Belfast to Boston: Oral History Goes Awry

Belfast to Boston: Oral History Goes Awry
The Takeaway with John Hockenberry
WNYC and WGBH, Public Radio International
Thursday, July 10, 2014

(Transcript to be added later)

The Boston College oral history project begun in 2001 was an attempt to record and document for history’s sake the voices and the motivations of the men and women who fought during Northern Ireland’s 30 years of brutal sectarian strife. More than 40 former republican and loyalist paramilitaries shared the stories of their personal involvement in Northern Ireland’s so-called Troubles. They believed their interviews with the project’s researchers were confidential and would never be released without their permission or until they had died, but they were wrong.

Following a legal fight, Boston College relinquished some of its archive to authorities, and earlier this year the police in Northern Ireland used the contents as grounds to arrest Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in connection with a brutal murder dating back to 1972. Adams was eventually released without charge, but in Belfast the academic project has unintentionally opened old wounds with some former IRA members who participated being labeled “touts” or informers by their fellow republicans.

The Takeaway speaks with Boston Globe columnist, Kevin Cullen, about how Boston College’s well meaning attempt to promote truth and reconciliation backfired on the ground in Belfast. Jack Dunn, a spokesperson for Boston College, discusses his concerns about how BC’s experience might impact other oral history projects.

Related: BC exercise in idealism reopened old wounds

Guests: Kevin Cullen and Jack Dunn
Produced by: Elizabeth Ross

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.”

Vortex of violence ensnared innocents such as Irish priest

Vortex of violence ensnared innocents such as Irish priest
By James F. Burns
Special to The Sun
The Gainesville Sun
7 June 2014

“Father! Come quickly — a terrible road accident and a lad needs last rites.” A knock on the door had summoned the Rev. Eugene McCoy to a sacred task. The Irish priest left in such haste with the men at his door that he forgot his rosary beads.

McCoy became suspicious when the car ferrying him to the accident scene suddenly swerved off the main road and pulled up in front of a ramshackle mobile home in a remote location. Taken inside, he was led to a back bedroom when he found a distraught young man bound hand and foot on the bed.

The priest had been tricked — but for a holy purpose — into being part of a paramilitary execution. He begged for Eamon Molloy’s life but to no avail. Death sentences are seldom commuted by the Irish Republican Army.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams is a master magician. At least, that was Ed Moloney’s allegation in his 2002 book “A Secret History of the IRA.” Adams could make people disappear. He also excelled as a tightrope walker, gingerly treading the line linking politics with paramilitary activity. He would even carry coffins at IRA funerals and said he supported the IRA — but was never a member, mind you, another Houdini-like escape.

And like every good magician, Adams didn’t like secrets leaking out. Snitches were snuffed. And then made to disappear. Someone high up in the IRA command structure — Adams’ republican critics have nicknamed him “Itwasntme” — suggested that dumping bodies in the street had lost its deterrent effect and could even be embarrassing. Presto, Jean McConville, mother of 10, disappeared — for 31 years. Likewise, no one seemed to know where Eamon Molloy was — for 24 years. And so on.

And then the story moves to County Louth, Ireland’s littlest county and one right smack on the border created by the 1920 partition of Ireland into the six-county British province of Northern Ireland and the 26-county Irish Republic. The IRA was waging a war to erase that border; IRA math said that 26 + 6 = 1, i.e., a united Ireland. Their primarily-Protestant opponents did a different math, pointing out that “6 into 26 won’t go,” emphasis on “won’t” and with their own loyalist paramilitaries as enforcers.

Inevitably, the vortex of violence spilled over the border, ensnaring innocents such as McCoy, a County Louth parish priest. Louth was an ideal location for launching IRA attacks, secretly burying bodies, safe houses and field-testing bombs.

The 1998 Northern Ireland peace agreement turned terrorism to truce for the most of the combatants but left a lot of legacy issues unresolved, such as unsolved murders and parade route and flag issues. But life went on, and efforts evolved to understand the three decades of chaos and killing.

