Sinn Fein Boss Gerry Adams Wanted This Murder Bust

Sinn Fein Boss Gerry Adams Wanted This Murder Bust
Ed Moloney
Daily Beast
World News

The killing of a widowed mother of 10 has been hanging over Gerry Adams for 40 years. His arrest is a calculated gamble to clear his name—and began with the Obama Justice Department.

It was, nearly everyone agrees, one of the most cold-blooded and pitiless killings in Northern Ireland’s 30-some years of bloodshed and conflict.

Now, 42 years later, it threatens to place Gerry Adams, the man most responsible for ending the IRA’s brutal violence, behind bars for murder and put the Obama Justice Department in the dock for endangering a prized monument to American diplomacy and peace-building.

On a cold December evening in 1972, 37-year-old Jean McConville, a recently widowed mother of 10 young children, was with her family in their cramped apartment in Divis Flats, a working-class housing project on the edge of Catholic West Belfast, when the door was forced open and a gang of masked young women burst in and dragged her away.

Her crying children were left to fend for themselves for weeks, begging and stealing food, until eventually the local social services were alerted to their plight and they were sent to foster homes. The children were never to be reunited again as a family.

Their mother’s fate was worse. The women who burst into her flat were from the female branch of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which had been fighting the British army and government for two years to reunite Ireland and achieve full independence from Britain. West Belfast, and the Divis Flats in particular, was one of the IRA’s toughest strongholds.

The IRA women had come for Jean McConville because they believed she had been acting as an informer, passing on low-grade intelligence to the local British army barracks about local members of the IRA. A small radio transmitter had been found in her apartment, and she had been arrested by the IRA and admitted her involvement.

But a local IRA commander had given her one last chance. Brendan Hughes, a veteran IRA activist, told this writer that he had given McConville “a yellow card,” a soccer term that means another offense would result in “a red card,” or an ejection. But in the IRA’s case, “a red card” always meant death.

McConville’s family and the vast coterie of supporters who champion her cause bristle at the accusation, pointing out that a mother of 10 would hardly have time to gather intelligence on the IRA. Instead they say she was killed for giving aid to a wounded British soldier and that local people disliked her because she had been a Protestant until marrying her Catholic husband, when she converted. An inquiry headed by the Police Ombudsman, a sort of referee figure, came down against the informer allegation.

Whatever the truth, the IRA claimed to have evidence that McConville had ignored the “yellow card” warning and had resumed her treacherous activities.

What happened next, according to Hughes, sealed her fate. In the fall of 1972, the IRA in Belfast was commanded by Gerry Adams, regarded inside the IRA as the brightest strategic mind in the organization. He was also, Hughes said, a man who was very media savvy.

If the British put Adams on trial, his hardline opponents’ accusations of naiveté or selling out will be justified and the peace process will be seriously undermined.

A meeting was held of the top IRA leaders in Belfast with only one item on the agenda: what to do with McConville. Those present agreed that the penalty for informing had to be death. The only point of dispute was what to do with her body. Normally the IRA advertised the execution of traitors; the dead bodies of informers would be left in the open, “thrown in the street,” as the phrase had it, as a warning to others tempted to go down the same road.

But admitting that the IRA had killed a widow and mother of 10 was a potential public relations disaster. The media would be appalled and the British delighted. Much better, some IRA leaders argued, to kill her and hide the body, bury it in a secret grave, South American-style, so no one would ever know what had really happened—except the IRA leaders themselves.

The decision came down to “disappear” McConville. Hughes, who also gave the same testimony to Boston College’s oral history archive, said Adams agreed with the order.

And so McConville, believing she was in the hands of a Catholic charity and safe from the IRA’s vengeance, was taken across the Irish border by members of a special IRA unit called “The Unknowns,” so called because the authorities were unaware of their existence.

The unit was, according to Hughes, answerable to Adams, the Belfast commander. And so, Hughes said, the order to disappear McConville came ultimately from Adams.

McConville was taken to Dundalk, a small town just across the Irish border, held for a few days and then taken to a lonely beach at Carlingford Lough, one of Ireland’s most picturesque spots,. At the edge of an already excavated grave a single bullet was fired into the back of her head and she fell lifeless into the hole. There she lay until 2003, when a member of the public walking the beach noticed a bone sticking out of the sand.

One of “The Unknowns” who had ferried McConville to Dundalk was Dolours Price, a strikingly attractive member of a renowned Belfast IRA family. Price had joined the IRA in 1971, inspired by an aunt who had been blinded and who lost both hands in an accidental IRA explosion in 1938. Dolours Price would later gain infamy as the leader of a bombing team that devastated London in 1973.

