News Letter Special on BOSTON TAPES: I was man on ground, says McIntyre
Anthony McIntyre’s home in a postwar housing estate, south of the Northern Ireland border, is a long way from the tree-crammed streets of Newton, Massachussetts.
The latter suburb is where Boston College (BC) is located, centre of the tapes drama in which McIntyre, 57, is arguably the key player.
The one-time IRA killer carried out 25 of the 26 interviews with republican paramilitaries for the so-called Belfast Project.
Speaking to the News Letter about the saga from his house in the Republic, McIntyre explains that the 26th interview in the series was of him, carried out by an unidentified interviewer. The 14 loyalist interviews were conducted by Wilson McArthur.
All were due to be confidential until the death of the participants.
The journalist Ed Moloney informed him of the tapes project in 2000 (the pair first communicated when McIntyre was in prison).
“We were soul mates in the sense that we shared the same analysis,” he says, although adds that this was “intellectual”: “Ed didn’t claim to be a republican.”
McIntyre was central to the project because he chose the republican interviewees.
“I was the person on the ground,” he says. There are some interviewees whose identity Moloney still does not know (each was known by a letter).
McIntyre will only say of his own interviewer that he has, like him, a PhD. McIntyre got his doctorate at Queen’s, under the former advisor to David Trimble, Lord Bew (who was later a visiting BC academic at the start of the project). They also first communicated when McIntyre was in prison.
“I’d be very friendly with Paul Bew,” he says.
The interviews were carried out from February 2001 to 2006. McIntyre does not accept that Moloney’s 2010 book, Voices from the Grave was the undoing of the project (Brendan Hughes made allegations in it about Jean McConville’s murder).
McIntyre blames the unravelling on Dolours Price interviews in the Irish News and Sunday Life, in which she made similar allegations.
McIntyre’s American wife Carrie Twomey (who sits in on our interview, and who in tone seems if anything more agitated about the tapes saga than him) points out that the interview with Hughes was in the book, so there was no need for a legal bid to recover it.
The Price tape, however, was unknown to the outside world until she spoke out and “was taken advantage of”.
“Boston College failed on every front to really defend the archive based on that because they said, ‘well she opened her big mouth’.”
McIntyre says that after the Price interviews “the PSNI went to the McConville family”. BC and the McConvilles say that the family approached the police (on Saturday we will report the McConvilles’ view of the saga).
Carrie says that when the subpoenas arrived, BC took a corporate decision not “to be associated with terrorists”.
But didn’t BC fight it in the courts? “Only because we shamed them into it,” says Carrie. [BC’s version of events is here]
McIntyre is relentless in his assaults on BC, barely accepting that anyone else shares blame.
What about the idea that September 11 radically improved British and American co-operation over any terrorism, including of the Irish variety?
“Why didn’t they tell us at the time? The very night of September 11 I was interviewing one of the interviewees,” he says. “Boston could have said then there is a change here.”
The only possible chink of disagreement between McIntyre and Moloney is when McIntyre is asked about the book.
“I didn’t like the book appearing,” he says, but immediately adds: “I wasn’t blaming Ed.” His fear was that the Provisionals would “make life hard for me or the people they thought were interviewed”.
When the News Letter puts to McIntyre BC Professor Kevin O’Neill’s criticism of his interviews – that he lacked training in oral history and had a clear perspective – he says: “It is a fair enough comment.”
But he was “of these people” and able to talk to them better than an oral historian.
He concedes that mainstream republicans would not talk to someone such as him, but uses that point to get in another dig at BC: “That was the task of the university … the college would have known that Moloney wasn’t popular with the Provos, I wasn’t popular with the Provos.”
He says he interviewed members of Sinn Fein, but adds with a chuckle: “A minority.”
He says the loss of the project is “a devastating blow to research” but adds: “If losing all the material is the only way of protecting participants from harm so be it.”
Carrie interjects: “It is an act of British vandalism.”
As a model for truth recovery, McIntyre says the project was “very meritorious”.
‘SHOULD YOU EVER TAKE PEOPLE FROM THEIR CHILDREN?’
Anthony McIntyre must have had qualities that were admired by the Provisional IRA, because his progress within its ranks was rapid.
He was already in charge of the organisation’s Lower Ormeau faction by the age of 18, when he was imprisoned in what he calls Long Kesh.
He stayed behind bars there until December 1992.
McIntyre had been the gunman in the team that shot dead the UVF member Kenneth Leneghan, on the Donegall Pass in Belfast in February 1976.
He had joined the Provisionals in 1973.
“I had seen a lot of sectarian killings,” he explains.
McIntyre took part in the Blanket Protest in the Maze in the late 1970s and was a prisoner throughout the hunger strikes of 1981.
By the time of his emergence from prison, as the IRA was moving towards ceasefire, McIntyre was one of their more hardline members.
By the time of the second Provisional ceasefire, in 1997, he predicted that Gerry Adams was interested in “renegotiating the terms under which the British ruled here, it wasn’t about getting rid of the British, so I objected”.
Asked if he considers himself a dissident, he says: “I am quite happy to be called one.”
He says that the phrase was honourable in the Soviet era, when it referred to people such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, but that “here dissident became something synonymous with pervert and deviant”.
Asked if he is involved in any political groupings that would be considered dissident, he says: “I’m not aligned to any group, militarily or political.”
He moved to the Republic in 2007, before the tapes controversy flared up, but says he now can’t return to Northern Ireland because of it for fear of arrest.
When he is asked how he thinks victims might view the tapes, McIntyre says: “If I was a victim I would probably be demanding access to the archives.”
But he says – acknowledging that what he is about to say is a “hard ask” – “victims should consider trying to obtain justice through revelation rather than justice through retribution”.
The latter leads “to a situation were everyone clams up and nobody gets anything”.
He says: “I’ve always argued that we shouldn’t pick at the scabs and prosecute people.”
Asked whether he extends that to Bloody Sunday soldiers, he says those shootings were a war crime, but yes, he does.
Does he have regrets about his own violence?
“I’m not somebody who sits down at night and worries about it too much.”
As the interview with the News Letter goes on at length, McIntyre and Twomey’s children interrupt to ask about dinner.
He says that at 18 he was indifferent to the fact that Leneghan was a father.
Now he wonders: “Should you ever be taking away people from their children?”