One post-peace project was Boston College’s collection of oral histories — confessions, if you will — by both IRA and loyalist terrorists, a valuable resource for future research. The 46 participants were supposedly given an iron-clad guarantee that their taped testimony would remain sealed until after their deaths.

But U.S. law was “treaty-trumped” in court by a bilateral agreement with the U.K., allowing release of some tapes for criminal investigation of Jean McConville’s murder. And the deaths of two terrorists had already allowed Ed Moloney to convert their tapes into another book laden with more accusations against Gerry “Itwasntme” Adams.

Sorrow knows no border, grief no religion, pain no politics — which is to say that all families, all friends, who have had their loved ones murdered during the Troubles deserve sympathy and support. The recent 40th anniversary of the dastardly loyalist bombings of Dublin and Monaghan that claimed 33 lives, including a mother and her two infant daughters, bears witness to the heartbreak on both sides of the border, both sides of the sectarian divide.

And who could not feel compassion for poor Father McCoy, caught up in a killing he could not stop. And there’s the final Irish irony of this sad tale. Resolved to administering last rites to Eamon Molloy, he realized that he had indeed forgotten his rosary beads in the hasty departure from home.

In a mix of the sacred with the sordid, one of the IRA men reached into his pocket and handed the priest his own rosary beads. Was it the same hand that then pulled the trigger?

James F. Burns, a retired University of Florida professor, formerly taught at Boston College and also stayed in County Louth with his family while on sabbatical in the British Isles.

Chris Bray: BC, NBC, and the PSNI

The PSNI Arrives on Tuesday for a Monday Lunch
Chris Bray
Friday, May 30, 2014

They’re too late.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland recently announced that they intended to make a broader MLAT request for every interview from the Boston College oral history collection they first began to mine in 2011. But Boston College also announced that it intended to return interviews to the former members of Northern Ireland paramilitary organizations interviewed for the university’s Belfast Project. For a while, it appeared that the PSNI’s announcement trumped BC’s announcement: The news that more subpoenas were on the way would prevent the return of interviews.

For at least one Belfast Project interviewee, however, that’s not what happened. Whether or not the PSNI gets the U.S. Department of Justice to subpoena the Boston College archives again, some of the interviews are out of their hands forever. They have already gone home.

Take a look at this remarkable set of documents that was posted on Pacer, the federal court system’s document website, on Thursday:
NBC O’Rawe from PACER

Of particular interest are pages 3 and 4 of the PDF file, a May 1, 2014 letter from Jeffrey Swope, Boston College’s outside lawyer for matters involving the Belfast Project, to Kevin Winters, the Belfast-based solicitor who represents former IRA member and Belfast Project interviewee Richard O’Rawe. Swope details a long list of documents and audiotapes that he is returning to O’Rawe through the offices of KRW Law, Winters’ Belfast law firm. They are all of O’Rawe’s interviews — tapes and transcripts — except the ones that the PSNI already received on account of the 2011 subpoenas. Also returned: O’Rawe’s complete correspondence with the Belfast Project. There’s nothing left but the material that police already have.

I don’t know if material from other interviewees has already been sent back to them. Boston College and Jeffrey Swope have long since stopped responding to questions from me, and other people who would know about the return of interviews are either not responding to messages or not saying. (And I wouldn’t respond to the questions I’m asking them, either, if our positions were reversed.) But if Boston College began returning interviews, there’s no reason for them to have returned interviews to Richard O’Rawe but not to other interviewees, some of whom have been asking for the return of their interview material since shortly after the 2011 subpoenas arrived.

Bottom line: At least one interviewee has beat the PSNI to the archive, and maybe more. (Interviews that are unlikely to have been returned, and that are unlikely to ever be returned, are those for which Boston College has lost identifying material. So the PSNI may still be able to get its hands on interviews with unidentifiable research subjects, the legal value of which will be limited.)

Meanwhile, the political floor is beginning to give way beneath the PSNI’s effort to treat the Troubles as ordinary crime.

The likelihood of a successful PSNI / DOJ return to the Belfast Project archives is rapidly fading.

