Boston College Oral History Project Faces Ongoing Legal Issues

Boston College Oral History Project Faces Ongoing Legal Issues
April Witteveen
Library Journal
March 12, 2015

After years of ongoing legal issues, Boston College’s (BC) Belfast Project is again in the news. The Project, launched in 2001, is an oral history collection consisting of recorded interviews from participants in Northern Ireland’s 30-year civil conflict known as the Troubles.

Funded in large part by Thomas J. Tracy, an Irish American philanthropist with a strong interest in American and Northern Irish politics, the Belfast Project held some 50 interviews conducted through 2006. The project director’s contracts promised confidentiality of the interviewees’ recordings until after their deaths, although these were not reviewed by BC’s counsel. However, since 2011 the U.S. Department of Justice has received numerous subpoenas requesting the interview material from the United Kingdom as they continue to investigate crimes that occurred during the conflict.

In early 2015, Winston Rea, a former loyalist prisoner, “secured a temporary injunction as police were set to board a plane for America” to retrieve his tapes from the Belfast Project. As of February 27, a judge claimed the Police Services of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) request for information was lawful as regards the subject of a police investigation; the recordings have been secured but have been kept sealed, as Rea has decided to file an appeal.

Dangerous Work

The project’s roots date back to 2000, when journalist Ed Maloney introduced BC librarian Robert O’Neill to Irish historian and former Irish Republican Army (IRA) member Anthony McIntyre in order to propose a project: to collect recorded stories from former IRA paramilitary members, capturing their record of the conflict.

While such an archive would be of great historical and cultural significance, this would be dangerous work. In a story for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Beth McMurtrie wrote:

“Although the fighting was over, informers—or ‘touts,’ as the IRA called them—were not looked upon kindly. You just didn’t go around talking about what you had done in those dark years. Yet the idea was undeniably appealing. To record the stories of the men and women who had put their lives on the line for the cause of independence, some of whom had committed horrific acts of violence in the process, that was something no one else had done.”

McIntyre agreed to act as the primary interviewer for the project, assuming that the material, and the people who took part, would be protected to the fullest legal extent. The participant agreement stated that “each interview would be sealed until the death of the interviewee.” No lawyers were used to vet the agreements. McIntyre began his interviews in Ireland the following year. According to McMurtie, by 2006 he had interviewed 26 former IRA members; in addition, a Belfast researcher gathered interviews from 20 loyalist paramilitary agents to reflect the other side of the conflict.

Legal troubles for the Belfast Project began in 2011. British authorities had requested that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issue subpoenas for interviews from subjects they believed had connections to various crimes committed during the Troubles. The subpoenas were issued under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) signed between the U.S. and the UK in 1994. According to an article in the Stanford Law Review, the MLAT “provides, among other things, that the United States and the United Kingdom will assist one another in ‘serving documents; locating or identifying persons…[and] executing requests for search and seizures.’” The treaty “does not require compliance…in all circumstances,” but the DOJ chose to issue the subpoenas.

By May 2014, 11 tapes had been turned over to the PSNI after it issued a statement claiming it planned to seek the entire contents of the Belfast Project. As a result of these subpoenas Gerry Adams, former leader of Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political branch, was arrested. Two participants in the Belfast Project had implicated Adams in the 1972 murder of Jean McConville, whom the IRA had accused of being an informant. Brendan Hughes, a “legendary IRA volunteer,” had passed away by the time his recordings were subpoenaed; former IRA volunteer Dolours Price however, was still alive, and her tapes remained under embargo. Adams was freed after four days of police questioning.

Robert O’Neill, the BC librarian involved with the project, retired during the 2013–14 academic year; his successor, Christian Dupont, was unable to provide comment. He told Library Journal that due to the unresolved nature of the legal issues surrounding the Belfast Project, all College employees have been told to refrain from making any statements.

