Old Wounds & Oral History: The Aftermath of the Belfast Project

Old Wounds & Oral History: The Aftermath of the Belfast Project
The Kojo Nnnamdi Show
WAMU.org
Wednesday, Jul 9, 2014

Boston College’s “Belfast Project” aimed to compile first hand accounts of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, collecting the oral histories of 46 former combatants with the promise of confidentiality. But after British prosecutors compelled the college to hand over contents from the archive, and detained a prominent political leader for crimes allegedly committed in the 1970s, many observers are worried the tapes could destabilize the country’s peace agreement. We explore the debate in Belfast and within American academic institutions.

Guests
Zachary Schrag
Associate Professor, Department of History and Art History, George Mason University; Author, “Ethical Imperialism: Institutional Review Boards and the Social Sciences, 1965-2009” (Johns Hopkins)

Kevin Cullen
Metro Columnist, The Boston Globe; co-author, “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice


MR. KOJO NNAMDI
From WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to “The Kojo Nnamdi Show,” connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, we talk with journalist Louisa Lim about her new book, “The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Square Revisited.” But first, three decades of violent conflict in Northern Ireland, known as the Troubles that pitted the Nationalist Catholic Irish Republican Army or IRA against Protestant loyalists under the banner of the Ulster Volunteer Force or UVF, came to a tenuous end in 1998.

MR. KOJO NNAMDI
But the tensions and traumas of the time have remained close to the surface in Belfast, a fact driven home earlier this year when Gerry Adams, a long-time leader of Sinn Fein, the nationalist political party, closely linked the IRA, was arrested by police and questioned about the 1972 murder of a mother of 10. A move fueled by police in Northern Ireland, getting hold of information from an oral history project out of Boston College. An idea with altruistic goals but plagued with problems.

MR. KOJO NNAMDI
Here to bring us up to speed on the fallout and to help us understand the implications is Zachary Schrag. He’s a professor in the Department of History and Art History at George Mason College. His books include, “Ethical Imperialism: Institutional Review Boards and the Social Sciences,” and “The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro.” Zachary Schrag, thank you for joining us.

MR. ZACHARY SCHRAG
Delighted to be here.

NNAMDI
Joining us by phone, from Boston, Mass., is Kevin Cullen. He’s a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and a Metro Columnist for The Boston Globe. He’s also co-author of “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice.” Kevin Cullen, thank you for joining us.

MR. KEVIN CULLEN
Thanks Kojo.

NNAMDI
Kevin, Boston, which as you note, has long been seen as a moderate, so-to-speak, base of Irish-America. It may seem a natural home for a project, chronicling the troubles. What were the aims of this Boston College Project and who was behind it?

CULLEN
Well, first of all, it — the genesis of it was, sort of, in the heady days, right after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, ended the troubles as we knew them. And the idea was to create an oral archive to go and talk to the combatants, the people that fought and were willing to kill and were willing to die for what they believed in, at the time.

CULLEN
And so it was conceived that they would, you know, hire people on the ground, in Northern Ireland, who could get to these former combatants, interview them, record what they say and place it in an archive here at the Burns Library at Boston College, which is the biggest repository in the United States for Irish related issues. And the idea would be, it eventually, historians, journalists, people interested in this would read it after all — everybody that was involved in it had long since past. And that we might learn about the motivations, conflict and how conflict is resolved.

CULLEN
Unfortunately, there was a book published by the project director, Ed Moloney in 2010, which kind of signaled the fact that they had these interviews, they’re very specifically, the book was based on the interviews given by David Irvine, who was a leading loyalist, paramilitary, before he became a politician and Brendan Hughes who was known as the Dark. And he was a senior IRA man, very close to Gerry Adams at one time but then had a falling out with him over the direction of the peace process.

CULLEN
And in that book, Brendan Hughes implicated Gerry Adams in the murder and the abduction-murder and secret burial of Jean McConville. Eventually, the police and the — I think, the timing of all this is very questionable. The police decided they wanted that evidence, they thought that that could help them solving the murder of Jean McConville, 40 years after it happened. And that — thus began the, sort of, tug-of-war, pitting the issues of academic freedom, criminal investigation and, frankly, the political prosecution of cases of the past.

CULLEN
A lot of what this comes down to is, the Boston College Project, I think, was well intentioned. It hoped that it could somehow contribute to the understanding of conflict and hopefully, you know, promote resolution of conflict and maybe even the prevention of conflict. Instead it has become a political football and you have the case, I think, very disturbing case, of an American academic institution being used as a proxy investigative arm of a foreign government.

NNAMDI
But one technicality here, if you will, and that is, Gerry Adams, it is my understanding, was in favor of the project but he was not in favor of the individuals to whom it was entrusted because he felt that they would bring a bias view to their presentation.

CULLEN
That’s true, he believes, as do many people in the Republican leadership, that Ed Moloney, the journalist, who was the project director and Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA prisoner, who did the research, who did the actual interviews of these people, they believed that they are bias, that they are opposed, that they have been on the record as being hostile to Adams and the rest of the leadership of the Republican movement. As Adams sees it, there’s no way that these guys would not ask leading questions. They would not — they would shape the research to get to a — get to a point where they want it to be.

CULLEN
The one thing I found interesting, when I was in Belfast, last week, in talking to some of the people that gave their interviews, yeah, they openly acknowledge that they don’t agree with Adams and the direction he took the Republican movement. But they said, that’s irrelevant to their history. The way they view it, if BC did not record their history, they would never — know one would know what they think because they fall outside the mainstream of Republican thought, these days.

CULLEN
So they are, sort of — they’re not dissidents in the sense they endorse the dissident groups that are carrying on violence now, but they’re certainly dissidents in the sense that they don’t agree with what the Republican leadership settled for. And they feel as though it’s very important that their side of the conflict is recorded for history.

NNAMDI
Well, it was recorded for history but as Zachary Schrag, in most coverage, we’ve heard this collection at BT — BC, referred to as an oral history project. But that description may be it glosses over a very important fact, and that is, that the people conducting these interviews that were mentioned earlier, were not oral historians. Why is that important?

