Just how far Adams will pursue such a course is a moot point. The acute discomfort he underwent when crossexamined by Eilis McDermott during his brother’s rape trial augurs poorly for any future appearance in the witness box.
Few will be convinced that Adams will want to face questioning about the authority with which he delivered his 1987 comments on the IRA execution of Charles McIlmurray - broadcast as televised footage on Spotlight - that everybody in West Belfast knows that the penalty for death is informing.
His party will tread trepidatiously in anticipation of other questions likely to be put to him in open court and where waffle about the peace process will be brushed aside as deftly as it was during his brother’s trial. Until he takes the oath in court the safe money is on his legal threat being theatrics aimed at silencing critics in the media, which if stood up to will not progress all that far.
Spotlight since it aired a fortnight ago today has come in for much criticism, most notably for the allegations made in it by an anonymous source, “Martin”, a British state informer who operated on behalf of the RUC and PSNI to spy on both Sinn Fein and the IRA. It was "Martin" who implicated Adams in the fate of Donaldson in 2006.
The allegation was transparently nebulous, and if not manufactured by "Martin" was at best hearsay. In the wake of its emergence press reports have suggested that both the Garda and PSNI are dismissive of "Martin's" most contentious claim: that the Provisional IRA killed Donaldson. The dead man's family have also refuted the suggestion. Moreover, a member of the Real IRA army council at the time of Donaldson's death reiterated the organisation's 2009 claim of responsibility. None of it is reassuring to the programme makers.
The BBC reporter who narrated the documentary, Jennifer O’Leary, has long been a fine journalist producing high quality work that some powerful people have had cause to dislike. On this occasion, unless there is an Ace card yet to be played, it would seem that she or her producers erred in allowing the reference to Adams through given how tenuous it appeared to be.
An immediate difficulty with this type of allegation for the media is that because of Mr Adams’s strained relationship with the truth he is something of an easy target. His categorical denials of IRA membership tend to be equated with his many other categorical denials of involvement in politically violent activity. There are people who upon hearing his denials instinctively assume that what is being denied must therefore be true. All the more reason for investigative journalism to proceed with due caution and diligence.
Arguably the most important issue raised by the documentary, but effectively downgraded by much media coverage which with tunnel vision opted to focus on Adams, was made by Sam Pollock, former Chief Executive at the Police Ombudsman. Relatives For Justice spokesperson Mark Thompson drew attention to this:
Sam Pollock, former Chief Executive at the Police Ombudsman, effectively laid an element of culpability for the eventual killing of Denis at the door of the PSNI.
Thompson also hit out at former Special Branch officer Raymond White's contribution, claiming it:
might be better understood in that there is a report due soon by the Police Ombudsman that will include the role of the PSNI’s C3 in deliberately exposing Denis Donaldson, likely in the knowledge that he would eventually be killed.
Veiled by the smoke from the gun that much subsequent media commentary is trying to place in the hand of Gerry Adams is the most salient point in the Spotlight documentary: Denis Donaldson was abandoned by his PSNI handlers in the almost certain knowledge that he would be killed, possibly as pay back for not being as malleable as they might have wished.