Implications for Archives

Christine George, currently the archivist and faculty services librarian at the State University of New York Buffalo’s Charles B. Sears Legal Library, first heard about the Belfast Project when she was in library school; she has since stayed up to date with the evolving legal issues. She published her concerns on the Society of American Archivists (SAA) Issues and Advocacy Roundtable blog. When LJ spoke with George recently, she said: “…the litigation surrounding the Belfast Project serves as a reminder that archivists and institutions cannot provide the protection that certain collections may require. As a profession, archivists need to seriously consider the legal and moral implications of seeking and housing such collections.”

The 2013 response from the now-defunct Government Affairs Working Group of SAA included a discussion of the concept of archival privilege, and how it was unsuccessfully invoked in the case of the Belfast Project: “The belief that there should be an archival privilege of confidentiality rests on the ‘need of history’ for honest information, and thus the need to shield honest answers from potential legal consequences.” This concept, as applied to politically sensitive archival material, has drawn conflicting views. From SAA’s response: “Although some members of the profession clearly believe that such a right should be asserted, others believe that asserting such a right could be interpreted as an unfortunate exercise in absolutism that would be detrimental to the broader public interest.”

James King, a PhD student at the Information School at Pittsburgh University, also studied the Belfast Project and its legal ramifications. In 2014 he published “‘Say nothing’: silenced records and the Boston College subpoenas” in Archives and Records: The Journal of the Archives and Records Association (view the author’s submitted manuscript). In it, he addressed the “the little-recognized preservation hazard of silenced or uncreated records,” and told LJ of his concerns about capturing the voices of the Troubles in particular:

“It seems even more unlikely that future oral history or archival projects related to the conflict will find many participants willing to risk the hazards of contribution. I also fear that this case might affect the many community organizations and storytelling projects that have helped Northern Ireland transition from conflict, as those who experienced the violence of the conflict might now reasonably decline to tell their stories.”

Both King and George addressed the need for archival policies that would allow voices of conflict to be heard. However, with academic or archival privilege questionable at best in cases like this, King stated his hope “…that similar endeavors in the future will learn from the Belfast Project by proceeding only once all legal and ethical implications are understood, addressed, and conveyed in a manner that can truly guarantee the safety of participants.”

At this point it is unclear what contents of the Belfast Project are still held by BC. According to an FAQ on the college’s website, the records are closed, “unavailable to use for any reason.” In May 2014, the New York Times quoted BC as stating that it would return any material to participants who wanted their interviews back. This had been a point of contention between BC and McIntyre and Maloney; the latter two felt that as soon as the confidentiality of the Project was compromised this offer should have been extended to the participants. The article closed noting: “All the material is now locked away in an undisclosed location.”

This article was featured in Library Journal‘s Academic Newswire enewsletter.

Boston College ordered to turn over Northern Ireland conflict research

Boston College ordered to turn over Northern Ireland conflict research
By Keith Button
Education Dive
February 10, 2015

Dive Brief:

•A British judge has ruled in favor of police trying to access interviews from a Boston College oral history project on the Northern Ireland civil conflict, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported.
•Winston Rea, formerly a loyalist paramilitary member, had granted interviews to the college’s Belfast Project on the condition that they would remain confidential until his death.
•The court battle over the Belfast Project material began in 2011.

Dive Insight:

This case could have a chilling effect on academic research into other situations where police would have interest in information collected from sources who wish to remain confidential. In this case, the Police Services of Northern Ireland is using the information collected by Boston College to investigate a murder. Boston College had already turned over some interviews, and the police sought all of them in May 2014. Rea’s interviews may not be the only ones ordered to be turned over recently — the subpoena for the Rea interviews was exposed only when he tried to block it.

Recommended Reading
The Chronicle of Higher Education: Boston College’s Belfast Project Lands in Court—Again

Boston College’s Belfast Project Lands in Court—Again

Boston College’s Belfast Project Lands in Court—Again
Beth McMurtrie
Chronicle of Higher Education
February 9, 2015

A Boston College oral-history project on Northern Ireland’s 30-year civil conflict has again found itself in court. On Monday a British judge ruled that the Police Services of Northern Ireland has the right to retrieve interviews given to Boston College by Winston Rea, a former loyalist paramilitary member and a participant in its Belfast Project. Mr. Rea had tried to block the handover of his interviews, which were supposed to remain confidential until his death.

