Wipe terror tapes and close US archive, its authors urge
BY LIAM CLARKE, POLITICAL EDITOR
4 January 2012
A CONTROVERSIAL US project which contains the testimonies of Troubles era terrorists should now be wound up, according to the men who founded it.
The three men involved in the oral history project have said Boston College’s decision to hand over material to the US authorities after requests from the PSNI has betrayed the trust of those involved.
Investigative journalist Ed Moloney is the former director of the project that aimed to document the conflict through the eyes of those involved.
Dr Anthony McIntyre interviewed former IRA members, while Wilson McArthur spoke to former loyalist paramilitaries for the archive under promise of confidentiality until death.
They said: “We are, all three of us, now strongly of the view that the archive must now be closed down and the interviews be either returned or shredded since Boston College is no longer a safe nor fit and proper place for them to be kept.
“We made a pledge to our interviewees to protect them to the utmost of our ability and we will stand by that pledge firmly and unalterably.”
All three are bitterly resentful of Boston College for releasing incriminating tapes, transcripts and DVDs without exhausting all possible legal channels.
The material was requested by the British Government on behalf of the PSNI after a Historical Enquiries Team review of the murder and secret burial of Jean McConville by the IRA in 1972.
Mr Moloney and Mr McIntyre have now won a stay of execution while the American courts consider whether to hand the tapes over to US attorneys, who will give it to the British.
They are arguing that doing so would endanger the researchers’ lives and impact on the peace process.
They also believe it could breach laws which prohibit the extradition of people accused of Troubles era offences from the US.
William ‘Plum’ Smith and Winston Rea, two former loyalist prisoners, have already said that they want their testimonies back.
However, the Belfast Telegraph has learned that Boston College has already handed the entire archive over to the US courts to decide what is relevant to the McConville investigation.
“I was appalled,” Mr Moloney said.
“The college was asked for relevant material and said that the librarian had not read it. So the court got everything.”
He hit out at Boston College for not going far enough to protect the material in his view.
“Implicit in the pledge of confidentiality was that it was non-negotiable,” he said.
“Boston College therefore had a duty to fight to preserve it to the utmost, in effect to challenge any adverse legal decisions all the way up the legal chain, as far as the Supreme Court if necessary.
“BC’s failure to appeal in my mind robs the college of any moral right to hold on to the archive.”
Boston College Belfast Project controversy …
Your questions answered.
Q: What is Boston College’s ‘Belfast Project’?
A: The archive contains the testimonies of around 30 former Northern Ireland terrorists in which they recounted their careers in the belief that it would not be made public until after their deaths.
The project was an initiative of journalist Ed Moloney and Lord Bew, a Queen’s University professor of history.
It was funded by Boston College and is housed in the college’s Thomas Burns Library.
The republican interviews were carried out by Dr Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA prisoner, while Wilson McArthur carried out the loyalist interviews.
Mr Moloney also carried out some video interviews, for instance with the former IRA bomber Dolours Price, which were not formally part of the archive.
Q: Why is it in the news at all?
A: Boston College has handed over parts of the archive relating to the murder of Jean Mc Conville to US attorneys acting, ultimately, on a warrant issued by the PSNI.
Mrs McConville was a west Belfast mother-of-10 abducted, murdered and secretly buried by the IRA in 1972 on suspicion of being an informer.
The material handed over included the testimony of Brendan ‘the Dark’ Hughes, a local IRA commander now dead, and Dolours Price, an IRA activist at the time.
Both accuse Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, of involvement in the planning of the murder and the decision to secretly bury her, though Mr Adams has consistently denied this, just as he denies ever being in the IRA. He says Mr Hughes was a friend and fellow republican, nothing more.
Q: Wasn’t it meant to be confidential?
A: Dr Mc Intyre said: “People spoke frankly to me on the strict understanding that nothing they said would be revealed in their lifetimes without their written authorisation. I wouldn’t have been involved without legal assurances.”
Interviewers and interviewees signed an undertaking not to “disclose to third parties the existence of the project without the permission of the sponsor”.
Q: How did the news leak out?
A: There were rumours about the project when the interviews were being carried out.
After Brendan Hughes, the IRA leader, and David Ervine, a loyalist politician and former UVF bomber, died Mr Moloney wrote a book entitled Voices From The Grave based on their testimonies.
Later, Dolours Price gave an interview in which she revealed that she had made a tape which was in the archive.
Q: Who could be affected by this?
A: If reports of the contents of the archive are correct, then Gerry Adams and others could face police questioning.