Audio to be added
Boston Public Radio interviews Ed Moloney
Boston Public Radio
WGBH Radio 89.7FM
15 July 2014
Jim Braude (JB) and Margery Eagan (ME) interview journalist Ed Moloney (EM) the director of the Boston College oral history project about the impact of the fallout of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) subpoenas for the project’s archives.
(begins time stamp 0:30:40)
JB: We’re going to try to give you the latest developments and back story to the Boston College Belfast oral history project in maybe forty-five seconds or fewer.
For five years as you probably know BC collected interviews with those who were part of the sectarian violence that ruled Northern Ireland. These interviews were done with assurances given to the interviewees that everything would remain confidential.
But as you probably know in 2011, the federal government subpoenaed BC and ultimately the school handed over some of these interviews to the British authorities who are investigating the murder of a widowed mother of ten, Jean McConville, and ultimately resulted in the arrest of the leader of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, and threatened, according to many, a still fragile peace.
Globe columnist Kevin Cullen went to Belfast to follow-up on the repercussions of the oral history project run amok. Many of the participants feel that their lives are threatened. Kevin joined us last week fresh from his trip to Belfast.
And one of the arguments Cullen made was that BC, because of something called the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the US and Britain, could have exercised political exemptions which would have enabled, according to Kevin, BC to resist the subpoena. The next day the Director of Public Relations from BC, Jack Dunn, joined us to dispute some of Cullen’s assertions.
And after that broadcast we heard from Ed Moloney. Ed’s the man who spearheaded and directed BC’s Belfast Project. He joins us possibly to set the record straight hopefully at least to better align it.
ED, welcome to Boston Public Radio – thanks for your time.
EM: My pleasure.
ME: Hi Ed, thanks for joining us. I just want to play a clip from Jack Dunn from Boston College who was on with us as Jim just said. And Jack Dunn said that the blame should be spread around for this terrible situation to many people including you. Let’s hear a piece of that sound:
(Audio clip played)
Jack Dunn:I think the blame for this should go to all those who were involved and the attempt by Mr. Moloney and Mr. McIntyre to deflect blame from themselves and put it on the hands of Boston College doesn’t hold up to the light of scrutiny.
(Audio clip ends)
ME: Do you think that’s an unfair statement, Ed Moloney?
EM: I do. Yes, I do. Not surprisingly and not just because we’ve been on the receiving end of Jack Dunn’s tirades since this subpoena business started.
But there are valid reasons for thinking that we were misled by Boston College at a very crucial stage going into this project. When, if we had been treated properly and honestly, we would not have gone into this project…
JB: …Ed, let me be clear. Ed, if I can be clear. When you say misled…
EM: …Can I explain, please?
When we drew up the Donors contract, which is the contract that the interviewees would sign which guaranteed their confidentiality and said to them that they were the only people who would be allowed to open or read these interviews outside of Boston College until their deaths, I asked the Librarian at Boston College, Bob O’Neill, to run this wording past the college lawyer to make sure that we were in accordance with all our legal responsibility.
And I was given assurance that he would and that eventually that he did.
We have learned in the last few months or so, after three years of this subpoena fight, that in fact Bob O’Neill was lying to us. That he never ran the wording or the contract past the lawyers.
That the contract should have included wording which made it clear that there were legal limits as to confidentiality.
And I can assure you, and I’m talking on behalf not just of myself but also of Mr. McIntyre but also of Wilson MacArthur, who did the interviews for the Ulster Volunteer Force interviewees, that if that wording had been as it should have been put in as Bob O’Neill had a responsibility to ensure that it was put in we would not have participated in this project.
And we would not be sitting here today having this conversation. Sorry, now I interrupted you…
JB: …Oh, no, no, no. It’s fine. I’m glad as I was just going to ask you to explain and you did, Ed Moloney, who obviously was head of the project, you also contend – and we had this discussion in some depth with Jack Dunn when he was here last week – that Boston College didn’t fight hard enough, the subpoenas.
And for those who haven’t been paying attention to this: it was initiated by British authorities, went through the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and ultimately the subpoenas were issued.
Jack Dunn told us that he thought they fought as hard as they could. You’re not in the same place as he is, correct, sir?
EM: Oh, absolutely not.
I mean first of all when this whole thing started the signals from Boston College quite clearly, quite loudly were that they would have given up the interviews without any sort of legal fight.
I discovered the existence or the serving of the subpoena entirely by chance when a friend at Boston College rang me up to let me know that the subpoena had been served.