In 2011 Boston College began a two-year court battle to prevent access to the archives by British authorities, which sought some material as part of a decades-old murder investigation. Boston College ultimately turned over a number of interviews. Last May the Police Services, which continues to investigate old crimes, said that it was going to seek the entire archive.

That appears to have resulted so far in one subpoena, for Mr. Rea’s material. Unlike the earlier court battle, the legal deliberations that led Boston College to turn over Mr. Rea’s interviews came to light only when he tried to stop the transfer of material into Northern Ireland. It is unclear if subpoenas for any other interviews have been issued.

Boston College declined to comment, saying the U.S Department of Justice had asked that the matter be kept confidential. The Justice Department also declined to comment.

Boston College Project: Winston Rea ‘investigated over serious offences’

Boston College Project: Winston Rea ‘investigated over serious offences’
BBC News
4 February 2015

A former loyalist prisoner trying to stop police obtaining interviews he gave to a US university project is being investigated over offences of “the utmost gravity” a court has heard.

Counsel for the PSNI said inquiries related to Winston “Winkie” Rea involve a series of incidents.

He said they spanned a period of more than 20 years.

Mr Rea is among dozens of loyalists and republicans who provided testimonies to Boston College’s Belfast Project.

Last month he secured a temporary injunction as police were set to fly out to collect tapes from his interviews.

The interviews were given to researchers compiling an oral history of the Northern Ireland Troubles, on the understanding that tapes would not be made public until after their deaths.

However, in 2013 detectives investigating the 1972 abduction and murder of Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville secured the transcripts of former IRA woman Dolours Price’s account.

The material was handed over following court battles on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mr Rea, a former prisoner and son-in-law of the late UVF leader Gusty Spence, is now seeking to judicially review the Public Prosecution Service’s attempts to obtain his interviews.

He claims that a subpoena for the material is unlawful and lacking in any specifics about why it is being sought.

‘No fishing exercise’

But in the High Court on Wednesday, a lawyer for the chief constable rejected claims that the police were involved in a “fishing exercise”.

He told a judge that a letter was sent to the US authorities last September outlining a request for assistance.

“It sets out the identity of the person subject to criminal investigation, that’s the applicant in this case,” he said.

“It sets out the offences which the PSNI are actively investigating in respect of this matter.”

No specific incidents were referred to in court, and Mr Rea has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

However, the lawyer said there was “highly specific information in respect of the potential alleged involvement of the applicant in a series of incidents from the 1970s through to the late 1990s”.

He added: “You will see there are matters of the utmost gravity.”

Adding that police have a obligation to carry out effective investigations under human rights legislation, the barrister argued that the judicial review application should be heard urgently.

A lawyer for Mr Rea said the alleged incidents were “historic crimes”.

He said the information had only been supplied last week.

He told the court: “We are trying to take instructions from the applicant. He has health difficulties.”

Following submissions, however, the judge fixed the case for a further hearing on Friday.

Boston College tapes: Truth-recovery pie in the sky as long as shadow of arrest looms

Boston College tapes: Truth-recovery pie in the sky as long as shadow of arrest looms
The agreement about dealing with the past hammered out at Stormont House could be derailed by another Boston College tapes crisis – this time involving a leading loyalist.
Brian Rowan
30 January 2015

The latest battle for access to the Boston College tapes threatens to open up a much wider debate and discussion on the past. This oral history project recorded republicans, loyalists and, it is believed, a former RUC officer, telling their stories of the conflict years. Those stories were meant to stay untold until after they died.

The book Voices From The Grave, authored by journalist Ed Moloney, brought into the public domain words spoken by former IRA leadership figure Brendan Hughes and loyalist David Ervine. Both died in their 50s.

And it was the Hughes revelations, including what he said about the IRA abduction, “execution” and disappearance of Jean McConville, which were to lead to dramatic developments.

These included the headline arrest of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams last April. Adams was questioned from Wednesday April 30 through to his release on Sunday May 4; that questioning extending to an examination of IRA membership, all of which Adams denied. He described a “malicious, untruthful and sinister campaign” against him.