Arrested and imprisoned, she then embarked on one of the lengthiest hunger strikes in British prison history, during which she was force-fed so often she developed life-threatening anorexia and nearly died. Released from jail, she left the IRA, married the movie star Stephen Rea, and had two sons, settling down in an affluent part of Dublin.

But she never lost her Irish Republican beliefs. When Adams concluded secret negotiations with the British, U.S., and Irish governments that resulted in an IRA ceasefire and the acceptance by the IRA’s political wing, Sinn Fein, of the existence of Northern Ireland along with government posts for Adams’s colleagues, Price sensed betrayal.

She had ferried more than McConville to secret graves, and the burden of what she had done took its toll. Like Hughes, Price was interviewed for the Boston College archive, but she kept silent about McConville. When Hughes’s interviews were made public, however, she decided to break her silence and gave a number of newspaper interviews claiming that Adams had ordered McConville to be “disappeared.”

It is these two sets of interviews that form the core of the case against Gerry Adams, that the architect of the IRA’s peace strategy was an Irish Pinochet, responsible for the “disappearing” of innocent victims.

A British government effort to subpoena the interviews held in the Boston College archive has worsened Adams’s dilemma. The archive, begun in 2001, gave interviewees a promise that their memories would stay secret until they died, but a legal loophole created by an international treaty gave the British access to the trove. After nearly three years of legal battles, last fall several other interviews were handed over to the police in Northern Ireland. In March the police moved, arresting Ivor Bell, Adams’s closest confidant in 1972, in effect his No. 2, and charged him with aiding and abetting the McConville killing.

The arrest reignited a firestorm of speculation and controversy over Adams’s role. If Bell had been involved as the police alleged, then what role did the No. 1 play? As the firestorm raged, Adams issued a challenge to the police: “If you want to question me about McConville, then here I am. I will be happy to answer your questions.”

On Wednesday, Adams surrendered himself to the police for interrogation in what is undoubtedly the biggest gamble in his political life.

The McConville allegations have been like a monkey on his back for the best part of a decade. His party, Sinn Fein—Irish for “We Ourselves”—is well placed to enter government in Dublin at the next election, but his opponents have a potent weapon to use against him: his alleged role in the disappearance of McConville. He badly needs to throw the monkey off his back, and that explains his extraordinary move in giving himself up to the police.

It is a calculated gamble. Two of those who claim he gave the order to kill McConville, Hughes and Price, are dead. (Hughes died in 2008, Price in January 2014.) And anyway, their evidence is hearsay and can’t be used to charge, much less convict, anyone.

So if Adams can hold out for the days of interrogation that lie ahead, there is a good chance he can come out of police custody, declare himself an innocent man who answered police questions truthfully, and finally throw the monkey off his back.

There is much more at stake than just Adams’s freedom and reputation, however. He was the principal architect of the IRA peace strategy; without him the IRA would never have been maneuvered out of violence. If the British put him on trial, his hardline opponents’ accusations of naiveté or selling out will be justified and the peace process will be seriously undermined.

In all of this, the role of the Obama Justice Department has escaped the scrutiny that it deserves. The road to Adams’s arrest began in May 2011, when the DoJ served subpoenas on Boston College on behalf of the British government without conducting due diligence.

In an affidavit to the Boston District Court justifying the subpoena seeking Price’s interview with the college, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz cited a Belfast Sunday newspaper report that claimed to have heard Price’s tape admitting her part in McConville’s death.

But Price never mentioned the McConville killing in her interview for the archive, and a moment’s reflection would have revealed as nonsensical the idea that a Belfast newspaper, the equivalent of a supermarket tabloid in the United States, would be allowed access to such a secret, well-protected archive held by one of the country’s most prestigious colleges. The police in Northern Ireland pulled the wool over Ortiz’s and Attorney General Eric Holder’s eyes, and they did not even notice.

The peace process in Northern Ireland is a monument to American diplomacy. Without the efforts of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, it is doubtful whether a power-sharing government would be in Belfast or whether IRA guns would not only have been silenced but destroyed. The peace process is testimony to the fact that with enough effort, jaw-jaw can prevail over war-war.

What a shame that a slipshod approach by the Obama administration to such a crucial issue has put it all at risk.

TRANSCRIPT: Belfast Media’s Abysmal Reporting

TRANSCRIPT: Belfast Media’s Abysmal Reporting
Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
29 March 2014

John McDonagh (JM) and Sandy Boyer (SB) interview author, journalist and former director of The Belfast Project Ed Moloney (EM) about the Boston College tapes.