But also to warn me that I was not to endanger his privacy by revealing that I’d been told this by him because the atmosphere at the college was such that no one was going to know about the subpoenas except the college authorities which meant, essentially, that those who had been involved in the project, as well as the people who had given the interviews, would not know about these subpoenas except for this one phone call.
The first that we would have heard, I suspect, of the subpoenas, would have been when people were arrested in Belfast because I strongly suspect that Boston College was preparing to hand over these interviews until I got that phone call.
I then made repeated attempts to contact Nora Fields, who is one of the Boston College attorneys dealing with this, and was eventually told – and of course I only had one question to ask her really aside from asking: How on Earth this thing had happen? It wasn’t supposed to have happened.
But the main question after that would have been: Is Boston College going to fight?
The message I got back from her was that she did not want to speak to me. And that set the tone for the relationship between ourselves and Boston College ever since.
And it planted a very strong seed of suspicion in my mind in the minds of the other researchers that Boston College was getting ready to hand these interviews over. And because of that suspicion and to force Boston College’s hand I then leaked the story to The New York Times.
The New York Times had the story on the front page the very next day and within a few days Boston College had been obliged to hire a lawyer to resist and to fight the subpoenas.
But I wonder whether they would have ever taken on that lawyer if I had not taken the step of contacting The New York Times.
Then when we did get to the legal fight it went in front of Judge William Young at the federal district court in Boston. Boston College lost at that point.
Jack Dunn then announced to the world that Boston College would not be appealing – would not go to the First Circuit Court of Appeals – would not take it any higher than Judge Young.
Obviously what was open to Boston College was a route that went all the way to the Supreme Court if they could get there.
But no, they decided at that very early stage that they were going to give up.
We then, we who were the only ones who were really campaigning publicly, and this is against the background of Boston College trying to gag us, warning us that we’d be cut off from all flows of information if we continued going to the media with our campaign.
We created such a fuss that Boston College was obliged to go back into the fight.
Not to re-open the whole case but to fight on almost a technicality which was about the number of the interviews that had been handed over or were going to be handed over. Not the principle of handing over the interviews but the number of interviews that were to be handed over.
And Jack Dunn has dishonestly characterised that ever since as Boston College putting up a huge fight…
JB: …Well, let’s hear. I actually want people to hear. Actually if I can, Ed, I want to play what Jack said about that. We’re talking to Ed Moloney who was the director of BC’s Belfast Project.
Here is Dunn last week with us suggesting that BC did do everything it could do within the bounds of the law to protect the project.
Listen to him: (Audio clip played)
Jack Dunn: We fought a vigorous defence over two years and we won a significant court victory that protected some seventy-five to eighty interviews from being sent overseas.So Boston College did what it could legally. The criticism from Anthony McIntyre and project director Ed Moloney is that we didn’t do enough.
I think it’s a cultural divide, Margery. I think they don’t understand, particularly Anthony McIntyre who spent most of his life incarcerated in Northern Ireland, they don’t have respect for the legal system. We do. We engaged the legal system. The legal system rendered a verdict. We had to accept that verdict.But we won a significant court victory so the narrative that we didn’t do enough is specious. (Audio clip ends)
ME: That was the voice of Jack Dunn. We spoke to him last week. He’s the representative of Boston College. Ed Moloney’s on the phone with us now. He’s the director of the Boston College Belfast Project.
Ed, it’s obvious that Boston College has taken a huge public relations hit in this whole situation. So what I don’t get is: What would be their motive? Why would they stonewall you like this? Why would they do what they did? You allege.
EM: Well, you’ll have to ask them that question. I cannot understand it for a moment.
I mean, one of the stories that I heard about the college president, Father Leahy, was that he had been a very strong critic of Cardinal Law over his handling of child sex allegations, paedophile allegations, related to the clergy in the Boston Diocese.
And that he had said that Cardinal Law should have listened to his heart and not to his lawyers so much.
Well in this case I think if Father Leahy had listened more to his heart and not to his lawyers we would not be in this situation now.
I think Father Leahy, if he had decided to fight this all the way, had mobilised all the resources that Boston College could have mobilised: all their alumni, all their political contacts, all their contacts throughout the rest of American academia – to make a real principled stand and fight as hard as you could all the way up to the Supreme Court to try to protect these interviewees who had taken a huge risk in giving Boston College a very valuable archive, an historically valuable archive and have been rewarded in this shameful fashion.
