The Boston College Oral History Project and ‘Voices From the Grave’

An Phoblacht

Foot in the mouth
(See also original version published in June)

ED MOLONEY and Anthony McIntyre surely had their tongues protruding from their cheeks like gumboils when they claimed that they believed they could be killed if the interviews they carried out as part of the Boston College project were handed over to the British authorities. It is such nonsense and a very weak defence when there are better and more proper ethical and academic grounds for resisting the handover – not that Ed or Anthony, it seems, in their haste, properly warned participants that their confessions/boasts/toutings could be seized under subpoena.

I would be ashamed to make such a claim and no one would believe that I believed I would face the threat of death, especially since I had not formerly balked at the prospect and had already profited from the slanders of one dead man against the living. Had a few more of the participants who Anthony interviewed died prior to the issuing of the subpoena, nothing would have prevented the fearless and courageous Ed from publishing Volume II of ‘Voices From The Grave’, just as he did with Volume I.

What I find incredible is that both Ed and Anthony were well aware of the dangers to the participants given that Ed covered a case against 14 republicans in 1978/1979, including myself, and that Anthony (who was in Long Kesh) would have not been unaware of the prosecution (which received much publicity and was taken up by the National Union of Journalists). Indeed, Ed might even have been at the NUJ conference in Portrush which hosted a debate on freedom of speech and condemned our prosecution.

In 1977, Tom Hartley, then Managing Editor of ‘Republican News’, entered into an agreement with an official in the Public Record Office on the understanding that archive material he was submitting (mostly press statements and the notebooks of those of us who wrote for and edited the paper) would not be released for 30 years. However, as the material came in through the front door, the RUC were seizing it and removing it through the back door. Once they had compiled what they believed to be damning evidence – in my case, my handwriting and fingerprints on telex messages carrying reports of IRA claims of responsibility – they arrested ‘Republican News’ workers (as well as Sinn Féin advice centre workers), seized our photographic archive and office equipment, and charged us with conspiracy to pervert the course of public justice and/or IRA membership. The case eventually fell apart and after some time on remand the charges were withdrawn in 1979.

Perhaps I am wrong and Ed was on extended holiday during this time and not writing for ‘Hibernia’ and Anthony was doing no reading and talking to no one in Long Kesh.

Since ‘Voices From The Grave’ was published I have spoken to many republicans – some of whom do not support the politics of the Peace Process nor agree with Gerry Adams – who dispute many of the claims made by Brendan Hughes in regard to ‘D’ Company [Belfast Brigade, IRA] operations. If Ed or Anthony wishes to talk to them I can set up the meetings. Speaking to them would be more than Ed ever did when he chose to publish carte blanche claims of a man who was not in good health.

My involvement is quite minor. There is a claim in the book that my Uncle Harry, a former Chief of Staff of the IRA who was once sentenced to death, threw me out of his house in Dublin over the direction that Sinn Féin was taking. The incident never happened but it is there in black and white in Ed’s book. On 30th April 2010, I wrote to Thomas Hachey at Boston College and his reply many weeks later was less than satisfactory and did not contain answers to my questions. Here are some extracts:-

1. Could you explain to me what are the exact terms/conditions under which the tapes of Hughes and Ervine were/are to be made available to the public?

2. If there are conditions, could you tell me who set them?

3. If there were/are legal concerns, what are they and who advised them?

4. Did Brendan Hughes and/or David Ervine specifically give permission for their voices on the tapes [as opposed to the narrative/content of the tapes] to be available for broadcasting in the media?

5. As I said, I am a writer and have written historical features and political commentary. Can I have full access to the tapes of Brendan Hughes? If not, can you explain why?

6. Can you explain why in some cases there were redactions in Mr Moloney’s book from Brendan Hughes’s published reminiscences: that is, why incriminating actions were attributed to some named people whilst their alleged accomplices’ names were omitted – or had this nothing to do with Boston College and was solely Mr Moloney’s decision or, perhaps, the libel lawyers at Faber & Faber?

In his review of the book in ‘The Irish Times’, Professor Richard English, Professor of Politics at Queen’s University in Belfast, and himself a published author on the history of the IRA, noted, “far more could have been done to test the claims of Ervine and Hughes against sources reflecting very different perspectives”.

There are about a dozen references to myself in the book. Neither the named researcher, Anthony McIntyre (who interviewed me for his doctorate), nor the author, Mr Moloney (who has also interviewed me dozens of times), asked me to respond to any of the allegations Hughes made against me.

7. Was it the intention of the Boston College for this archive to be used in this way?

8. Is this the use that the late Professor Adele Dalsimer, co-founder and co-director of the Irish Studies Programme, had in mind – for I doubt it?