SCHRAG
Right. So this was a project designed to document history but it was not a project run, for example, by the Boston College History Department. And, in fact, the history department at Boston College has been rather public in its dismay that it was not brought in. The interviewers at Moloney is journalist, the other interviewers, I believe, both have doctorates in political science, clearly these are related fields. But it does not necessarily flow that they were aware of the training in methods of oral history that go back several decades, since the historians started picking up tape recorders.

SCHRAG
And this is not to say that historians have a lot of experience with subpoenas. We do have presidents where political scientists and sociologists have their interviewed subpoenaed and had people been more aware of this, then maybe they would’ve taken more precautions. But I do think it would’ve been possibly helpful to have more historians involved in the process, talking it over. As it is, neither the interviewers nor the Boston College librarians were able, between them, to work out all the implications of their plans.

NNAMDI
Among oral historians, you just implied by saying what the Boston College History Departments responses, but among oral historians, this case has been closely watched. And you say, that some people are trying to distance themselves from the BC project, why?

SCHRAG
Well, in an interview with the chronicle of higher education, Mary Marshall Clark of Columbia University, who’s certainly one of the leading oral history experts, repeatedly said this was not an oral history project. And, I think, what she meant by that was that there are, again, methods developed over the decades to try to avoid this kind of situation where promises are made and not kept. For a long time, oral historians have tried to offer narrators the option of sealing parts of their interviews, so that if there’s something that they think should be part of the historical record but are not quite ready to go public with, right then, it can be sealed for a matter of decades.

SCHRAG
Now, again, we’ve not had a lot of experience in the profession with actually subpoenas coming in and so even if a bunch of expert archivists and historians had gotten together on this, it’s not entirely clear to me that they would’ve been able to come up with workable safeguards to allow this project to go forward.

NNAMDI
If you have questions or comments for it, you can call us at 800-433-8850. What do you make of this BC project and the unintended consequences that it has had, 800-433-8850? You can send email to kojo@wamu.org or send us a tweet @kojoshow. Kevin Cullen, in the last decade, Belfast has changed dramatically in some ways and stayed much the same in others. What did you find in both respects on your recent visit?

CULLEN
Well, I mean, I’ve been going there for almost 30 years. So I kind of knew it in the bad old days and certainly from a cosmetic point of view, Belfast is shiny and new. I was so struck by the Fitzwilliam Hotel, which is just shear plate-glass window. And that would’ve been sheer folly to have that thing up in the ’70s and ’80s.

NNAMDI
When bombs are going off everywhere.

CULLEN
Yeah. It just was — I mean, I actually — some of the richest people I met in Ireland, over the years in the North of Ireland, were glaziers because they’re very busy during that stuff. But it — the, sort of, underlying problems in that society, particularly, one of segregation, has not changed much in the year since the Good Friday Agreement. In fact, the, sort of, ironically named Peace Lines, they put walls up to separate working class republican nationalist areas from working class loyalist areas.

CULLEN
They’ve actually increased in numbers since the Peace Agreement. They’re many — I think, there are probably three or four dozen of them that have gone up in the intervening years. You know, it — when the Peace Agreement was signed in 1998, about five percent of kids in Northern Ireland went to integrated schools. That number has not changed one iota in the intervening years. So there’s sort of a — here in America, you know, in the Brown vs. Board of Education case, our Supreme Court made it very clear that separate but equal was not acceptable in the United States, under our Constitution.

CULLEN
But in fact, that is exactly how the society functions in Northern Ireland now. It is separate but equal. You know, there’s equal funding given to Catholic schools and state schools, which for all intensive purposes are Protestant schools. And the other thing that I really picked up on the ground, in there, is you know, when people talk about, you know, the North of Ireland, is this sort of, textbook case of how attractable conflicts can be resolved. That’s true as far as getting to say yes, in 1998.

CULLEN
But they really struggled since then to figure out how to deal with the legacy issues, to deal with the past. And I think the BC dilemma or conundrum, whatever you want to call it, debacle, fits into — with this micro — it’s a microcosm of the society not being able to confront, unlike, say, in South Africa where they had a very formalized truth and reconciliation process. They don’t have one in Northern Ireland and it shows. So you’ve had Peace Mail investigation, say, it’s a bloody Sunday and to different individual killings and controversy’s.

CULLEN
And then you have the BC thing with, sort of, this attempt at, well let’s put it out there and maybe historians will make sense of it down the road. And obviously that went to pot. But I think, it also, the reason it happened is that the Irish have not been able to figure out who gets to decide what their legacy is and who tells that story. And really, the stuff that I picked up on the ground, this was — this was really, even though it is a problem in the loyalist community, it’s much — a much bigger problem in the Republican community because there are Republicans fighting over who gets to tell the story.

CULLEN
And it’s obviously Sinn Fein is the mainstream, the political power. And then you have these people that have fallen away from that group and who actually resent that group. And so, that’s why the arms struggle of Irish Republicanism has been replaced by a legacy struggle.

NNAMDI
Gotta take a short break. When we come back, we’ll continue this conversation on Boston Colleges oral history project and the Troubles in Northern Ireland. But you can still call us at 800-433-8850. What kind of rigor and standards do you think should be applied to oral history projects, 800-433-8850? You can send email to kojo@wamu.org, I’m Kojo Nnamdi.

NNAMDI
Welcome back to our conversation on the Boston College oral history project and the troubles in Northern Ireland. We’re talking with Kevin Cullen. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a metro columnist for the Boston Globe. He’s co-author of “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice.” He joins us by phone. Joining us in studio is Zachary Schrag. He’s a professor in the department of history and art history at George Mason University whose books include “Ethical Imperialism: Institutional Review Boards and the Social Sciences,” and “The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro.”

NNAMDI
Kevin, Gerry Adams’ address in May may have made international headlines but with conflicts raging around the world, it has since faded for many but not all. What kind of ripple effect is it having in Belfast?

CULLEN
Well, I think people are curious to see if in fact this is just, you know, a political show to drag him in before the elections. Frankly if it was an attempt by police to embarrass him, it had the opposite effect. Sinn Fein’s vote was surprisingly much better than expected, both in local and European elections, both north and south. So there is always that sort of tendency when the British authorities — or in this case, you know, the Police Service of Northern Ireland — when they are seen to do something that is seen as unfair, that will help Sinn Fein, not hurt it.