And, all these months later, there is now a different focus. The latest Boston College news is about trying to access the tapes of loyalist Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea.

He is a former prisoner, leader of the Red Hand Commando, son-in-law of the late Gusty Spence and, in the peace process years, was seen as an important figure in the ceasefire and decommissioning debates. Rea was a close friend of Ervine, a member of the UVF who became a Stormont MLA.

Adams attended Ervine’s funeral in January 2007; a remarkable occasion that had the Sinn Fein president, the UVF leadership, then Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde, Secretary of State Peter Hain and former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds under one roof.

This was following the ceasefires and after the Good Friday Agreement and in a climate where the once impossible became possible. And it was in this context that some began to tell their stories of the conflict years.

If the now-published Ervine example is anything to go by, then loyalists have been much less revelatory in their recordings; less accusatory.

The Jean McConville case, demonstrating the worst horrors of conflict, gave a specific focus to the police investigation around the republican tapes and disclosures. But this is not the case with Rea.

Loyalists, including William ‘Plum’ Smith, who was successful in a legal challenge to have his Boston tapes and transcripts returned, see this as nothing more than a fishing exercise.

Three years ago, in an interview with this newspaper, he said his move to have his tapes returned was not out of concern about their content.

“I’m concerned about the principle,” he said. “I have asked for the tapes back, because Boston College cannot guarantee the basis on which the interviews were given.”

This was a reference to the belief that contributions to the archive would remain confidential until after death.

Rea also commented back then. He believed that, if the Smith test case was won, then it would have “a domino effect” for others wishing to have their material returned.

But this has not been so for him. The question is why? Is it the loyalist paramilitary leadership role Rea once held in the so-called “war” years, his leadership of an organisation identified with guns, bullets, bombs and killing?

Smith, also a former Red Hand Commando prisoner and a close friend of Rea, has his own thinking on the latest move.

He believes that, after the Adams arrest, this is “another balancing act” – similar to when a number of loyalists were interned decades ago.

And he also believes that, in the here and now, it “flies in the face of any attempt to create a truth-recovery process”.

Budgets and welfare reform were the main focus of the pre-Christmas Stormont House talks. And, alongside those issues, there was a big effort to achieve a structure that would finally begin to address the many unanswered questions of the past.

After Eames/Bradley and the Haass/O’Sullivan processes, this was the third attempt to achieve this.

And there is now a paper agreement to build upon; an Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), an Independent Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR), an Implementation and Reconciliation Group (IRG), with archive and acknowledgement elements.

But any information-recovery process will depend on co-operation across the conflict board – governments, intelligence agencies, military, police, republicans and loyalists. But what chance of that being achieved or being achievable in the current climate?

Smith answered that question when he talked about these latest investigative moves relating to the Boston project flying in the face of attempts to create a truth-recovery process.

The ICIR intended to deal with this would act privately and through interlocutors reaching out into those different worlds of governments, intelligence, security and the various armed loyalist and republican groups.

It is about questions and answers. But who is going to answer, even if there are guarantees that information given in this process will not have any evidential value?

Rea, Smith, other loyalists and republicans thought, believed, understood, that the Boston College project was protected by confidentiality.

This may have been their understanding, but it hasn’t been the reality.

From the publication of the Hughes transcripts and other revelations, this project has unravelled into a legal mess and battlefield.

Investigations and arrests have followed and, now, there is the news of the Rea case, which has created another bad mood within the loyalist community that this is some type of “balancing act”, or “equaliser”.

And the consequences of this are that it will put people back in their trenches; into places of silence rather than talking.

There may well be many unanswered questions but, in this atmosphere, there won’t be answers. And that has implications for that paper agreement made in Stormont House.

What is the point of an information or truth-recovery process without significant co-operation and disclosure? Information will not flow within a process that still has the potential to lead to arrests, charges and perhaps prison for however short a time.

And we know from the assessments of policing experts that investigations will deliver little in terms of jail time and justice.

But investigations will block the potential to open up and open out some greater sharing of information and explanation and understanding of the conflict years.

