape.