In-depth interview: Anthony McIntyre and the Boston Tapes

In-depth interview: Anthony McIntyre and the Boston Tapes
Peter Kearney
Uploaded: 7 May 2014

Anthony Mc Intyre and the Boston Tapes

International Politics interview with Anthony Mc Intyre over the fall out from the Boston tapes – Gerry Adams and Jean Mc Conville

Peter Kearney (PK) interviews Anthony McIntyre (AM) about the Boston College tapes.

PK: Much of this current scenario is to do with the fact that Boston had to let go of the tapes when previously they said that they wouldn’t have to let go of the tapes. And how much of it this current scenario to do with the fact that Gerry Adams won’t admit that he was in the IRA?

AM: Well, I’m not sure that Gerry Adams’ refusal to admit that he was in the IRA is a factor at all.

I think that had Gerry Adams admitted he was a member of the IRA he would be charged today. So I think Gerry Adams would be foolish to admit he is a member of the IRA.

It’s probably best for Mr. Adams just to have no comment on it.

The Boston College situation I think is diabolical in that the college did not put up the fight that it could have put up. It put up a minimal fight. It engaged in absolutely no political fight.

Its attitude from Day One of the subpoenas, as expressed by one of the professors on the phone, was that he was fearful because there was an attitude on campus amongst the staff, the senior staff, probably the trustees, that they’re all terrorists – why should we cover for them or why should we fight the case for them?

Boston College was quite prepared to fold from the outset.

And then they engaged in an enormous amount of disassembling which was so easily demonstrated to be as such because of the emails and the paper trails that they left.

PK: Okay, so if is the case I mean if they’re going to wash their hands of you so quickly – as you said they were saying that these guys were only terrorists – why would they involve themselves with it in the first place?

AM: Well, actually they felt that it was a valuable academic resource to have…a string to their bow in their very prestigious library.

It was they were prepared to take the goods but not pay the price. And the price at the time when the subpoena came through was standing up and fighting.

They were scathingly dismissed by Harvey Silverglate of the American Civil Liberties Union for refusing to put in the effort that they could have put in. I think he feels that they could have gone as far as to simply move the archives or to destroy it rather than hand it over.

His point was very firm that if you’re going to take this sort of stuff onto your campus and you have research participants involved and your researchers why at least you’d better be prepared to stand over it and to fight the fight.

And Boston College weren’t.

PK: Now in these tapes there’s a lot more to them than just Gerry Adams and the killing of Jean McConville. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?

AM: It’s an exercise for the purpose of enhancing public understanding and to use the buzzword of today “truth recovery”.

I mean I spoke to many people for the archive and I just didn’t speak to people who were in the IRA. I spoke to people who had a knowledge of Republicanism and could bring something to the academic domain about Republicanism which we felt was previously not there.

It was sort of also a moral reflection and people were asked their views of other people, their views of strategy, they were trying to find how strategy developed, what discussions took place about strategy, the attitude to a wide range of issues.

Even when Judge William Young read it (of the Boston court) and he proved to be no friend of ourselves, the researchers, he made the point that it was a bona fide academic exercise of considerable intellectual merit.

PK: Okay. So in many ways it was a reflection on what Republicans had engaged in.

Now I know Loyalists were also interviewed in the process as well. But it was a reflection on the conflict as in: Was this the right thing to do? Could it have been done a different way? Along those lines for a type of oral history to see well what was it all about?

AM: It’s very much that that would have informed it. I guess that’s enough for me to say that – that that was the type area or line of inquiry that we were exploring.

Because if you look at the IRA campaign it virtually was…it was defeated by the British.

And now Sinn Féin and the Provisional Movement are basically doing everything that they criticised everybody else for doing. And saying that, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is another matter, I’m not really sympathetic to it by any stretch of the imagination. But there are people who support it.

But it is very beneficial for people to look at the origins, examine the trajectory and see where it, I’d say diverted rather than deviated, where it became diverted from what the original plans and goals were. Because in some ways there’s a complete and utter refashioning, revisionism, revising of the history of the Provisional Republican Movement. And we see today arguments being made that the struggle was ideologically about getting a united Ireland or sorry, the struggle was ideologically about getting some sort of equality agenda.

It had nothing to do with the equality agenda.

We had argued while we were in the Provisional IRA many years ago: God made the Catholics and the Armalite made them equal.

So we already believed we did have an equality. We wanted a united Ireland. This is what it was about.