What we are watching is not just a case about one man, or one actor within the conflict period, but something that potentially has much wider implications.

And, all of this tells us that the past hasn’t gone away.

Secret Legal Process at Work in Boston College Case

Parsing a Sealed Black Box
“What else has the university agreed to keep confidential merely because federal prosecutors asked them to?”
Chris Bray
Thursday, January 29, 2015

Something went wrong for the police, and it’s not clear where it happened.

Last May, the Police Service of Northern Ireland announced that they were going back to Boston College for the whole Belfast Project collection, having already obtained eleven interview segments from a series of subpoenas issued in 2011. In a line that they have repeated over and over again ever since, the police released a statement: “Detectives in Serious Crime Branch have initiated steps to obtain all the material from Boston College as part of the Belfast Project. This is in line with the PSNI’s statutory duty to investigate fully all matters of serious crime, including murder.”

Until last week, there was no public evidence that they had ever actually done the thing they said they intended to do. But in a Belfast court last Friday, the PSNI confirmed that it has asked to have American authorities issue a new subpoena for Belfast Project material. (They can’t directly make that request to the Americans themselves, which is a long story.)

A person familiar with that hearing told me today that officials explained to the court what they had asked for, and (in vague terms) why: They asked for a subpoena of Belfast Project interviews with former Red Hand Commando leader Winston “Winkie” Rea, and they did so in response to specific information about a particular matter.

So compare the threat to the delivery: 1.) We’re going to get the whole collection, every interview conducted with every interviewee, versus 2.) a narrow request that only targets a specific interviewee.

Another thing made public in the Belfast court wrangling: The request for a new subpoena was sent to American authorities in a letter dated Sept. 11, 2014.

So between May and September, the new police fishing expedition into the Boston College archives was narrowed from everything to a much narrower set of documents. But no paper trail or public statements explain that change at all. The publicly announced and repeatedly affirmed police intention to seek the whole Belfast Project collection seems to have been blocked, delayed, or sharply narrowed, somewhere. But where? And why?

It could have happened in Northern Ireland, as other parties in government intervened against the police. It could have happened in the United States, after American officials got a request to subpoena the whole archive but refused to do it. It could have happened in an American court, though I doubt it got that far. But somewhere, somehow, someone said no to the police, and we don’t know who. The politics of that refusal, whenever the story emerges, will be important.

But this is only the first of many questions about the latest Belfast Project subpoena. Again, until last week’s court hearing in Belfast, there was no publicly available evidence that new subpoenas had been served at Boston College – and yet, subpoenaed material was ready for delivery. Pretty clearly, a whole legal process was conducted in secret. Among the events not made public: The appointment of a commissioner to promulgate the subpoenas, a required step under the US-UK Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. The issuance of a subpoena, or of subpoenas. A potential court review of the scope of the subpoena and the subpoenaed material. And the delivery of the subpoenaed material to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

A story this week in The Heights, the independent, student-run Boston College newspaper, said this remarkable thing: “The U.S. Attorney’s Office has asked that the matter remain confidential throughout the duration of the proceedings, according to University spokesman Jack Dunn.”

Note what the story doesn’t say: Why did Boston College agree to that request? And what else has the university agreed to keep confidential merely because federal prosecutors asked them to?

Several other questions follow. Boston College agreed last year to return interviews to interviewees, and began to do so. Is the university still returning interviews, or have they stopped? Are there still interviewees who are asking to have their interviews returned, and what position does Boston College take on further returns?

Richard O’Rawe got his interviews back; Winston Rea didn’t. Why?

Finally, Ivor Bell – reputedly a former IRA member, and alleged by the PSNI to have aided and abetted in the murder of Jean McConville – is being prosecuted in Northern Ireland. But his prosecution is going slowly and poorly, because the Belfast Project tapes alleged to contain his interviews can’t be connected to him. Boston College lost its collection contracts for at least some Belfast Project interviewees, and never received an identification key to the coded tapes in its possession.