CULLEN
That said, I think people are sitting back and saying, are they going to charge him? And if in fact they do charge him, I think there could be a serious effect on the peace process if only it will allow the people that are trying to kind of radicalize a new generation to take up arms. They would — their hand would be strengthened. They would be able to go to young people in Northern Ireland and say, hey look at this the Sinners did everything the Brits asked them to do and look what the Brits are still doing to them. And they’re not — there’s a real level of hypocrisy that I’ve heard people talk about.

CULLEN
You know, the police agency that is demanding access to the entire oral history archive at Boston College refuse to submit their own records to the police ombudsman’s office which is trying to conduct an independent review of at least 60 cases in which police offices and British military officials were accused of extrajudicial killings during the troubles.

CULLEN
So, you know, you talk to people on the ground there, both in Republican and Loyalist camps, they say, oh yeah, the cops want to come after us but they won’t go after themselves. And so there’s a lot of frustration at that level.

NNAMDI
Do have to mention the presence of the British, which is what Brendan in Vienna, Va. would like to remind us of. Brendan, your turn.

BRENDAN
Kojo, thank you. You have a fascinating program today. I’m a George Mason University history graduate and Irish American, so a great show today. Yes, wanted to comment on the fact that in the introduction you mentioned a conflict between the Loyalist paramilitaries and the IRA. Just want to add that a man combatant would be the British Army in Northern Ireland who the IRA would certainly argue that they were in conflict with as part of a national liberation struggle to unite Ireland.

BRENDAN
And also wanted to comment on the — since you mentioned the Loyalist paramilitaries on the collusion between the British government, the British Army and the Loyalist paramilitary. And I’ll take my comments off the air.

NNAMDI
Thank you very much for your call. Kevin, the violence may have subsided but you note that language remains loaded in Northern Ireland. And sharing even an intensely personal story from the time can be dangerous. Explain to us what a tout is and what can happen to someone labeled as one.

CULLEN
A tout is the local slang for an informer. And it is probably the most provocative loaded term anywhere in the North of Ireland. And throughout the troubles, you know, touts would turn up with hoods over their heads, their hands tied behind their back and at least one bullet in their head. And it was obviously the most ignominious end for anybody in those circumstances.

CULLEN
And Irish history is replete with, you know, the whole — the specter of the informer hangs over so much of Irish rebellion down through the centuries. And so after Gerry Adams was arrested in May, graffiti appears all over parts of Belfast. And it said, Boston College touts, the implication being anybody who took part in the Boston College project was touting because they were talking about IRA operations.

CULLEN
Now I spoke specifically with two people who had been identified publically as having given interviews to BC. One is Ricky O’Rawe who was actually the spokesman for the hunger strikers in 1981. He was one of the blanket men who refused to wear prison uniforms when he was doing his time for IRA activity. Other fellow I talked to is Tommy Gorman, another IRA veteran I think spent about 13 years in prison for IRA activity, Escaped from prison twice.

CULLEN
They saw that as a direct threat on their lives. They believe that there are people, the erstwhile comrades who would consider themselves justified in killing them because the touted. That’s the way it’s being seen. And again, in the story I told — and this is — I didn’t even know about the story and, I mean, I had — I’m in Northern Ireland pretty regularly, but I somehow missed this one.

CULLEN
A few years ago a guy named Gerry Bradley who was a member of the IRA in North Belfast, he wrote his own book and he did not vet it. He did not send the manuscript for vetting with the Republican leadership. And after his book came out — and Jerry — in an interview he gave he said, you know, I didn’t name anybody. This was my story and I didn’t submit it for — I’m not going to have my story censored. And very shortly after the book came out, it appeared on the walls in the (word?) which is the neighborhood where Jerry lived. And he was accused of being a tout. And he eventually left his neighborhood and was despairing and he killed himself.

CULLEN
So there are real implications for this word and it’s thrown around kind of willy-nilly in circumstances like this. There are people pointing fingers at each other and publically accusing each other of being touts. And again, that is a word that carries enormous consequence in the North of Ireland.

NNAMDI
Zachary Schrag, these tapes contain narrators implicating other in acts of violence, which raises all kinds of murky questions about slander, about liable. What recourse, if any, do those who took part in the project likely have?

SCHRAG
Well, unfortunately there’s not good law right now. So Boston College has sent back the interviews to those it can. And Mr. Cullen’s article describes one set of interviews being burned by the person who gave it. In the long term we do have federal protections for some kinds of research, if you’re doing health research, for example, with sex workers or drug users who you know they commit crimes but you’re trying to do public health research, you can get protections from subpoena for that.

SCHRAG
If you want to research criminals and are willing to burn the tapes afterwards, you can get shield law protections from the Department of Justice for that. But what we don’t have in U.S. federal law are broader protections where people doing this kind of research could really guarantee that the materials would not be released under subpoena. And until we have that we can’t get the kind of reconciliation that Mr. Cullen talked about.

NNAMDI
As a journalist on a live broadcast, I ask a guest a question, you answer it. That answer’s out there for everyone to hear, maybe read at a later date, whether it’s tomorrow, five, ten years from now. But oral history works on a very different set of assumptions and procedures with a very different end in mind. The saying goes that journalists write the first draft of history, so what needs to happen to create a final or more definitive draft?

SCHRAG
Well, ideally in an oral history project you go to a narrator, go back and forth multiple times, you do a recorded interview, you transcribe it, the narrator reads it, maybe adds some things, takes out some things. And what you’re trying to do is to get a polished finished narrative that the narrator thinks really represents his or her experiences in position. And that will last as an archive. It’s almost like writing a memoir only without limiting it to the relatively few people who have the time and money and resources to actually publish a memoir.

SCHRAG
The problem, again, is that if there are going to be people coming into that process, either through subpoena, Freedom of Information Act requests, which is a problem for those of us who work at public universities, then that bond between interviewer and narrator is broken. And the narrator can’t be as candid as he or she would like. And you have to limit things to what’s on the record.

