Former Head of Boston College Belfast Project Reasserts That ‘Irish News’ Reports Led to Controversial Subpoenas

Former Head of Boston College Belfast Project Reasserts That ‘Irish News’ Reports Led to Controversial Subpoenas
The Wild Geese
Thursday, November 10, 2011

We recently received a statement from Ed Moloney, former director of Boston College’s Belfast Project, responding to a letter that we posted October 20 from Irish News Editor Noel Doran. In posts within Hell’s Kitchen, Moloney and Doran offered differing accounts of Irish News staffers’ actions during and after their information gathering at the County Dublin home of former Provisional IRA senior operative Dolours Price. The exchange between Moloney and Doran was spurred by comments Moloney made during a Q&A we published October 8, which focused on Boston College’s widely praised oral-history project. The project has compiled eyewitness accounts of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland from combatants on both sides of the divide, in return for assurances that the contents would not be revealed until an interviewee’s passing. In portions of our interview, Moloney attempted to provide background to authorities’ pursuit of two oral histories gathered by Boston College, including that of Price. Boston College is currently fighting to quash subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney’s Office demanding access to these oral histories. Speculation in news accounts about the subpoenas, whose supporting materials are sealed, suggests these federal officials are acting either on behalf of British counterparts or the Police Service of Northern Ireland. We publish here Moloney’s reply to Doran’s earlier letter.

To the Editor:

For reasons of space limitation, I am going to deal here with the two main aspects of Noel Doran’s statement (WG’s Hell’s Kitchen Blog, Oct. 20, 2011). In due course I will deal with the other issues at greater length at The Broken Elbow.

Firstly, Noel Doran maintains that the Irish News articles of February 18th, 2010 at the heart of this saga were not based on Allison Morris’ tape-recorded interview with Dolours Price, but on a separate statement she provided, saying that she was planning to speak to the ‘disappeared commission’ about a number of so-called ‘disappearances’ that she was allegedly involved with in the early 1970‘s. In other words there was no interview or if there was it was not the basis for the articles that appeared under Allison Morris’ byline.

As he put it in his response in, “It is verging on the bizarre that Moloney could describe our coverage of this date as an interview when it did not include a single quotation from Dolours Price. …”

The first problem with this explanation is that the information contained in the articles, about Dolours Price’s alleged role in the disappearances of IRA victims in the early 1970s, for instance, had to come from her interview with Allison Morris.

Throughout the piece, illustrated by photographs of Dolours Price taken during the interview by an Irish News photographer, there are the clear and unmistakable signs of direct quotes being turned into reported speech. For instance: “She is believed to possess previously undisclosed information about at least four Disappeared victims,” or, in relation to disappeared victim Jean McConville: “Ms. Price (59) is believed to have been one of the IRA members involved in transporting Mrs. McConville, an alleged informer, to the Republic.” When a journalist writes that “A is believed to … etc.,” it means, “This is what A told me but I cannot quote them because a) that is our agreement, and b) if I was to break that agreement my source will be in trouble — and so will I.”

Allison Morris won two journalistic prizes in large part for her three-page spread on Dolours Price. The first, in May this year, was from the Society of Regional British Editors, which was in no doubt about what they really were. The chairman of the judges, Peter Sands, praised her “three-page interview with London bomber Dolours Price.” If presenting Allison Morris’ articles as not being based on the interview was so important, why did the Irish News not make this clear to the society at the time rather than only now when the charge of unethical behavior has been made?

The most damning evidence against Noel Doran’s claims comes from his own newspaper’s report of the second award, UK Regional Reporter of the Year, given by the National Union of Journalists. A report of the award appeared in the Irish News under the byline of Maeve Connolly on June 30th, 2010.

Connolly wrote:

“Judges, who admitted they were pitted against a number of ‘strong entries’ in the category, said that Allison had ‘illustrated the value of old-fashioned journalism, including door knocking and cultivating contacts.’ Allison scooped the overall reporter award for her investigations into ‘new’ Disappeared IRA victims and an interview with Old Bailey bomber Dolours Price.” (My emphasis.)

The report continued:

“Dolours Price spoke about her time with the IRA, involvement in the disappearance of Mr. Lynskey and knowledge of the disappearance of two other west Belfast men, Seamus Wright and Kevin McKee. Judges said they were ‘greatly impressed by Allison’s lengthy, detailed, revealing and intensely human investigation into the disappeared victims of IRA violence.”

That is “spoke,” as in “was interviewed.”

Noel Doran said “it was verging on the bizarre” that I described his paper’s coverage of Dolours Price as “an interview.” Would he use the same adjective about his own newspaper’s reporting of the same?

The claim that Allison Morris’ February 18th, 2010 article was not based on her interview with Dolours Price was one of two props supporting Noel Doran’s assertion that the Irish News played no role in the events that led to the serving of subpoenas against Boston College. That prop has now been kicked away.

The second prop is his claim that he is “completely satisfied” that Allison Morris’ recording of her interview of Price was not passed on to Sunday Life. It was that newspaper’s sensational rehash of the interview that led directly to the subpoenas served on Boston College by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Massachusetts on behalf of the PSNI.

This issue is at the heart of the Boston College affair.

On the following aspects of the affair there is no disagreement or challenge:

  • The Irish News article on Dolours Price appeared on February 18th, 2010, and the Sunday Life article, under the byline of Ciaran Barnes, appeared just three days later, on February 21st, 2010. A remarkable coincidence.
  • Allison Morris and Ciaran Barnes are friends and former colleagues who worked together on the Andersonstown News and Daily Ireland before their current jobs.
  • Allison Morris spoke to and interviewed Dolours Price but Ciaran Barnes did not. Barnes wrote in his piece only of “listening” to recordings of the former IRA bomber. If he had spoken to her and taped her himself, he would surely have said so.
  • Allison Morris electronically recorded the interview.
  • Ciaran Barnes wrote his Sunday Life article in such a way as to make it appear that he had been given access to Dolours Price’s interview lodged in the Boston College archive. The authority for this is no less than the U.S. Attorney’s office, which wrote in an affidavit (Page 4) to the federal court: “… the reporter (Ciaran Barnes) was permitted to listen to portions of Ms. Price’s Boston College interviews.”
  • Ciaran Barnes was not given access to any interviews by Dolours Price held at Boston College, and these are held under conditions of strict security (see Pages 3, 4).
  • No one involved in the Belfast Project at Boston College, not least myself and my researcher Anthony McIntyre had any contact then or since with Ciaran Barnes about Dolours Price. Speaking for myself, I did not even know that Ciaran Barnes existed before this affair.

A telling question emerges: How did Ciaran Barnes know that Dolours Price had given an interview to Boston College? Dolours Price didn’t tell him because she never spoke to him and no one involved in the Belfast Project at Boston College did either. That only leaves Allison Morris and the Irish News as the source.

If Allison Morris and Noel Doran had not known about Dolours Price’s interviews with Boston College, then surely they would have said so by now. It would have jumped out at them as they read my interview in, and a loud, indignant denial that they were Barnes’ source for this vital piece of information would have been their first response. But they didn’t say a word.

Like the dog that did not bark in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries, it is their silence on this issue that really points the finger. The only sound that can be heard is the other prop supporting Noel Doran’s defense crumbling into dust.

Ed Moloney
Former Director
Belfast Oral History Project
Boston College