Inside the Boston archive
17 April 2012
It seems likely that large sections of the Boston College’s Belfast Project will be transferred to Police Service of Northern Ireland detectives investigating the murder of Jean McConville.
There was no worse murder in the troubles. Mrs McConville, a widowed mother, was abducted in 1972, bundled into a car, taken across the border and murdered by the IRA. Her body was then secretly buried and her ten children told nothing. This was in the run up to Christmas and it was only when her eldest daughter, Helen, went to the Civil Rights Association that they were taken into care.
They were later told that their mother had deserted them to run away with a British soldier. It is not surprising that, even forty years later, the PSNI should leave no stone unturned in pursuit of her killers. That is why their ears pricked up when they read an interview with Dolours Price, a former IRA prisoner, in February 2010. Ms Price gave details of the abduction, accused Gerry Adams (who denies it) of involvement and, to cap it all, said that she was one of a number of former paramilitary activists who had given an interview for the Boston archive on condition it should remain closed till her death.
Was she crazy to out herself like this? Well, a smart lawyer could argue that she was not playing with a full deck if she was ever brought to court. Ms Price has received treatment for depression and post traumatic stress, she has been treated in mental facilities and she has been involved in both substance and alcohol abuse.
If, despite this, it was felt she was a good witness, she could have been interviewed in the republic – she now lives near Dublin – or arrested on one of her frequent trips north. For instance in August 2010 she was in court in Newry where she was acquitted on charges of stealing a bottle of vodka.
There was no problem with the PSNI interviewing her – which is why their first recourse should not have been to an historical archive. Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State, has himself has praised the Boston archive as a model which could be copied in Northern Ireland.
If material is handed over to criminal investigators, future oral history projects will be undermined. And it is unlikely to bring justice to the Jean McConville’s children.
This article appeared in the April 17, 2012 edition of the Belfast Telegraph.