SCHRAG
Fortunately for most oral history projects that’s fine. Most oral history projects are not about unsolved murders but it’s still unfortunate that we have this kind of project hanging over us and perhaps deterring future research.

NNAMDI
Kevin Cullen, the nature of truth and memory issues of ownership of a story, who gets to write the history, all central to this current conflict. As a journalist who’s covered both international conflicts and written about the havoc wreaked by Whitey Bulger in Boston, what do you make of the chilling effect that remains in this case and so many decades after the fact?

CULLEN
Well, all I can tell you is the people that I interviewed who gave interviews said they would never in a million years have agreed to do it if they thought their stuff could come up before they died. They really — now, you know, we can go back and forth of whether BC was clear enough on this, whether the project director and the interviewers were clear enough on it to the people. But there’s no doubt in my mind talking to these people that they thought it was not going to come out until they were dead.

CULLEN
And so will it have a chilling effect? I would think it would have to. I would think any time you approach somebody and asked them to detail what is essentially the violation of laws or committing crimes, even if they would justify it as, you know, an act of war, an act of, you know, natural self determination, they would be — I would think they would be very cautious. They would point to this case. UI think it’s, you know, unmistakably true that this is a test case, that this has set a precedent. And I would say it set a very, very bad precedent. I think it’s bad for oral history. I think it’s bad for conflict resolution.

CULLEN
Because I remember, you know, there are guys on the Loyalist side I talked to, they really thought they were doing a public service. They thought they were helping people down the road. If people could see why they did what they did and also explain why they stopped when they stopped that lessons — valuable lessons about conflict and conflict resolution would be imparted. And now they feel that was all for naught. And as Plum Smith, one of the leading Loyalists puts it, he says, I don’t think anybody would ever sit down and give a candid account in a case like this again.

NNAMDI
Well, Kevin, Northern Ireland’s peace process did not end with a Good Friday agreement or the 2006 amendment to it. Gerry Adams as part of a Sinn Fein delegation sat down with Prime Minister David Cameron last week. Where, in your — looking in your crystal ball, do you see the continued process going next?

CULLEN
Well, first of all, I don’t think it’s likely that we would go back to armed conflict. I mean, there are dissident groups on the ground, at least on the Republican side, who believe that they have the right to engage in armed struggle. That said, I think those days are really gone.

CULLEN
The other part of this is obviously that you can always reignite issues in Ireland with — if people are seen to be treated unfairly. And that’s why potential prosecutions that arise from this, I think, could have a dramatically detrimental effect on the peace process. But I think the other thing is, this issue of the past and dealing with it, I think it’s something that this society hasn’t really taken formal steps to handle with. The piecemeal nature of truth recollection or truth recovery I think has actually had a negative effect.

CULLEN
And unfortunately, you know, there is no Mandela in Northern Ireland. There is no archbishop Tutu. There is no person that you could point to as sort of being the arbiter of how we’re going to handle this. I mean, Richard Haass from the United States government is actually over there, and Megan O’Sullivan from Harvard. And they’ve been trying to help the Irish deal with their legacy issues. How do they deal with the past? How do Unionists celebrate their traditions without offending Nationalists and vice versa?

CULLEN
So I think this is something that’s going to go on. We’re in a post-conflict situation in Northern Ireland. And I think it’s that old truism. Sometimes it’s harder to keep the peace than to make the peace. And there are a lot of, a lot of struggles that this society has in front of it. And hopefully they will get through it.

NNAMDI
And I’m afraid we’re just about out of time. Kevin Cullen is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a metro columnist for the Boston Globe, co-author of “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice.” Kevin, thank you for joining us.

CULLEN
Thank you, Kojo.

NNAMDI
Zachary Schrag is a professor in the department of history and art history at George Mason University. His books include “Ethical Imperialism: Institutional Review Boards and the Social Sciences,” and “The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro.” Zachary Schrag, thank you for joining us.

SCHRAG
Thank you.

The ‘Boston College Tapes’ Document Northern Ireland’s Murderous Past

The ‘Boston College Tapes’ Document Northern Ireland’s Murderous Past
By Huw Nesbitt
VICE
7 July 2014

On the 21st July 1972 the Provisional IRA detonated 19 bombs across Belfast in the space of an hour. Known as Bloody Friday, the attacks claimed the lives of nine people and injured 130 others. At the time, it was one of the most violent acts that had happened during the Troubles. If you were the one that planned it, you’d probably want to keep quiet, right?

Three decades later, the man who claimed to have done so felt differently. Speaking to researchers behind the “Boston College Tapes” who were compiling an oral history of the Troubles, Brendan Hughes, former Officer Commanding of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade admitted to being in charge.

Part of the reason for him doing so was that his interviewers – academics based at Boston University between 2001 and 2006 – had been given cast iron guarantees from their institution that testimonies from their work would not be published until after their subjects – republican and loyalist paramilitaries – were dead and that the police and politicians would never be allowed access to them. The promise didn’t quite work out.

In 2011, the British government tried to get access to 85 tapes, including Hughes’s interview, with the assistance of the US Department of Justice. They were looking for an interview that purportedly implicated Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in the abduction and murder of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10, by the IRA. Three years later they were successful. In April Gerry Adams was arrested on the basis of this evidence. He was later released without charge.

I spoke to one of the three men behind these tapes, Anthony McIntyre, himself a former commander in the IRA. Speaking from his home in the Republic of Ireland, he told me more about his background, and why, as a former Provo, he decided to create an archive of people admitting to committing grizzly acts of political violence in the first place.

VICE: Hi Anthony. Stupid question, but why did you join the IRA in the first place?
I joined in 1973 when I turned 16. I’m from South Belfast and I didn’t come from a republican background, but I romanticised the movement nonetheless. Growing up, you’d see people being arrested or shot in the street. If a foreign army did the same in London, what people who lived there do?

Your activity landed you imprisoned in Long Kesh for 18 years, four years of which were on blanket protest, alongside the 1981 hunger strike. What did you do?
I was convicted of shooting a member of the Loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in 1976 for which I was given a life sentence. When it happened I was the leader of the IRA in South Belfast, and I’d been given impetus to shoot this man under the auspices of senior command because our intelligence believed he was an armed member of the UVF.

