Boston College History Department Had No Ties to Belfast Project

Letters: Boston College History Department Had No Ties to Belfast Project
The Chronicle
May 5, 2014

To the Editor:

Reports of the arrest of Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, on April 30, 2014, in connection with the murder of Jean McConville repeatedly linked the event to information contained in the Belfast Project, an archive of oral history interviews with members of Nationalist and Loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland (“Secrets From Belfast,” The Chronicle, January 26). The project was funded by Boston College and is housed in the Burns Library, the special collections library of the university, and portions of it have recently been made available under court order to British authorities.

Press reports refer regularly to the archive as the project of “BC historians” and “BC professors.” This is fundamentally inaccurate. The interviews that make up the archive were conducted by former members of the paramilitary organizations who were hired by the journalist Ed Moloney. Neither the interviewers, Anthony McIntyre and Wilson McArthur, nor Mr. Moloney were employed in or by the history department at Boston College. They were subcontracted to do the job by people acting outside the department and without the involvement of the department.

The subcontracting was done by the director of the Burns Library, never a member of the history department, and the director of the Center for Irish Programs who, while a member of the department, was acting in his own administrative capacity. In fact, most members of the history faculty were unaware of the existence of the project until the publication of Mr. Moloney’s book—Voices from the Grave—in 2010. Successive department chairs had not been informed of the project, nor had they or the department been consulted on the merits of the effort or the appropriate procedures to be followed in carrying out such a fraught and potentially controversial venture.

Robin Fleming
Professor (Chair, 2012–present)
James Cronin
Professor (Chair, 2009–12 and 1991–97)
Marilynn Johnson
Professor (Chair, 2006–2009)
Alan Rogers
Professor (Chair, 2003–2006)
Peter Weiler
Professor Emeritus (Chair, 1997–2003)
Department of History
Boston College
Chestnut Hill, Mass.