Adams in DC: Confirmed, and Still Ignored

Adams in DC: Confirmed, and Still Ignored
Chris Bray
Friday, May 30, 2014

A news story on the website of RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster, confirms that Gerry Adams discussed his arrest with American officials during his visit to Washington. While the PSNI pursues new subpoenas, the RTE headline tells the whole story: “Adams arrest discussed at Washington briefing.”

An email to Adams’ office this morning produced a list of officials who met with Adams: In addition to a sizable group of Congressmen — gendered term intended, because he somehow only met with men — Adams met with some moderately well-placed officials at the State Department. The White House took relatively little notice of the meeting, sticking Adams with an official from the Office of the Vice-President. Imagine flying four thousand miles and then finding yourself in a meeting with the vice-president’s staff.

In any event, yes: Gerry Adams was in a foot race with the PSNI, talking to U.S. government officials about his arrest and the foolishness of the police investigation at exactly the moment the police are trying to get new subpoenas of the Boston College archival material that they hope to use against him.

Besides RTE, which news organizations noticed the presence in the capital of a foreign official engaged in a lobbying effort against a criminal investigation that the United States is helping with? Take a look:

adams blackout

When I picture the American news media, I imagine a little ring of saliva around the spot on the desk where they put their heads during nap time.

Dáil Questions: Irish Government Protection of Irish History

Dáil Éireann Debate: Oral Answers
Ceist Pharlaiminte
28 May 2014

Addressed to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mr. Gilmore) by Deputy Clare Daly for ORAL on Wednesday, 28th May, 2014

Question No. 24

Parliamentary Question – Oireachtas
 
To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has made any approaches to acquire the Boston Tapes archives from Boston College and secure them under a confidentiality and embargoed agreement in order to protect an important part of our history.
– Clare Daly

* For ORAL answer on Wednesday, 28th May, 2014.
Ref No: 23123/14
REPLY from the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mr. Gilmore)

In March 2011 the British Government, acting on behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, initiated proceedings with the US Department of Justice under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the two countries for the release of selected archived interviews held in Boston College. The archives are part of the Belfast Project, an oral history of Republican and Loyalist former paramilitaries compiled by Mr Anthony McIntyre and Mr Ed Moloney and deposited in the College.

Some of those whose testimony is included in the project have since died.
Legal challenges were launched by Boston College, and separately by Mr McIntyre and Mr Moloney, to prevent the release of the material. In December 2011, these challenges were dismissed by US District Court Judge William Young. A further legal challenge was made by Mr McIntyre and Mr Moloney. On 6 July 2013, the US Federal Court of Appeal turned down their appeal.
In accordance with the court ruling, archived material was handed over by Boston College to the US authorities for onward transmission to their British counterparts.

Issues arising from this matter are currently the subject of legal proceedings and in these circumstances I do not wish to comment any further.

Dáil Questions: In view of Boston College’s failure to protect its work…

Dáil Éireann Debate: Written Answers
Ceist Pharlaiminte
27 May 2014

Addressed to the Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Quinn) by Deputy Clare Daly for WRITTEN on Tuesday, 27th May, 2014

Chun an Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíoctha
To the Minister for Education and Science

To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the measures he will take to
secure academic research particularly oral histories in view of the Boston
College’s failure to protect its work; and if he has any proposals to make in terms of offering to protect these archives.
– Clare Daly

* For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 27th May, 2014.
Reference Number: 22916/14
Freagra

Minister Ruairí Quinn
The position is that the higher education institutions are autonomous bodies
and their day to day operations are matters for the governing bodies of each
institution. However, I understand that universities and institutes of
technology have procedures in place to ensure that research undertaken,
including the treatment of confidential information, is in keeping with
accepted good practice. Indeed, many have dedicated ethics committees to
oversee issues such as this. Furthermore, a policy statement on ensuring
research integrity in Ireland will shortly be launched and articulates the
commitment of higher education institutions to the highest standards of
integrity in carrying out their research. This shared statement of commitment is intended to ensure full confidence in the Irish research system for participants, other stakeholders and the international research community.

Chris Bray Commentary: Do institutions learn?