So if the PSNI can’t connect Ivor Bell’s supposed Belfast Project interviews to Ivor Bell, does anyone actually know that the tapes now waiting for the PSNI at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston can be proven to contain interviews with Winston Rea? Does Boston College have a signed collection contract with Rea? And what role, if any, does the missing interviewee identity key have in narrowing the PSNI’s latest fishing expedition?

It’s clear that significant developments have taken place with regard to the Belfast Project materials archived by Boston College. It seems that Boston College and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston have developed a cooperative relationship rather than an adversarial one, as BC works to keep the DOJ’s secret subpoenas hidden. It’s apparent that a federal court in Boston has been engaged in secret procedural efforts, in a significant matter hidden from public view. And it’s inescapable that we have a long, long way to go in any effort to understand what has been happening since last May.

Former Irish Prisoner Secures Interim Injunction On Belfast Project Materials

Former Irish Prisoner Secures Interim Injunction On Belfast Project Materials
by Carolyn Freeman
BC Heights
29 January, 2015

Last Friday, a former loyalist prisoner of Northern Ireland, Winston Rea, secured a temporary injunction on the release of interviews he gave as part of Boston College’s oral history project, the Belfast Project, according to a report in The Irish Times. It was determined after a hearing in Belfast that no release will take place before Thursday, when the case will be revisited, said the report.

The series of interviews, which ran from 2001 to 2006 and was directed by Burns Library, were meant to record the experiences of the people involved in “the Troubles,” a period of violent turmoil and revolution in Northern Ireland that started in the 1960s. The political strife ended in 1998, with the Good Friday Agreement. The interviews conducted by Burns Library, which was then under the leadership of Robert O’Neill, were held under the condition that the materials would not be released until the death of the participants unless they gave consent.

Tapes from the project, which was directed by Irish journalist Ed Moloney, were subpoenaed for the first time in May 2011 by the U.S. federal government on behalf of the United Kingdom as part of the ongoing investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) into the 1972 abduction and murder of Jean McConville. They were subpoenaed a second time and ordered to released all interviews in the archive that were relevant to the murder case.

On Dec. 27, 2011, BC was ordered to release the interviews of former Irish Republican Army (IRA) members Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes, both of whom are now deceased, in spite the University’s efforts to suppress the Department of Justice’s subpoena.

In May 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit decided that the district court had “abused its discretion” in its subpoena of the Belfast Project interviews. The court ruled that just 11 of the 85 interviews originally ordered to be released were relevant to the investigation of the McConville murder, according to the Boston Globe.

The lawyers representing the loyalist prisoner, Winston Rea, requested that Rea’s interviews not be released upon learning the members of the PSNI were planning to fly into Boston last weekend to gather the Belfast Project materials. The PSNI has not yet said why it wants this material, according to a report by The Irish Times.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has asked that the matter remain confidential throughout the duration of the proceedings, according to University spokesman Jack Dunn.

Rea claims that the subpoena is unlawful and that it does not specify why the material is needed, according to The Irish Times.

Moloney, formerly the director of the Belfast Project, has covered “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland for much of his professional life. In his blog, The Broken Elbow, he argues that the work of the PSNI to obtain the interviews of Rea is so to show that they are even-handed and not solely focusing efforts on the IRA. If the PSNI is successful, everyone who participated in the Belfast Project could see their interviews released, he wrote.

“The truth is that this PSNI pursuit of Mr. Rea is a fishing expedition carried out for narrow political purposes,” he wrote in a post. “They have no evidence that any alleged interview given by Mr. Rea describes any offence committed by him. There is, as far as is known, no current investigation into Mr. Rea and if there was one he would have been arrested long before now and questioned.”

New Belfast Project Subpoena(s)

New Belfast Project Subpoena(s)
Chris Bray
Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Authorities in Northern Ireland have asked the U.S. government to subpoena new materials from the Belfast Project collection at Boston College, and at least one new subpoena has been served and executed. Late last week, a court in Belfast issued a preliminary injunction forbidding the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Public Prosecution Service from traveling to the U.S. to collect the newly subpoenaed material from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston.