What was it like in Long Kesh?
It was tough. It was a battle against the prison administration. We were locked in cells 24 hours a day, 365 days a year without reading material except the bible, which was used as toilet and cigarette paper. During that time, the hunger strikes confirmed my hatred for the British, but I’ve since also learned of disputed evidence suggesting Sinn Fein had the opportunity to broker a deal, which I’m inclined to believe.

When were you released from prison?
I was released in 1992 when they were releasing life sentence prisoners. Ten months later I started a PhD in history at Queen’s University in Belfast. I’d already completed a degree via the Open University while still in prison after punitive measures had eased. I also did some freelance journalism and wrote about how the republican project had disintegrated.

In an article you wrote in 2009, you said that Sinn Fein’s subsequent endorsement of the 1993 Downing Street Declaration, which affirmed the right of Northern Ireland to self-determination, marked the “capitulation” of republicanism. This declaration arguably led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which you have endorsed. Aren’t these two positions inconsistent?
It was a republican capitulation, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – the IRA surrendered in 1916 as well, don’t forget. I no longer believe there’s any justification for an armed campaign, but I’m not going to pretend that the Good Friday Agreement was a victory for republicanism. It was a serious defeat. What the British government did was strategically include republicans but exclude republicanism. Today, it seems to me that all Sinn Fein have done is chase office, when what they should have done is stayed out such institutions and pursued their radical position through lobbying and protest – not by becoming the people they previously opposed, and not through armed conflict.

The Boston College project began in 2001, three years after Good Friday. Why did it start?
It just needed to be done. It felt like the armed conflict was over, even though the IRA was yet to announce it, which they did in 2005. It seemed a good time to capture these people’s stories before they died and a dominant “official” history could suppress the multiplicity of narratives that these voices represent.

How did you select interviewees?
Many of the people I interviewed I knew or had previous experience of. Nonetheless, whether they were pro or anti-Sinn Fein, what mattered was that I could trust them not to tell anyone about the project, particularly members of Sinn Fein’s leadership.

Who did you imagine would listen to these tapes?
I hoped that whoever got access to them would use them to create a reconstruction of republicanism so as to examine its motives. Each interview we did was embargoed until after the interviewee had died, and we were given a cast iron guarantee by Boston College that they would not hand over the tapes – a guarantee that turned out to be worth fuck all.

And Gerry Adams got arrested because of that broken guarantee. How do you feel about that?
It’s not a good feeling. It causes me great anguish that people have been arrested, because this was not what the project was about. The project was about gathering historical evidence, not prosecution evidence. I did not want to make a political intervention. Whether other people wanted to use it for that purpose is another matter. I didn’t want to use it to have a go at Gerry Adams.

Surely you must have been aware that there was a risk of this material to be used in this way?
I wasn’t, no, absolutely not. Why would I have done them in the first place if this was the case?

Sinn Fein has claimed these tapes were compiled in order to get people in trouble. What’s your response?
The argument that it was “maliciously compiled” would have to show that there was some intellectual dishonesty, and that we prompted people to say things that weren’t true to maliciously present Gerry Adams as a member of the IRA.

So you didn’t do that?
No. I reject the idea that people were chosen simply because they would have a go at Gerry Adams. I don’t see the historical value of doing that. Perhaps there was a structural tendency to get people who were not sympathetic to Sinn Fein, but I don’t believe that undermines their testimony, because Sinn Fein should not be allowed to determine what the truth is.

The Good Friday Agreement drew a line under crimes committed during the Troubles by treating them as acts of war, but some of the wounds haven’t healed and crimes are unsolved. Do you think this will ever be resolved?
I don’t, no. There’s never going to be a way of appeasing everyone. I don’t see how it can be done. All I think you can do is recover as many narratives as possible so that historians can arrive at judgments. But a more just society has to be based on the future, because ultimately the dead don’t vote.

What do you hope happens in Northern Ireland? Are you still a republican?
To me, republicanism is over, but can I see a future for republicans if they behave in a rational manner and pursue justice and politics. Unfortunately, there are still people who think that political violence is the way forward, but for me it’s an absolute waste.

Okay. Thanks for speaking, Anthony.

In Belfast, the gunmen, the shadows, the damage done: BC exercise in idealism reopened old wounds

The gunmen, the shadows, the damage done: BC exercise in idealism reopened old wounds

With a promise of secrecy, Boston College recorded for history the voices of The Troubles in Ireland. But, the promise now broken, the aftershocks in Belfast are testing a fragile peace.

By Kevin Cullen
Boston Globe
July 06, 2014

WATCH VIDEO: ‘Belfast Project’ goes awry

BELFAST — Ricky O’Rawe picked up the package at his lawyer’s office downtown the first week of May.

It was a FedEx package, with a Chestnut Hill return address.

When he got back to his house on the Glen Road in West Belfast, O’Rawe opened the package and stared at its contents: transcripts, CDs, tapes. It was his story, the oral history he had given to Boston College, about his life in the Irish Republican Army.

The BC oral history project was envisioned as a treasure trove for historians to use in the future, as they seek to chronicle and comprehend the motivations of people who fought and killed and died here. But once hints about its controversial contents leaked out, it was police detectives, not academics, who began clamoring for the research.

O’Rawe was trying to figure out what to do with the returned materials when the police in Northern Ireland made the decision for him. On May 22, after the police announced they were seeking the entire Boston College archive, 60-year-old Ricky O’Rawe walked into his study, the walls lined with sepia-tinged photos of old comrades who died in the three decades of war that the Irish, with their propensity for understatement, call The Troubles.

He lit a fire and opened a bottle of Bordeaux. Then he threw his legacy, his story, his willingness to kill and be killed, onto the fire and watched it burn.

“It was a fine Bordeaux,” Ricky O’Rawe said. “It was a fine fire.”

If only it were as easy to get rid of the past in a country where some say there is no future, only history repeating, over and over again.

Here in Belfast, the BC archive, an academic exercise gone awry, has had the opposite of its intended, altruistic effect. An attempt to promote a kind of truth and reconciliation process in the North — a process never endorsed by or formalized by either government or civil society — the Boston College project has instead, at ground level in Belfast and beyond, engendered the sort of paranoia, furtive whispering, and fevered accusations that got people killed here for years.

