A former comrade of Brendan Hughes, whose explosive memoirs were published last week, says that IRA members who served alongside him know Hughes is telling the truth about his days in the Provisionals.
Paddy Joe Rice, who was a member of the IRA's D Company in the Lower Falls, said Hughes' account, which is challenged by Gerry Adams and the Provisional leadership, is accurate. Rice is the first IRA member to publicly speak out in favour of Hughes.
In Voices from the Grave by Ed Moloney, Hughes says Adams was the OC (officer commanding) of the Belfast Brigade. He claims Adams ordered the murder and secret burial of mother of 10, Jean McConville, and that he played a major role in the 1972 Bloody Friday bombings in which nine people were killed.
Hughes (59), known as 'The Dark', died two years ago. He suffered from arthritis, serious chest and heart problems and, in his final years, post-traumatic stress.
Rice expressed anger at recent personal slurs on Hughes from Adams and his supporters: "IRA volunteers who served with Brendan know who is telling the truth and who is not. They know what Brendan said is right and they know he's not the liar," Rice said.
An Phoblacht denounced the book and quoted six supporters of Adams, including senior IRA man Bobby Storey and two ex-prisoners, claiming Hughes had experienced "major psychological problems" and had been "exploited" and "manipulated" by the author.
Those quoted attacking the memoirs claimed they had been "friends" of Hughes. Rice said: "They weren't Brendan's friends. I never once saw any of them visit him or contact him to see if he needed anything.
"They weren't there in the last months when he was ill and living [in poverty] in his flat. Brendan gave those interviews long before he was ill. He knew exactly what he was doing and he wasn't manipulated by anybody."
In an interview with the Sunday Tribune in 2006, Hughes – who was best friends with Adams in the early '70s – said: "Gerry wasn't trusted by [IRA] grassroots and I was. He used me to up his own status. I had 100% faith in him. I defended him so many times when I shouldn't have.
"I never saw his agenda. He was far too shrewd which is why he is where he is today."
Eventually, Hughes saw "the man behind the mask", he said: "I thought the struggle was about improving life for the community, not about certain people climbing up the ladder."