Paramilitary history project is suspended

Paramilitary history project is suspended
Sean O’Driscoll
July 11 2016

A multimillion dollar attempt to record former republican and loyalist paramilitaries has been suspended indefinitely because of the PSNI’s success in obtaining the tapes.

Last week, Ivor Bell, a veteran IRA man, was charged with aiding the murder of Jean McConville, a Belfast mother, as a result of alleged confessions he made to the Boston College researchers.

Jack Dunn, the university’s news and public affairs director, said that the public and academics could no longer seek to hear the tapes in which paramilitaries talk about their role in shootings and bombings during the Troubles. “The project is not accessible for the time being. Because of the legal proceedings, a decision has been made not to make the tapes available to the public. We’ll address the matter later once the legal proceedings have been resolved,” he said. Mr Bell denies all charges.

Under the rules of the Boston College project, the tapes were to become available to researchers after the interviewees had died.

Ed Moloney, a journalist who coordinated the recording of the tapes, had already released a book, Voices From The Grave, based on taped interviews with Brendan Hughes and David Ervine, respectively senior members of the IRA and the UVF. The book was released after both men had died.

All such research has been suspended and legal battles over the tapes are likely to take years. A person close to the project said that it was unlikely that it would ever be restarted, given the negative publicity surrounding it and the potential prosecutions that could follow from confessions on the tapes.

Mr Dunn strongly rejected claims by Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA volunteer who was jailed for 18 years and had recorded the Republican interviewees for Boston College, that the project’s leaders had not done enough to stop the PSNI from seizing some of the tapes. “That is absolutely wrong. We fought very hard to protect the tapes through the US courts,” Mr Dunn said.

Mr McIntyre told The Times this weekend that he “would never, ever have gotten involved in the project” had he known that “so little effort would be made to fight the PSNI in the US courts”.

Last week, Mr Bell, 79, was charged with aiding and abetting the murder of Ms McConville and with being an IRA member. The killing of Ms McConville, 37, was one of the most notorious incidents in the Troubles.

She was abducted by the IRA at her home in the Divis flats in December 1972, shot dead and then secretly buried 50 miles away. She was wrongly accused by the group of passing information to the British Army.

In 1999 the IRA admitted its involvement in her death and her remains were found on a Co Louth beach four years later. Post-mortem examinations revealed she was killed by a single gunshot wound to the back of the head. Nobody has been convicted of the murder.

Although the interviews were given to the Boston College project on the basis that transcripts would not to be published until after the deaths of those who took part, pledges of confidentiality were rendered meaningless when in 2013 a US court ordered that the tapes should be handed over to detectives investigating Mrs McConville’s killing.

Jean McConville murder: Veteran republican Ivor Bell to stand trial

Jean McConville murder: Veteran republican Ivor Bell to stand trial
By Alan Erwin
Published 07/07/2016

A veteran republican is to stand trial over the killing of Belfast mother-of-ten Jean McConville, a judge ordered today.

Ivor Bell’s lawyers had attempted to have charges of soliciting to murder the victim, one of the so-called Disappeared, thrown out at a preliminary stage.

But District Judge Amanda Henderson ruled today that the 79-year-old has a case to answer.

She said: “Having regard to all the evidence I’m satisfied to the required standard of proof that at this stage there’s evidence to admit the accused for trial.”

Standing in the dock at Belfast Magistrates’ Court, Bell showed little emotion as the decision was announced.

The accused, from Ramoan Gardens in the city, denies allegations that he encouraged or persuaded others to kill the mother of ten.

Mrs McConville was seized by the IRA from her Divis Flats home in west Belfast in 1972 after being wrongly accused of being an informer.

Following her abduction she was shot dead and then secretly buried.

Her body was discovered on a Co Louth beach in 2003.

Post-mortem examinations revealed she was killed by a single gunshot wound to the back of the head.

The case against Bell centres on an interview he allegedly gave to researchers involved in the Boston College history project with ex-paramilitaries about their roles in the Northern Ireland conflict.

Although it was believed transcripts were not to be published until after the deaths of those who took part, pledges of confidentiality were rendered meaningless when a US court ordered the tapes should be handed over to PSNI detectives investigating Mrs McConville’s killing.

It is alleged that Bell was one of the project interviewees, given the title Z, who spoke about the circumstances surrounding the decision to abduct her.