It’s the new Troubles, a microcosm of the old, where individuals talk again of bloody conflict, this time over collective memories and the interpretation of what they all lived through. Some worry the personal disputes, and fear of potential prosecutions, that the BC interviews have given rise to could do serious damage to Northern Ireland’s hard-won, much-admired, but still-evolving and ever-fragile peace process.

. . .

Belfast is shiny now. New hotels on and off Great Victoria Street glisten with the sort of glass windows that would have been reckless folly back in the days when bomb blasts were a daily occurrence. The white noise of hovering British army helicopters has given way to a vibrant nightlife, fueled by Queens University students who spill into town from a South Belfast campus that used to be a citadel back in the bad old days.

But in the neighborhoods where those who fought the war reside, in the still-grim housing estates, in the less salubrious pubs where grudges and pints are nursed, progress is not measured by bigger pay packets. Debates about the point or the pointlessness of the war go on, sometimes heatedly.

For more than 30 years, as The Troubles raged, the weapons of choice here in the north of Ireland were bombs and bullets. Now they’re words, some spoken in confidence, others sprayed on gabled walls.

The words spoken in confidence were given by 46 former combatants to researchers hired by Boston College. The so-called Belfast Project aimed to compile an oral history of the men and some women who fought for the Catholic and nationalist IRA that wanted a united Ireland, and those men from the Protestant loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force, that wanted to maintain the union with the United Kingdom.

The former bombers and gunmen were promised that whatever they said would remain under lock and key, at BC’s Burns Library, until they gave their permission to release it, or until they died.

It was an inspired idea, hatched in the heady days immediately following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which effectively ended The Troubles, an idealistic time when, as the great poet and native son Seamus Heaney put it, hope and history rhymed.

But it turned out to be a promise BC either wouldn’t or couldn’t keep. When police here launched a legal effort to seize specific portions of the BC archive three years ago, and the college reluctantly complied, the IRA and UVF men who gave interviews wished they had listened to Heaney’s earlier admonition when, at the height of the murderous tumult, he wrote, “Whatever you say, say nothing.”

The words sprayed on walls, meanwhile, almost hiss the most provocative word in the local vocabulary: tout.

In Northern Ireland, tout is the local slang for someone who informs against his comrades to the authorities. It is a word loaded with venom and lethal history. In a country where there is conspicuous respect for the dead, touts were treated with the least dignity. They were dispatched unceremoniously with shots to the head, their heads hooded, their hands tied behind their backs, their bodies discarded in roadside ditches, like animals that had the misfortune of being hit by a car.

Two months ago, after disclosures from the oral history project led to the arrest and questioning of the Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams in the horrific 1972 abduction, murder, and secret burial of Jean McConville, a Belfast mother of 10, the words “Boston College Touts” were whitewashed on a half-dozen walls across West Belfast, long the IRA heartland.

It was not an idle, schoolyard insult. It never has been in a land where careless words routinely led to shallow graves.

As someone who has been publicly identified as one of those who gave interviews to BC, Tommy Gorman knows that word — tout — is aimed at him. It alternately infuriates and worries him. Gorman spent 13 years in prison for IRA activity. He escaped from prison twice, evincing a level of defiance and resistance that should have ensured him a place in Irish republican folklore. Instead, some of his former comrades level at him the worst accusation a republican can throw at another.

“I never said a word about other IRA volunteers,” he said, putting his coffee down in a pub in the Andersonstown section of West Belfast. “I gave Boston College a personal remembrance of a bloody time in our history. That’s it.”

Gorman, 69, believes his real crime was to break with the IRA and Sinn Féin leadership over the direction of the peace process. He says Adams and the rest of the leadership compromised too much for too little. He has said loudly and clearly that settling for a seat in a local government that upholds the partition of Ireland, and a system squarely fixed against the interests of the working class, rendered The Troubles, and the death and sacrifice accompanying it, an appalling waste.

“We were willing to kill people,” Gorman said. “We were willing to die. What has transpired is not worth a drop of anyone’s blood, whether it was a British soldier, an IRA volunteer, or an innocent civilian. I fought against the Brits. I’m going to fight against them [Sinn Féin], too. When you step out of line, they call you a tout.”

I asked Tommy Gorman if he is worried about getting arrested.

“No,” he replied flatly, “I’m worried about getting shot. Not by my erstwhile enemies but by my erstwhile comrades. They’d get away with it, too, because they’re in the pockets of the Brits.”

After he was released without charge following four days of questioning, Gerry Adams rubbished the Boston College project as a well-intentioned but naive effort that has been hijacked and exploited by the very people who liked it better when Northern Ireland was at war.

He said BC’s decision to entrust the project to journalist Ed Moloney, who wrote a book that was hostile to Adams, and Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA prisoner turned BC researcher who has also been openly critical of Adams, was flawed and guaranteed to produce an oral history that was disproportionately biased against Adams and the Sinn Féin and IRA leadership.

“Everyone has the right to record their history,” Adams said in a statement, “but not at the expense of the lives of others.”

Adams has led Sinn Féin, the political wing of the IRA, since 1983, but he has always denied being a member of the IRA, a denial that infuriates some of his former comrades. He was widely credited with persuading the IRA to put aside its violent campaign, to disarm and disband, and to commit itself to a united Ireland achieved through peaceful means. He and many others see the police interest in him and the McConville case as politically motivated, and he and others have warned that politically motivated policing could seriously undermine the peace process.

But if the police wanted to hurt Adams and Sinn Féin, his arrest in May seemed to have the opposite effect. Sinn Féin did better in the local and European elections, north and south, than expected.

In early May, Adams praised BC’s offer to return the oral histories to those who gave them, “before the securocrats who cannot live with the peace seek to seize the rest of the archive and do mischief.”

A few weeks later, police here did just that, announcing a legal bid to seize the whole archive. That move came after police were widely criticized for being interested only in allegations against Adams, while ignoring potential crimes by loyalists or British government agents, who routinely helped loyalists target nationalists for assassination throughout The Troubles.

