Ex-IRA man ‘willing to risk jail’ to protect his sources
By Gordon Deegan
Monday, October 01, 2012
A former IRA volunteer turned writer has told a conference he is willing to go jail to protect sources he interviewed as part of the controversial Belfast Project.
At the second annual Oral History Network of Ireland conference in Ennis on Saturday, Anthony McIntyre told delegates if someone who played a role in the conflict in the North came to him now to tell their story “I wouldn’t take it, as I can’t guarantee that I can protect my sources”.
Currently, Mr McIntyre and journalist Ed Moloney are involved in legal actions on both sides of the Atlantic to prevent the Police Service of Northern Ireland obtaining tapes of interviews they carried out with combatants in the Northern conflict.
The two carried out the interviews, known as the Belfast Project, for Boston College in the US.
Currently, the PSNI is seeking access to all recordings Mr McIntyre carried out with Dolours Price as part of PSNI investigations into the 1972 murder of Jean McConville, one of “The Disappeared”. Mr McIntyre said the PSNI obtaining the recordings would place his life in danger.
Mr McIntyre and Mr Moloney promised the interviewees absolute confidentiality until interviewees had either consented to publication or had died.
Mr McIntyre told the conference: “The individual researcher has to step up to the plate and be prepared to face imprisonment other than to allow their sources be compromised. It could well result that I could ending up going to prison for refusing to assist in any way in any investigation that results from this, but that is a price that we have to pay.
“Otherwise, if you don’t want to take that risk, then you don’t discover knowledge that places you at risk.
“There is no doubt that the outcome of the legal battle being waged around the Belfast Project will set parameters on what oral historians can actually collate — certainly in any institutional setting.
“The trials and tribulations of the Belfast Project if nothing else should serve as a salutary lesson to oral historians who opt to capture narratives of an acutely sensitive nature.”
At the conference, Mr McIntyre said that there is scope out there for another 100 Belfast Projects “given the amount of people who talk about things”.
Mr McIntyre described the Belfast Project as “groundbreaking” and said it “has provided new insights into the world of republicanism as it functioned during the conflict years”.
He said: “Unfortunately, it seems that the protections available to oral historians, as well as researchers or journalists for that matter, are nowhere near as robust as they arguably need to be. Whatever safeguards are in place, there is no effective shield law that will protect research in all circumstances.
“In a pluralist society, information should be pursued by journalists, researchers, and law enforcement alike. But there is no compelling reason for law enforcement to invade bona fide research and attempt to turn it into evidence for the purposes of prosecution,” said Mr McIntyre.