His legal team had claimed the case against him was not strong enough to have him returned for trial.

Dressed in a navy jacket, grey shirt and cardigan, Bell arrived at court on bail with relatives and supporters.

Behind him in the public gallery were some members of the McConville family.

During the preliminary inquiry a librarian from Boston College accepted defence claims that former paramilitaries were misled into thinking they could reveal their activities to the study with complete impunity

Dr Robert O’Neill confirmed a contract between the university and the project director guaranteed confidentiality only to the extent American law allowed.

But the court heard separate “donor agreements” with interviewees gave them the impression nothing would be disclosed without their consent prior to their deaths.

Appearing via video-link from America, Dr O’Neill insisted any impression interview tapes would remain secret during their lifetime was down to an oversight in that contract.

A voice analyst also testified that interviewee Z was likely to be Bell.

Defence counsel argued it had not been proven that the case involved original, authentic recordings.

He pointed out the two men said to have carried out interviews for the Boston project, Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre, had not featured in the hearing.

But Judge Henderson held that the tapes were admissible based on the evidence before her. Following her ruling the charges were formally put to Bell.

Asked if he wanted to say anything in response to the allegations, call witnesses or give evidence at this stage he replied in a hushed voice: “No.”

With the judge having established he has a case to answer, she ordered him to be returned for trial at Belfast Crown Court on a date to be set.

Mrs Henderson also granted an application by defence counsel to amend Bell’s bail conditions, reducing his reporting to police to once a week.

Jean McConville, Ivor Bell, and the Denouement that Never Comes

Jean McConville, Ivor Bell, and the Denouement that Never Comes
Chris Bray
Friday, July 1, 2016

There’s nothing there. It’s a shadow of a shadow of a shadow.

Prosecutors in Belfast have now presented their case against Ivor Bell, in a preliminary inquiry meant to show that their evidence is strong enough to be advanced to trial. The Public Prosecution Service alleges that Bell aided and abetted in the 1972 murder of the Belfast widow and mother Jean McConville, joining others in the solicitation of murder.

Don’t take my word for what I’m about to say: Take a few minutes to review some of the news stories about the preliminary inquiry. Here’s a story from the Belfast Telegraph. Here’s another story from the same newspaper. Here’s a story from the BBC. Here’s a story from the Times of London. (Remarkably, I can’t find any stories about the preliminary inquiry from the Irish Times.)

The preliminary inquiry lasted two days, and the testimony covered in news stories all focused on the Boston College tapes. Notice what testimony doesn’t appear in the news stories, and what kind of facts were apparently absent from the courtroom:

What are the names of the people Ivor Bell allegedly aided and abetted?

Specifically, what are the criminal events, in sequence, in which Bell allegedly participated?

What is the name of the person who is alleged to have actually ordered the kidnapping, murder, and disappearance of Jean McConville?

Other than Ivor Bell, what are the names of the Provisional IRA leaders who allegedly discussed the subject of McConville’s murder and disappearance? There was a meeting: Who was there?

Previous accounts of McConville’s kidnapping from her home in Divis Flats suggest that about a dozen members of the Provisional IRA participated in the abduction. What were their names?

McConville was buried on a beach in the Republic of Ireland. What are the names of the people who dug her grave?

Who shot Jean McConville? 

Quite simply, unless it happened but the reporters in the courtroom completely missed it, prosecutors have outlined no crime at all. They have laid out no charges, advanced no facts, and described no events. They have not said who did the things that Ivor Bell is alleged to have assisted with; indeed, they have not said in any particular detail what actions he aided. They have no theory of the case they wish to advance in court, can publicly offer no timeline, and have named no names but one. They do not fully describe a plot and its procedure, placing Bell inside well-explained events in his particular context. They do not appear with witnesses who can testify firsthand about what they saw, heard, and did as McConville was carried from her home, killed and buried.

All they have – five years later – is the tapes. Which they present with a shrug, and some general testimony from a librarian about the project to record them.

Who ordered the murder of Jean McConville, and who shot her? It wasn’t Ivor Bell. To prosecute him for aiding and abetting without clearly and convincingly answering those two questions in an open courtroom is a sham and an embarrassment.

More than five years after the first subpoenas arrived at Boston College, we still have not seen the police or prosecutors in Northern Ireland venture a public answer to the most obvious questions of all.

This is a sideshow, staged by circus clowns, who stand over the grave of a murdered woman.