While the police are steadfastly pursuing BC’s files, they are less enthusiastic about turning over their own for scrutiny. The Police Service of Northern Ireland has refused to turn over files sought by the police ombudsman’s office about cases in which either police or the British military were accused of engaging or being complicit in some 60 extrajudicial killings.

. . .

Boston College, through its spokesman, Jack Dunn, agrees with Adams’ assessment about the lack of diversity of opinion in the oral history. Kevin O’Neill, a professor of history at BC who read a transcript of one of the interviews, said the line of McIntyre’s questioning suggested a clear perspective rather than an objective approach.

Sitting at his kitchen table in Drogheda, a town in the Irish Republic situated between Dublin and Belfast, McIntyre, who spent 18 years in prison for IRA activity before getting his PhD in Irish history at Queens, scoffs at that criticism. First, he says, those criticizing the diversity of opinion don’t know who was interviewed. Only a handful have been identified, all of them openly critical of Adams, some convinced he ordered Jean McConville’s murder.

But, even if most of those or even all of those interviewed disagreed with the peace strategy Adams pursued, McIntyre’s American-born wife, Carrie Twomey, asks, “So what?”

“It would still be a valuable history,” she said. “It’s a perspective you won’t get in the official history.”

Tommy Gorman, an IRA veteran, agrees.

“The Shinners’ view of history is the established view,” he says, using the nickname for members and supporters of Sinn Féin. “Ours is the challenging view.”

Adams vehemently denies any involvement in McConville’s murder and says the allegations against him are from former comrades turned enemies. He emerged from his four-day detention saying that his police interrogators based their queries on what was contained in the BC archive. He said he was interviewed 33 times during his 92 hours in custody. “For all I know, I can still face charges,” he said upon his release. “One presumes they would have made a charge against me. But they offered no evidence against me whatsoever.”

Moloney and McIntyre dismiss Adams’ complaints, even as they remain indignant that BC capitulated so quickly to demands from the US Justice Department for portions of the archive, at the request of their British law enforcement counterparts.

Carrie Twomey, meanwhile, worries about the safety of her husband, not to mention herself and their son and daughter.

“When you call someone a tout in Ireland,” she says, “it has consequences.”

Indeed, it has. In 2005, after it emerged that Denis Donaldson, the former chief of staff for Sinn Féin in the local assembly, was an informant for British intelligence, his name and “tout” went up on the walls. He was shot to death in a cottage in Donegal where he had gone to live in disgrace.

An even more sobering story was that of Gerry “Whitey” Bradley, an IRA veteran from North Belfast. Five years ago, he wrote a book about his life in the IRA. But he refused to submit the manuscript to the leadership of the republican movement, as is expected, because he didn’t want it censored. Bradley said it was his story, not others’, to tell. He said he went out of his way not to implicate or name people who went on IRA operations with him.

As Bradley envisioned it, his story was almost a mini-version of the BC project, one man’s story. He thought it portrayed the IRA in a good light.

“The last thing I wanted to do was hurt people,” he told the Irish Republican News in 2009.

“As far as my story is concerned, it’s my story, what I went through, and what hundreds and thousands of people my age went through. It talks about the unsung heroes and their identities are kept to the minimum. . . . It explains to the outside world why we did this, why we dedicated our lives. I stepped out of the ranks to get this book out. I stepped out of line to do this. I don’t believe in censorship. I believe everybody has a right to their opinion.”

But not everybody believed Whitey Bradley had a right to his. Soon after the book was published, Bradley’s name and the word tout were whitewashed on walls in his Ardoyne neighborhood. He was shunned. He soon left Ardoyne.

“He was humiliated,” says Gerard “Hodgie” Hodgins, a former IRA prisoner who spent 20 days on hunger strike in 1981 before the IRA called it off. “He was a soldier. Not a politician.”

Overwhelmed by his ostracization and in poor health, Whitey Bradley drove to Carrickfergus Castle, a medieval edifice once controlled by English colonizers, and killed himself.

On the loyalist side of the divide here, there is also consternation, and deep worry, about what the police might do with the oral histories provided by former UVF gunmen. William “Plum” Smith, a former loyalist paramilitary, now works to reintegrate loyalist prisoners into the community. He gave BC an interview, hoping his experience would help others embroiled in conflict find a way toward reconciliation. He is appalled it is having the opposite effect.

Smith thinks the police seeking, and BC giving up, the tapes has ruined the possibility of any thoughtful effort to draw lessons and heal wounds from such a sustained period of violence and conflict. Smith doesn’t think anyone engaged in armed conflict will risk arrest, or worse, to help the “recovered truth” process.

Plum Smith and another leading loyalist, Winston “Winkie” Rea, called on BC to destroy the archive, but BC chose to offer to return the interviews to those who gave them.

While worried speculation and some angry finger-pointing is taking place in loyalist communities, the fallout in republican circles is far more poisonous and far more ominous.

That could be because the armed struggle of the IRA has morphed into an arm-twisting struggle over who gets to claim the republican mantle, however tattered it may be. It is a fresh manifestation of that repeating pattern, the past forever muscling into the present. Irish history is replete with examples of revolutionary movements putting aside their weapons to take up the reins of democratic power. In each instance, a rump of republican resistance refused to do so, remaining outside the mainstream and the establishment, fighting on. Eamon de Valera, for example, led the rebels who refused to go along with the compromise with the British that created the Irish Free State in 1922; when de Valera came in from the cold and took power in the fledgling Irish Republic, he turned out to be harsher against the IRA rump he once led than the British were.

None of those identified as taking part in the Boston College project support the armed dissident groups, such as the Real IRA, who continue to use violence to seek their holy grail: a united socialist republic encompassing the entire island of Ireland.

Ricky O’Rawe is one who believes violence is futile now. In hindsight, he believes it was futile all along. O’Rawe’s falling out with Adams and the rest of the republican leadership can be traced to the 1981 hunger strikes, when Bobby Sands became the first of 10 men to starve themselves to death while demanding they be treated as political prisoners.

