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.