Hand, Hot Stove, Repeat
Chris Bray
Monday, May 26, 2014

Do institutions learn?

In an extraordinary letter to the Boston Globe this weekend, Professor Emeritus Peter Weiler warns of a “crisis of governance” at Boston College. The crisis Weiler identifies relates to the university’s Belfast Project, oral history interviews with former IRA and UVF members that are now subject to federal subpoenas.

“To date,” Weiler writes, “nobody at the university has accepted responsibility for a project that has badly damaged the school’s reputation and harmed its prized relationship to both Ireland and Northern Ireland. Is nobody going to be held accountable? That seems a necessary first step to repairing the flawed administrative structures that allowed this train wreck to happen.”

Those flawed administrative structures are neatly elucidated in a May 5 public letter from several Boston College History Department chairs, past and present (including Peter Weiler). The department chairs reported that, with regard to the Belfast Project, they “had not been informed of the project, nor had they or the department been consulted on the merits of the effort or the appropriate procedures to be followed in carrying out such a fraught and potentially controversial venture.”

So the Belfast Project, conducted from 2001 to 2006, recklessly wandered into dangerous territory because it was sealed off from the institution that housed it, managed within the boundaries of isolated fiefdoms and run without formal oversight or informal professional advice. No one will tell this story better than Chronicle of Higher Education reporter Beth McMurtrie, whose long Jan. 26 report on the Belfast Project carefully documents a long series of institutional failures.

Today, eight years after the conclusion of the Belfast Project, and three years into an international legal and political battle over the project that shows no sign of ending in the foreseeable future, Boston College has had ample time to learn the lessons of its original failures. The project ran into danger because most faculty had no involvement in it and could offer no advice or oversight, and because the few critics who were given a look into the project were ignored when they expressed concerns. So the path to the least-bad potential outcome is a path that runs through the institution and its faculty. The cure for the failure of a project badly run in isolated fiefdoms is to bring it out of its isolated fiefdoms, integrating History Department and Irish Studies faculty into an institutional discussion about responses and solutions. The cure to a problem caused by not talking to faculty is to talk to faculty.

This medicine is not being applied at Boston College. No faculty committee has been established to examine and discuss the present crisis in the Belfast Project, formally or casually. Meetings on the possibility of new subpoenas are taking place in administrative enclaves, with lawyers and managers, behind doors that are closed even to senior faculty. If Boston College has a soul, it’s not being searched. The handful of people managing the crisis continue to do so in rigid isolation, institutionally and intellectually, pushing away their own internal critics. Having damaged the university by not listening to its faculty, they are not listening to their faculty.

This story of isolation and obstinacy is not simply the story of the Belfast Project; the limits of faculty governance at Boston College are well known, and a sore subject there.

William Leahy lives behind a moat, and he has drawn the Belfast Project inside the gates, with the flagrantly unhealthy Jack Dunn guarding all avenues of approach. Three years later, it’s clear that he’s not coming out to hold court with the rest of the institution.

The university’s trustees need to go in and drag him out.

 

Who at BC will be held accountable for Belfast Project fiasco?

Who at BC will be held accountable for Belfast Project fiasco?
Peter Weiler
Letters
Boston Globe
May 25, 2014

Sunday’s story about Boston College’s Belfast Project fiasco shows the need not only for an investigation to establish what happened, but for the Board of Trustees to accept its responsibility as a governing body (“Irish oral history project is over, but scars remain,” Page A1, May 18). The project indicates that there is a crisis of governance at the university that only the highest authorities can rectify.

How was it possible that Thomas Hachey, director of the Center for Irish Programs, and the man most responsible for the project, could act almost entirely on his own?

How much did the project cost and how was it funded? Surely, at least one higher authority must have known about this project and authorized it.

To date, nobody at the university has accepted responsibility for a project that has badly damaged the school’s reputation and harmed its prized relationship to both Ireland and Northern Ireland. Is nobody going to be held accountable? That seems a necessary first step to repairing the flawed administrative structures that allowed this train wreck to happen.

Peter Weiler
Truro

The writer is professor emeritus of history at Boston College.