O’Rawe, who was in prison at the time and served as the hunger strikers’ spokesman, was one of the so-called IRA blanket men, who refused to wear prison uniforms and instead wrapped themselves in blankets. In 2005, he wrote an explosive book that accused Adams and IRA leaders of letting six of the 10 hunger strikers die, rather than accept a compromise with the British government. Adams and other republican leaders insisted O’Rawe was bitter and delusional. Many others believe O’Rawe, noting that the prospect of IRA men being seen as martyrs willing to die for principle gave the republican movement its biggest propaganda coup during a long and dirty war.

“What you’re seeing today, in the recrimination over the Boston College project, is really just a wider example of the whole intolerance for dissent within the republican movement,” O’Rawe said. “The irony is, I agree with the peace. I just disagree with the party. I think the war was an act of folly. It couldn’t be won. It took someone like Adams — Machiavellian, devious, determined, able to talk out of both sides of his mouth — to end this act of folly. I give him full credit for that. I’m glad he gave up the guns. I just disagree with the Stalinism, the idea that you can’t disagree with the leadership.”

. . .

At one level, the fallout from the BC project demonstrates that Northern Ireland is no longer the place it was. Disputes that used to get settled with a gun have, so far, been confined to bitter words and to people retaining lawyers.

O’Rawe has sued Boston College for breach of contract, contending he was misled into believing his account would not be used against him in a court of law. O’Rawe doesn’t understand why BC turned over his tapes because he said he knew nothing about the McConville case. He was in a different IRA unit than the one that abducted McConville.

“I knew [nothing at] all about Jean McConville,” he said. “It was D Company, in the Lower Falls, that did that. I was in Ballymurphy,” farther up and off the Falls in West Belfast.

One of the great, sad ironies in this whole debacle is that Boston in general and Boston College in particular had been regarded fondly in many parts of Northern Ireland as having played a largely positive role in the peace process. Boston was always seen as the moderate base of Irish-America, less in thrall to extremists, more focused on finding middle ground, even as it welcomed former revolutionaries from both sides of the divide who said they were determined to use peaceful means to achieve political ends.

BC, meanwhile, did more than any American university to engage both the political and civil society on both sides of the Irish border. BC has hosted hundreds of politicians, journalists, civil servants, and peacemakers from Northern Ireland over the years. But, in all this bitter recrimination, the Boston brand has suffered in Ireland.

Last week, Anthony McIntyre was listening to the radio when the song “More Than a Feeling,” by Boston, came on.

“It used to be one of my favorite songs,” he said. “But when it came on the other day, I was, like, ‘Screw it. I hate it now.’ I don’t like anything that has Boston in it now.”

No Grounds for Citing SAA

No Grounds for Citing SAA
Anthony McIntyre
The Pensive Quill
2 July 2014

A letter submitted to the Times Higher Education but not published as Ed Moloney, former project director of the Belfast Project, had written earlier and his letter was published.

In his article Oral history: where next after the Belfast Project? (THE 5 June 14) Jon Marcus claimed:

An investigation by the Society of American Archivists has found that the researchers made promises of confidentiality that went further than university lawyers had advised.

The investigation cited was nothing short of appalling deficiency in that it churned out a “litany of incontestable mistakes”. It is regrettable that Jon Marcus did not make clear that the SAA investigation he cited has since March 2013 been “under review” because of complaints about it.

He therefore had no grounds to cite it.

The SAA ‘investigation’ wrongly claimed that project staff (I was the interviewer):

made additional written promises to participants in the oral history project that went beyond those offered by Boston College but … did not disclose to participants that these additional assurances were made on behalf of the project staff and did not represent the position of Boston College.

I responded at the time stating that this was so:

demonstrably false and misleading that only with extreme reluctance could it be accepted as something issued in good faith. Not a scintilla of evidence for such a bald  has been forthcoming. Where is the evidence that the researchers ever gave ‘additional assurances’ to the participants? 

Don’t hold your breath waiting on the SAA to come up with an answer. It won’t.

1st Response to FOI Request: Belfast Project Documents (DOJ-OIA)

FOI Request: Belfast Project Documents (DOJ-OIA)

U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Enforcement Operations
Criminal Division
Washington, D.C. 20530
July 1, 2014

Mr. Dustin Slaughter
MuckRock News
Dept. MR 12221
Post Office Box 55819
Boston, MA 02205
12221-51634023@requests.muckrock.com

Dear Mr. Slaughter:
Re: CRM-300452623 KWC:CPS

The Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice acknowledges receipt of your Freedom of Information Act request dated June 1 8, 2014, in which you requested access to records concerning the Belfast Project. Your request has been assigned file number CRM-300452623. You should refer to this number in any future correspondence with this Office.

The records you seek require a search in another section of the Criminal Division, and so your request presents “unusual circumstances” under the FOIA. See 5 U.S.C. 552 (a)(6)(B)(i)- (iii), Because of these unusual circumstances, we need to extend the twenty day time limit to respond to your request beyond the ten additional days provided by the statute. The time needed to complete our processing of your request will necessarily depend on the complexity of our records search and on the volume and complexity of any records located. In an effort to facilitate our records search, you may wish to narrow the scope of your request to limit the number of potentially responsive records or agree to an alternative time frame for processing, should records be located; or you may wish to await the completion of our records search to discuss either of these options.

You have requested expedited processing of your request pursuant to the Department’s standard permitting expedition for requests involving “[an] urgency to inform the public about an actual or alleged federal government activity, if made by a person primarily engaged in disseminating information.” See C.F.R. 16.5(d)(ii) (2013).

Based on the information you have provided, I have determined that your request for expedited processing under this standard should be denied. This Office cannot identify a particular urgency to inform the public about an actual or alleged federal government activity beyond the public’s right to know about government activities generally.

We have not yet made a decision on your request for preferred requester fee status or your request for a fee waiver. We will do so after we determine whether fees will be assessed for this request.

If you have any questions or wish to discuss reformulation or an alternative time frame for the processing of your request, you may contact me by telephone at (202) 616-0307, or you may write to me at the Criminal Division, United States Department of Justice, Suite 1127, Keeney Building, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20530-0001. Thank you for your interest in the Criminal Division.

Sincerely,

Kenneth Courter
Acting Chief
FOIA/PA Unit