Mr Moloney’s book is full of such examples of attacks on people who won’t sue because of the prohibitive costs or people who wouldn’t succeed in our courts because they have prison convictions.

Here is what the respected author and historian Tim Pat Coogan had to say about the book in his review in ‘The Irish Independent’:

“Moloney’s introduction says that the interviewers for the programme’s archive have followed the example of the Irish Bureau of Military History, which collected statements from War of Independence veterans.

“But the Bureau programme was purely a historical record. It safeguarded the living by guaranteeing no publication until the last interviewee to receive a military pension had died . . .

“Moloney does not indicate that both himself, and McIntyre, an ex-IRA prisoner and Blanket Man, are two of Gerry Adams’s most prominent and relentless critics . . .

“This book then is no mere academic exercise.

“Based on the words of a dead man, it constitutes a journalistic hand grenade hurled into contemporary Six-County politics which, compounded by the effects of the abuse scandal, has been damaging to Gerry Adams and brought glee to his opponents.”

9. Why should Mr Moloney have exclusive access to all of this and editorial control over what is put into the public domain?

10. Is it the case that Mr McIntyre and Mr Moloney have exclusive access to the tapes?

This is of major concern to me and, presumably, many others, including many I have spoken to who have been named in the book in unflattering or incriminating terms but who were never offered the opportunity of rebuttal by Mr Moloney. Sources, to paraphrase Professor Richard English, who hold very different perspectives to Brendan Hughes but against whom Brendan Hughes’s claims were never tested.

11. Do you agree with me that the access to the tapes given to Mr Moloney should be afforded to every living individual referred to in his publication where these references arise from your archive? For example, the extracts used from the tapes are selective. There may be inconsistencies elsewhere. There may also be parts of the tapes that were not published because they are favourable to the individuals being attacked.

I was very surprised and disappointed at Boston College’s involvement in the commercialisation of a project which flies wholly in the face of all concepts of natural justice and which has seriously tarnished what was envisaged as a valuable oral historical archive. I would respectfully suggest that a serious and fundamental review of the project is necessary.

Feds take court action to get ‘confidential’ tapes for British Government

A PRESTIGIOUS United States university has been plunged into an international crisis that is the talk of academia across the globe.

Boston College has held numerous seminars on the Irish Peace Process and runs an Irish Studies Programme. Some years ago, journalist and author Ed Moloney and Paul Bew, Professor of History at Queen’s University Belfast and a former adviser to Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, suggested an oral history project to record people involved in the most recent phase of the conflict in the North of Ireland. Boston College thought it was a good idea.

Each interviewee (between 30 and 50 republicans and loyalists were interviewed) was assured that their tape would not be released until after their death.

But now the British Government has thrown the whole project into chaos and jeopardised oral history projects in political conflicts and war zones elsewhere all over the world by having the US Department of Justice subpoena Boston College to force it to hand over two of the taped interviews.

Questions are being asked — and not just by Irish republicans — as to how and why Boston College thought it was appropriate in the first place to lend its name to a project headed by Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre, two vociferous opponents of the Peace Process and both of whom have publicly displayed their personal antipathy to Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. Moloney and McIntyre were in charge of the project and they selected the people to be interviewed.

And the fact that Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre were allowed by Boston College to use some of the tapes for personal commercial gain is also being questioned by academics.

While the story of the tapes being subpoenaed broke in an article by Jim Dwyer in ‘The New York Times’ in March of this year the subpoena had been obviously been served sometime before that — as Gerry Adams was campaigning to win a Dáil seat in Louth and Sinn Féin in the 26 Counties was on the verge of making a breakthrough with the election of 14 TDs (including Adams).

The only extracts from interviews to have been made public so far are those of IRA veteran Brendan ‘The Dark’ Hughes and Progressive Unionist Party leader and former UVF man David Ervine in Ed Moloney’s book and TV film, both titled ‘Voices from the Grave’. Brendan Hughes died in 2008; David Ervine in 2007.

The British Government is trying to force Boston College to hand over two of the full interview tapes – Hughes’s and that of Dolores?Price, a one-time IRA activist.


The usual practice for academic oral history projects is to offer confidentiality agreements but with the clear understanding given to participants that these would likely not stand up in court if challenged by law agencies. Was this done in the Boston College case by Ed Moloney or Anthony McIntyre?

“If that had been there, we would have had no interviews at all,” Ed Moloney has said.

“If we were saying to them: ‘We want you to tell us everything about your life as a bomber and gunman. And, by the way, if the cops come, we’re going to hand all this over. Is that okay with you?’ – it would have never gotten off the ground.’’

Stephen Pope, a theology professor at Boston College, told the Boston Globe that the guarantee of confidentiality to interview subjects is at best, naive, and at worst, “manipulative”, especially when conducting research in project that “has such grave significance for society”.