Now, there were different dynamics that drove people into joining the IRA, different motivations, and I think that in any study of this type it’s important for the historian to concentrate on motivations, to certainly focus on motivations and to tease out the different strands to find out if people joined, and I did this in my PhD also, if people joined movements, social protest movements, because of a particular event or because they were predisposed to war because of an ideological background. Had they been steeped in ideology? What their understanding of politics? How Marxist were they or how opposed to Marxism were they? A great deal of moral reflection on all these matters.

PK: Is that not acceptable though that people would get involved in it for the purposes of a united Ireland as opposed to equality?

AM: It’s not the question whether it’s acceptable or not acceptable. It’s trying to tease out why they did it.

I think that if you look back on the conflict – the justification for killing – that the Provisional IRA leadership and the Sinn Féin leadership stipulated or tried to legitimise the killing campaign on – was that you had this British involvement in the country and therefore they had to be expelled and the only way to expel them was by military force.

So we had a situation whereby all the police officers and all the Army soldiers, the British military, and the Ulster Defence Regiment, which later became the Royal Irish Regiment, those people then were killed for ideological reasons as well as the reasons that people were opposed to the repression. But the ideological sort of reason based on the Republican philosophy was that they were defending the consent principle.

Now we have that turned on its head. And Sinn Féin is defending the consent principle. So the point that I would make is: they were killed to get a united Ireland to try and coerce Britain out.

They were not killed for an equality agenda.

Now I don’t feel that the struggle, the armed struggle, could ever be justified on trying to get an equality agenda.

I think had we had have argued back in 1974 that all we want is a power sharing executive up at Stormont similar to what the SDLP got – we actually brought this power sharing executive down – well we wanted it brought down – the Unionists brought it down. But had we been able militarily to bring it down we would have done it.

PK: Okay, so it was about a united Ireland and not about inequality and effectively what the Good Friday Agreement has landed is equality exactly, well not exactly, but what they weren’t fighting for is the point you make.

AM: I think you’re right there, Peter, but I’ve also said that if you look at the IRA as some sort of structural phenomenon rather than merely an ideological one you’d come to the conclusion pretty rapidly that the insurrectionary energy that threw up the IRA, the Provisional IRA, sort of was it came from an unhappiness with the way the British behaved while in Ireland.

It did not come from the fact that the British were in Ireland.

Now that energy was manipulated or molded and directed toward a certain ideological project and there was a certain lack of symmetry between that energy and the goals that the Provisional IRA leadership set when they were trying to articulate that energy into their struggle.

But I do think that the outcome of the Good Friday Agreement is an outcome which is consistent in a sense with that energy, that insurrectionary energy, which basically amounted to opposition to how the British behaved. The Good Friday Agreement modified that behaviour. It didn’t put the British out. And people by and large supported it as a majority in the country.

So my point would be that there was some sort of structural outcome rather than any ideological outcome.

But the Provisional IRA leadership drove this struggle on on ideological grounds and always insisted on the British getting out.

And I think it could have been brought to a conclusion much earlier had the Provisional IRA leadership said: well, our goals are much more limited than a united Ireland.

Which was basically, given the strength and given the balance of forces, an impossibilist of demands that the British were never going to meet therefore there was no negotiating to be done.

PK: The point has been made that what was offered in Sunningdale was pretty much eventually what they ended up with and other people have made the point, Ruarí Ó Brádaigh made the point as well himself over the years, listen, why didn’t they just go with The Officials back in the day? I mean what was it all about if they were going to settle for a Good Friday Agreement?

If somebody was in that position where either they felt that they were unequally treated but more importantly they felt that they wanted the united Ireland then surely wasn’t an armed struggle the only way they could go about it because there was no negotiation on the issue. There was no talking to Catholics or Irish Republicans about it. It was like: That’s it. You’re in the six county state and it’s a Protestant state and that’s it.

So there was no other real outlet for them.

AM: The absence of an outlet and an effective means of addressing a grievance I don’t think are the same thing.

When you were saying that if they wanted a united Ireland wasn’t armed struggle the only way to go?

Well, the armed struggle wasn’t the only way to go because in achieving a united Ireland it was totally ineffective. I took part in it and so I’m not in any position to throw stones at other people…glass houses.

It’s more an ideological traditional, Republican sort of – and I don’t want to be dismissive but – old school Republican ideological argument and one that favours Ruarí Ó Brádaigh, who I always found to be the most honourable of individuals, one that he favoured and would have articulated…not that he was some sort of blood thirsty high priest as Kevin Toolis once described him.

But Ó Brádaigh was a very sensitive guy, probably too sensitive and compassionate in a way that the great peace man, the peace leader Gerry Adams wasn’t.

Gerry Adams was much more ruthless than Ruarí Ó Brádaigh ever was. Ruarí Ó Brádaigh just had principles and he believed in them and he didn’t want to compromise.