You can see the complete court order here. We learn at least one new item of significant interest from it: Officials in the U.K. made a new MLAT request to the U.S. government on Sept. 11, 2014. Here’s the part of the court order that reveals this new information:

The details of that Sept. 11 request are not available, and a spokesman told me last week that the U.S. Department of Justice “is not confirming or commenting on this.” But the British court document gives us the first clear public evidence that the PSNI has gone back to Boston for more material from the Boston College archives. 

Beyond that, the interesting news is that the first public notice of a new subpoena arrived only after the subpoenaed material was in the hands of American authorities. The last time the PSNI went fishing in Boston in 2011, news of the subpoenas was widely reported, and Belfast Project researchers Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre waged a long and ultimately unsuccessful court fight in an effort to prevent the DOJ from obtaining the subpoenaed material. In the light of significant public attention, Boston College also waged a more limited legal effort to narrow the scope of the subpoenas, and convinced a federal appeals court to whittle back the amount of sensitive research material that was delivered to authorities.

With this new subpoena (or subpoenas) the legal and political action has all happened in the dark, right up to the final moments. There’s no publicly available paper trail to show us what happened, but it appears that Boston College and the DOJ worked together to keep news of the new subpoena from becoming public. The secrecy extended to the campus: I asked BC faculty last week if the university had informed faculty of the new subpoenas, and the few professors who responded said they had not been told. 

The injunction in Belfast was issued at the request of Winston “Winkie” Rea, the former commander of a Loyalist paramilitary organization. Several newspapers in Ireland and the UK have reported that the PSNI has returned to the Boston College archives, though the scope of the new fishing expedition remains unclear. I’m told by a person with knowledge of that latest developments that this story in the Guardian, claiming that “dozens of IRA and loyalist paramilitary veterans are facing arrest,” is exaggerated, and the authorities do not appear to have obtained the full collection. 

Boston College, as usual, didn’t respond to several requests for comment on the latest developments.

News Letter Special on BOSTON TAPES: I was man on ground, says McIntyre

News Letter Special on BOSTON TAPES: I was man on ground, says McIntyre
Ben Lowry
News Letter

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”.


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?”

News Letter Special on BOSTON TAPES: Professor takes college to task over saga

News Letter Special on BOSTON TAPES: Professor takes college to task over saga
Ben Lowry
News Letter

A historian at Boston College tells BEN LOWRY of his sadness about the disastrous outcome of the college’s project, and his regrets at the way it was handled

In an old building, one that might be described by American realtors as ‘a handsome colonial’, is the academic department at the heart of the Boston Tapes saga.

Connolly House (pictured below) on the sprawling Boston College campus contains the Centre for Irish Programmes and the offices of Professor Tom Hachey, executive director of the centre and one of the brainchilds of the tapes.

The project has rocked the Northern Ireland political process, specifically the contentious question of how to deal with our troubled past. It has raised far-reaching questions about free speech and the boundaries of confidentiality.

Known as the Belfast Project, the tapes were made up of interviews with 26 ex-IRA members (25 conducted by the former republican prisoner Anthony McIntyre, and the last an interview of McIntyre) and 14 loyalists (interviewed by Wilson McArthur), to be held in confidence by the college’s Burns Library until the death of the participants.

And so the project remained under wraps as planned until two of the interviewees died, and things began to unravel.

After those two deaths, of former IRA man Brendan Hughes and the former UVF member David Ervine, the writer overseeing the interviews – Ed Moloney – published Voices from the Grave, which was the first that the outside world knew of the tapes.

Hughes made allegations about the 1972 IRA murder of the Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville (whose body was not found until 2003), including the claim that the now Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams ordered her abduction. This, and an interview by Dolours Price (see timeline), ultimately triggered a PSNI demand for the tapes.

The ensuing transatlantic legal tug-of-war came to be depicted as a conflict between the occasionally competing interests of historians and the forces of law and order. But the historians at Boston College say they were barely involved.

Kevin O’Neill, a professor in the history department, and his colleagues knew nothing about the tapes, which they later concluded was a narrow project run by the Burns librarian Robert O’Neill and Professor Hachey (who did not reply to a request to be interviewed for this article).

