Halfway through Gerry Adams’ account in Thurday’s Guardian newspaper of his interview by detectives in Antrim police station is a line that leaps from the page.
The Sinn Fein president notes that detectives questioning him referred to his attendance at paramilitary funerals and his habit of calling IRA members “comrades” as proof he was in the Provisionals.
But then comes a startling sentence: “They claimed I was turned by special branch during interrogation in Belfast’s Palace Barracks in 1972 and that I became an MI5 agent.”
Rumours that Mr Adams was recruited by the British intelligence services have been around in militant republican circles for decades and certainly strengthened after the 1994 ceasefire.
Some unionists have also long suspected that he was a protected species during the conflict.
‘Tout’ was recently scrawled on the new wall mural to him on the Falls Road but beyond the graffiti artists, many of his own former IRA comrades have raised questions about him. However, if police officers made the very same accusation, as he himself says they did, it’s a first.
It raises many questions that we need answered. Did the detectives have a sound basis for making that claim or not?
If so, what documents or intelligence were they privy to before they made that allegation?
Could it be something simple, maybe already even in the public domain, but supported by strong intelligence?
Or was this just hearsay evidence of absolutely no value thrown out merely in an attempt to elicit a response from Mr Adams?
Solicitors that I spoke to yesterday said that interviews can sometimes take a speculative or theoretical route.
But they didn’t know of any recent case where the claim of a suspect being an MI5 spy was forwarded by detectives during interview.
A police officer I asked about the Adams’ accusation said: “The claim that someone’s an MI5 agent is not something detectives usually throw around willy nilly nowadays.
“The fact that an audio and video recording is made of all interviews – and the suspect is given their taped interview – means police have to be careful in their questioning.”
It’s vitally important to establish the basis of the police’s reported accusation to Mr Adams.
We can make no judgment on the claim until we do.
We must also ask why Gerry Adams has gone public now with this reported police claim.
To be accused of being an agent is the worst that can be said of any republican. Taking control of the situation is a very wise move by him.
Taking the initiative and airing the accusation himself at a time when he’s riding high in the opinion polls is more favourable than waiting for the allegation to be leaked at a time not of his choosing.
The McConvilles may well gain possession of material containing the same claim that he’s an agent if they are granted access to police documents in their future civil case.
Publishing the accusation now, well buried in an article he himself wrote, is far better for him than it coming out screaming in headlines a year or so down the line.
But one thing is sure, Mr Adams’ highly controversial past just isn’t going away.