TRANSCRIPT: The arrest of Ivor Bell and oral history archive The Belfast Project

Topic: The arrest of Ivor Bell and oral history archive The Belfast Project
BBC Radio
Good Morning Ulster
26 March 2014

Programme Hosts Karen Patterson (KP) and Noel Thompson (NT)
Reporters Conor Macauley (CM) and Andy Martin (AM)
The Belfast Project Researcher Dr. Anthony McIntyre (DrMc) and
Lecturer and Coordinator for the Criminology and Criminal Justice LLM programmes at Queens University Belfast School of Law Marny Requa,J.D.(MR)

(begins 8:07AM)

KP: It was meant to be an oral history of The Troubles. A first-hand account from Loyalists and Republicans who’d been involved in the violence. But now it looks as if the Boston College project may come back to bite some of the participants with their words potentially being used as evidence against them.

NT: Conor Macauley reports on a story which has seen the Sinn Féin President ask police if they want to speak to him about a murder committed forty years ago.

CM: Anthony McIntyre started doing the interviews in 2001. Over five years he recorded two hundred sessions with twenty-six Republicans who spoke candidly of their involvement in The Troubles. The archive was placed in a secure vault in a library at Boston College.

In 2011, detectives investigating the 1972 IRA murder of mother of ten Jean McConville, one of “the disappeared”, sought access to it believing it could help them catch the killers.

Anthony McIntyre, himself a former IRA prisoner, thought his interviewees had a cast iron guarantee from the college that the stories they had told were secure. He wasn’t aware of a US-UK treaty, called MLAT for short, under which the PSNI applied for the tapes.

DrMc: Had myself or Ed Moloney been aware of the MLAT treaty and that the MLAT treaty would permit the British to raid the archive we would never have been involved.

What was the point? What was the purpose?

We would not have been involved had we’d been uncertain about the Absolute nature of the guarantees given.

CM: Nine interviewees had talked about Jean McConville, among them Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes, both now dead. Their accounts were handed over and a second subpoena arrived looking for more.

Eventually a further eleven interviews given by seven other people were released. Each interviewee had been given a letter code to preserve their anonymity. “Person Z” had given forty-two interviews to Anthony McIntyre; two of them were handed over.

In a Belfast court last week the prosecution claimed “Person Z” was seventy-seven year old veteran Republican Ivor Bell who has now been charged with aiding and abetting the murder of Jean McConville.

Anthony McIntyre again:

DrMc: I think it leaves the, not just the archives that I have worked on, but I think it leaves the archives that are of this nature throughout the world in a very precarious situation.

I think there’s a comment from Kevin Cullen in an article in The Boston Globe today in which he says that the oral history and that type of archiving is as dead and in the grave with Mrs. Jean McConville.

CM: Gerry Adams has been accused before of giving the order for Jean McConville’s murder. He’s always denied it.

He’s been highly critical of the Boston College project and its authors. Last week he told his solicitor to ask the police if they wanted to talk to him about the murder.

We already know that he’s been implicated in at least one of the taped interviews now in the possession of detectives. Which leads to the question of whether such interviews might ever be admissible at any trial.

Marny Requa lectures in Criminal Justice at the School of Law at Queens. She says it depends on whether the person has implicated themselves or someone else.

First, the self-implication:

MR: In a general sense it would be admissible unless the defendant makes an application that there’s something about the interview that took place that renders the admission unreliable. So something that was said or done at the time that they were questioned that makes that confession unreliable.

CM: And then if someone, in the course of a statement or an interview of some kind, implicates someone else?

MR: That statement is considered a hearsay statement whether or not that person ends up testifying at trial or not.

I guess you could say the general rule is that hearsay in not admissible unless it falls through one of the categories of admissibility.

So there would be an application made for this hearsay to be admitted. And it would have to be up to the judge to consider various categories for admissibility and whether or not it essentially would be fair for that statement to be admitted at trial.

CM: Gerry Adams claims that Anthony McIntyre and the people he interviewed have an anti-Sinn Féin agenda and a personal animosity towards him in particular.

DrMc: People with a perspective opposed to my own political perspective did contribute to the project.

I’m not saying there was many of them but that voice was heard. That voice was represented. As Ed Moloney has argued we took what we could get and who we could get.

If ever this archive is ever fully revealed I think people will be surprised as to the type of people that we did get to talk to us.

KP: Conor Macauley there and the BBC’s Ireland Reporter Andy Martin has been following the story. He joins us now. Andy, what happens next?

AM: The simple answer, Karen, is that nobody knows.

The evidence from the Boston archive will now be placed before the courts and it is not at all clear how much of it will be admissible. In the case of Ivor Bell there’s obviously a lot of speculation that it could lead to a kind of outpouring of information about what happened during The Troubles specifically within the IRA during the 70’s.

But I think there are a few points that are worth making: We can’t say for sure that this will go to full trial. There will be a lot of legal argument. And Ivor Bell is represented by a successful law firm that is very, very confidant.

And when we look at present cases for murders in which there has been DNA evidence and even on occasion ballistics they have failed to result in a conviction. And you look at a murder forty years old in which, to our knowledge, no such evidence exists then you get a sense of the challenge faced by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

Ed Moloney, the Director of The Boston College Project, told me that when the transcripts were handed over that it was likely that one way or another it would result with the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams ending up in court whether that be a civil hearing or criminal one. And Jean McConville’s family have in the past said that they would be willing to take a civil case. So there are a lot of unquantifiable elements in all of this.

And the one thing that we can say for sure is that neither Ed Moloney Anthony McIntyre will give evidence. Ed Moloney has form, in that sense in terms of protecting journalistic sources, and both men live outside the jurisdiction in any case.

KP: But where does this leave the project then, Andy? Can the PSNI access all of the interviews?

AM: I think it’s widely accepted there won’t be one like it again.

Those involved are now in a very unenviable position. Mainstream Republicanism has really been quite aggressive in its language about the project and Anthony McIntyre has even been referred to as an “informer” and in Republican circles that is a very uncomfortable thing to have said about you. And he has spoken about feeling under threat.

But it’s also worth noting that on the Republican side of the Boston project there were two hundred interviews conducted over five years. Now twenty-six people spoke to Anthony McIntyre but but only eleven of those interviews have been released and they only relate to seven people all of whom mentioned Jean McConville.

So what the PSNI has is specific and targeted towards one murder.

If the PSNI want to get more information from the archive they will have to receive specific information and to go back to through the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty process – to go back through courts potentially in the United States and maybe even an appeals process.

So it is not the case that all of the interviews in the hands of the police nor are all of the interviews of the seven people who mentioned Jean McConville in the hands of the police.

For the police’s part they have been accused of political decision-making in all of this. They point out they have a duty and law to pursue any evidential leads and when they heard about the tapes, the existence of the tapes and whenever it was indicated that Jean McConville’s murder had been mentioned, they say that they were compelled to go and get them.

KP: Andy Martin, thank you.

(ends 8:16AM)