I think now Father Leahy would be a hero amongst American academia.
And instead, Boston College has been soiled by this affair not least by their utter failure to stand up for the rights of people who participate in research projects. This is an affair that’s going to have enormously negative implications for American academic research generally.
I mean who in their right mind now who let’s say is involved in a controversial episode in political life is going to take part in a research project such as this, an oral history project such as the one that we ran at Boston College, in any American university knowing that this is the way that you’re likely be treated at the end of the day?
ME: The Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen offered a theory that we did this because of Britain’s help with us during the Iraq war – that they are our ally in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is there any credence to that do you think?
EM: I think there probably is.
I think a lot of people were struck by the fact that when Gerry Adams was being questioned by the PSNI at Antrim police station about the kidnapping and abduction and murder of Jean McConville, Abu Hamza was appearing in a New York federal district court charged with Al Qaeda-linked offences. And he had been extradited from the United Kingdom at the request of the US and I think you probably are seeing this working out.
But it’s an unthinking working out of this relationship, a quid pro quo relationship, because what the impact and the effect of the American decision to submit to these British requests is to undermine a peace process which was one of the very few diplomatic triumphs for peacemaking and peaceful negotiation undertaken by the United States in the last fifteen or twenty years.
It’s having a very negative effect. I think we can see that in the way that attitudes are hardening in Northern Ireland.
It’s becoming almost impossible now to get agreement on dealing with the past because a lot of Unionists, hardline Unionists, are rubbing their hands with glee and anticipation at the prospect of more dirt and prosecutions affecting the leadership of Sinn Féin, people who they are obliged to share power with and who they don’t like sharing power with and it’s having this very, very negative effect.
And that’s only happening because the American government is going along with this.
And whoever took these decisions in the Department of Justice just did not do minimum research into this.
If they had spent ten minutes on the internet researching the case of Jean McConville they would have realised that the police who started this hunt for the Boston College archive were fully aware that at the end of the day the road that they went down would lead to the door of Gerry Adams and that would have very calamitous, potentially calamitous, consequences for the peace process. They must have known that but why didn’t the American government, why didn’t the DOJ, why didn’t Carmen Ortiz discover these things?
JB: Ed Moloney, last question from me: Our first involvement with this topic on the radio was when we were talking to Tom O’Neill, son of (former Senator) Tip O’Neill. And Tom’s deeply involved in Boston College.
During that conversation, Anthony McIntyre, who’s name we’ve mentioned and with whom you’ve worked, and his wife, Carrie Twomey, called us from Northern Ireland during the discussion.
And Carrie Twomey specifically said, as did many of the people with whom Kevin Cullen met when he was in Belfast a couple of weeks ago, that they really feared for their lives because of the release of these documents.
Do you think those fears are well-founded?
EM: Oh, absolutely! There’s no doubt in my mind that the people who have been exposed as a result of these subpoenas are under a threat of death.
I mean, it is the rule inside the IRA – and make no mistake the IRA still exists as an organisation – it is a rule inside the IRA that if you are caught betraying the organisation’s secrets then you are liable to be killed under the justice system that the IRA upholds. And that’s not something that one can take very lightly.
And I’m not suggesting for a moment that someone’s going to knock on Anthony McIntyre’s door and put a bullet in his head. But he could be walking down the street one day when someone pushes him into the path of an oncoming car. That’s the sort of danger that we’re facing as well as the direct danger and threat of violence.
So yes, I am taking it very, very seriously indeed. And everyone who knows the situation in Northern Ireland knows how vindictive the leadership of this organisation can be in these circumstances.
Don’t forget these tapes have led to the arrest and embarrassment of one of their iconic leaders. You cannot treat these things lightly.
JB: Ed, I said it was the last question – this one really is the last question as we only have a couple of seconds. Dunn, when he was here said everybody shares some of the blame. BC – and I’m paraphrasing – BC made some mistakes, too. Obviously you don’t think “some” is not the appropriate adjective there.
Do you take any responsibility personally at all for the mess, any share of the mess that this thing’s evolved into?
EM: The thing I regret above all else was leaving research of the legal situation entirely to the Boston College end.
I think that was a mistake because it left us open. We were too trusting. We took people’s word and the consequences of that is what we’re living with now I’m afraid.
JB: Ed Moloney, thanks so much for your time. We really appreciate it.
ME: Thank you for being with us. Ed Moloney was the director of the Belfast Project.
(ends time stamp 0:48:00)