PK: Now can’t a lot of that be seen, that the armed struggle wasn’t the way to go, a lot of that can be seen in hindsight yet at that time it may very well have been seen as the only way to go.

AM: I think that this was case but I don’t think we don’t give it adequate examination.

I think that the Sinn Féin leadership knew that we were never going to get a united Ireland and signaled to the British as far back as 1986 that they were prepared to settle up for a helluva lot less than a united Ireland. Yet they kept that armed struggle going, kept people coming in.

And Gerry Adams said in November, 1986 that if Sinn Féin ever disowns armed struggle it won’t have me as a member.

Now that was a clarion call to arms – carry on the war, boys! And what did the boys carry on the war for? In my view to fuel Mr. Adams’ political career. I can’t see what great deal more came out of it.

PK: Now Sinn Féin have described the tapes, the exercise itself…Mary Lou described it as being “maliciously compiled”. I think you’ve probably already addressed that in what you’ve already said but how would you respond to that specific comment?

AM: Well, Mary Lou McDonald, despite being a very capable performer in The Dáil and having a measure of charisma, makes an absolute fool out of herself every time she gets on and says that she believes Gerry Adams when he tells her he wasn’t in the IRA.

Mary Lou McDonald is a creature of the party who is going to articulate the party line, never mind how inaccurate that line is, on the given issue of the day.

So when Gerry Adams gets up and lies about his IRA membership Mary Lou, despite nobody in the country believing him, is prepared to say: yeah well, I believe Gerry. Now the problem for Sinn Féin there is, Sinn Féin at times can make a very useful critique of the state and the austerity parties.

But one of their accusations is that there’s an awful lot of dishonesty about the southern society yet here they come along with an equally dishonest discourse.

Gerry Adams is one of two things: he’s either the most lied about man in Irish society or he’s the greatest liar in Irish society. And I happen to take the view that he is the latter.

PK: Right. Okay. In line with that aren’t his denials an insult to people?

Not just to people who were killed or people who fought in the conflict – the thirty year conflict from effectively from ’69 right up until ’97 – and people who fought in conflicts before that as well as in the War of Independence – Is it not insult to Republicanism, Irish Republicanism, as well as to the people who would have died in it, that somebody would deny have being in the organisation?

AM: I find it very insulting not only to Republicanism but to any sort of intellectual strand that one would have in their minds – any sort of common sense – for Gerry Adams to deny this. And indeed it is.

Because in the Republican terms – because what it does do – this places onto everybody else responsibility for the conflict, for the terrible things did…

Gerry Adams was a senior IRA leader and refuses, and I don’t expect him to admit in these circumstances, but Gerry Adams was in the IRA, was a former IRA senior, senior military leader in the IRA who has denied any role in the direction of that war.

And that’s in my view a complete abdication of his responsibility and a denial of his role for the Northern conflict whether he had a right to do it or not. But his denials only cause problems.

Now Mr. Adams would claim, or people like Danny Morrison would claim on behalf of Gerry Adams, that he can’t really admit to the truth because of the problems that it would cause him. And that’s correct.

He doesn’t have to deny it. But also what we’ve seen from Mr. Adams’ evidence in the trial of his brother for the rape of a four year old child – I mean truth recovery’s very, very complicated.

It was very, very hard for the barrister, Eilis McDermott, to extract truth from Gerry Adams. And she accused him of that on more occasions, and the evidence is out there in the public domain, of being a liar who was more concerned with protecting his political career than telling the truth about what happened to an abused child.

PK: And just one more final one item we’ll mention before we let you go: we’ve quite literally have seen the writing on the wall about this – but how have things been for yourself through all of this?

AM: Fortunately, I live in Drogheda and not in Belfast. But it’s been difficult because I feel, regardless of what Boston College do, that I have a responsibility for the way the thing ended up.

If the subpoenas could have been issued I should have known. I didn’t know and I have to take the hit on that. So I feel a big responsibility towards the people who have suffered as a result of it and I do regret also that anybody would be arrested, including Mr. Adams.

But it has been very, very stressful – stressful on my wife. And she has taken up the cudgel anyway on my behalf and on behalf of the project by traveling to the United States lobbying – she’s been out there four times lobbying Senators, Congressmen, media and she even went on the Vincent Browne show over here, a popular television show, last week to make the case. She’s run the Boston College Subpoena News site.

But she’s stressed out with it. She would like us to have a normal family life instead of having to deal with this. And she feels particularly shafted by Boston College and their continuous disassembling and the promotion of their own self-interest and their willingness to throw everybody under the bus.