Professor O’Neill became aware of the project when he was asked around 2001 by Professor Hachey to give his professional opinion on some interview transcripts.

“That was my only involvement in the programme until 2011,” he tells the News Letter, from his book-lined office in Connolly House. “I didn’t get a response to the memo I wrote.”

The interview content had left him “very concerned”.

“It was clear to me that the interviewer had a political perspective himself and as a historian I was concerned about that.”

Asked if he is referring to Anthony McIntyre, the former IRA prisoner who was critical of Sinn Fein’s concessions in the Good Friday Agreement, Professor O’Neill says: “Yes, but I didn’t know that at the time.”

He was concerned that McIntyre was asking leading questions. He also wanted to know if anyone involved in the interviews had a training in oral history.

“And if not, why not?”

Professor O’Neill’s second chief concern was that it was clear that interviewer and interviewees were “very anti-agreement”.

“I thought we would need another interviewer to interview people in the Adams wing of the republican movement successfully. Then I didn’t know if a loyalist would be involved or not, but I asked that as a question as well, I couldn’t see how this person could interview loyalists successfully.”

He otherwise thought that the interview that he read was “extremely valuable”.

“Most of the focus was on the narrative of how someone becomes part of the republican community, how someone becomes a member of the IRA, the how and the why, the kind of stuff that historians 20 years from now would find really helpful in understanding what happened.”

Professor O’Neill heard nothing more until Moloney’s book came out in 2010.

“I was disturbed by the publication of the book,” he says. “It seemed to me a very strange thing to do, to publish a book that would announce to the whole world that this archive exists.”

Professor O’Neill says that the contract that Boston College signed with Ed Moloney specified that the university would set up an oversight committee to oversee all the project and he was named as a member of this committee. But he was not informed of the committee, and it was never created.

He says that the contract between the College and Moloney included the key proviso that the interviews would be held from public access until the death of the interviewees “to the extent that US law allowed” but this proviso was not in the contracts given to the interviewees.

If it had been, he thinks most people would have said no to being interviewed.

It was, he summarises, “irresponsible [of the College] to give people a contract that you couldn’t deliver on”. He wants them to apologise to the interviewers and interviewees.

He is also upset at the damage that the episode has done to Boston College’s bid to build relationships in Ireland.

They had, he says, tried to make the conflict in Northern Ireland “a bit more complicated than most Irish Americans saw it”. They helped organise and sponsor the first visit of loyalists to the United States, for example.

“I greeted Gusty Spence and David Ervine,” he recalls. An Irish American, from New York originally, Prof O’Neill adds: “You know personally that was quite an amazing moment in my life.”


It was only in May of this year that the Boston College historians made clear their unhappiness at the way the project had been handled, something Professor O’Neill says he was uncomfortable about doing because of the irritation it would be likely to cause in the university hierarchy.

“I’m not a martyr by nature, you know, but we felt strongly enough because of the negative impact of what’s happened on so many people,” he said.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like living in Belfast knowing I had given an interview to Boston College and who knows where it is, who might have access to it, whether it is the police service or other people.”

Professor O’Neill says that the first rumour he had heard about the existence of the tapes was when Ed Moloney came to the college one day and mentioned to a historian colleague that he was working on the project. At a later reception at the Burns Library, Moloney was present and said something similar to Professor O’Neill.

“I had no idea what he was talking about. So that’s the kind of environment that the project was born in.”

Professor O’Neill says he feels “sick” for the misery the saga “has caused people in Belfast … the interviewees mostly”.

But he also says the university cut Moloney and McIntyre loose. “I’m not a friend of either one and probably disagree with them on a lot of things but that’s just not the way you behave. They were working for this university.”

The loss of the material was “very disappointing”.

“To see how ordinary members of an extraordinary phenomena of the IRA or loyalist paramilitary groups, how did they come into that activity, what did they think about it … this is exactly the kind of material that historians really need.

“I think the fact that Boston College was able to get the loyalist community to participate is I think sort of amazing, and then to screw it up, this just makes me sick.”