(begins time stamp 31:58)

SB: We’re talking to Ed Moloney, the author of Voices From the Grave (and) A Secret History of the IRA. And Ed was the director of what was called The Belfast Project. It was a unique oral history of The Troubles speaking to people from the Provisional IRA and the Ulster Volunteer Force who actually did the fighting.

And now, if you are a regular listener to the show you know, those tapes were handed over the the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and now they’ve been used to charge Ivor Bell, former Chief-of-Staff of the Irish Republican Army, with aiding and abetting the murder of Jean McConville. Ed, thanks for being with us and what can you tell us about that?

EM: Which bit, Sandy? There’s a lot there.

SB: About the use of the tapes from the project you directed to charge Ivor Bell.

EM: First of all there is no evidence that this is Ivor Bell that was interviewed.

As I understand it one of the reasons why the police have let it be known that they want to question Anthony McIntyre, the interviewer, is to provide evidence about the identity of someone who’s only known in court as “Z”, “Interviewee Z”.

And they’ve also let it be known that if they do proceed to trial on this they will identify the person “Z” by what they call “the jigsaw method”.   I’m not exactly sure what that means.

But there is no confirmation, believe it or not, despite all the media reports that this is actually Ivor Bell that is featured in this interview at the center of this court case. So that’s point number one. And that should be borne in mind.

There’s a great deal sloppy journalism and reporting about this case and that has to be up there at the top of the list I think.

SB: And what tapes were actually handed over the the Police Service of Northern Ireland?   Was it all the tapes from The Belfast Project?

EM: No, no, no, no indeed. As you said in your introduction that the Boston College tapes were handed over as if all them were handed over.

My estimate is that maybe two to three percent of the archive has actually been handed over to the PSNI. A very small fraction – much, much less than the PSNI were actually seeking in the first place and a very, very small number of interviews. I mean, if the police had been trying to get say all of a person’s interviews that they gave to the Boston College (archive) they were refused that.

They were only allowed interviews which actually made mention of the Jean McConville case or associated elements of it and that dramatically reduced the number of interviews that were actually handed over.

So again, I was watching news reports in Belfast during the week which were saying that the PSNI now have full access to Boston College archives. Nothing could be further from the truth. They’ve got as I said my estimate is about two to three percent – very small number – eleven in total – and that is very small.

JM: Ed, you were speaking about how it was covered over in Ireland. We’re going to go to two clips now: ne from Ulster Television and the other from RTÉ and this is how they covered it.

(Audio clip of two news broadcasts by UTV Reporter Sharon O’Neill and RTE Northern Editor Tommie Gorman)

JM: And that was two news clips about how it’s being reported over there.

Also Ed, what’s coming out now is how Sinn Féin is going on the attack, particularly of you and Anthony McIntyre, calling the Boston tapes a “touting programme” on one hand and then Gerry Adams issuing statements that if anyone has any information on the killing of Jean McConville to please come forward to the PSNI.

So, they want it both ways.

EM: So what’s your question, John? I don’t quite follow you.

JM: How did you perceive the two clips there? Were they accurate? And Gerry Adams’ hypocrisy on telling people to come forward and then criticising the tapes themselves.

EM: Both of those reports were just so full of inaccuracies that it highlights exactly what I’m talking about here.

In Belfast at the moment we do not have a fully functioning media.

First of all, Paul Bew’s involvement in this project, which is now being highlighted by Gerry Adams, was marginal. He was a message boy from Boston College to a number of people in Belfast back in 2000- 2001.

If anyone had any ideas for projects or things that Boston College could do commemorate the peace process – to record The Troubles – Paul Bew would pass on their ideas to Boson College and we were one of the ideas that was put forth.

So his role is marginal but is being played up by Gerry Adams because he was also at one stage advisor to David Trimball so he’s trying to make this appear to be a Unionist plot of some sort which it is absolutely not.

Secondly, I was never an interviewer. I coordinated the project. The interviews were conducted on the Republican side by Anthony McIntyre and on the Loyalist side by Wilson MacArthur. So again, another inaccuracy.

And Sharon O’ Neill, the UTV person, is the one I was referring to who said that The Belfast Project, the archives at Boston College, that the PSNI now have full access to them.

I rang her up and I said: Sharon, that is not true and I repeated to her what I just repeated to you, that they got a very tiny percentage of the reports.

And she said: Oh, terribly sorry, Ed, it was because it was a live report. In other words when you go on live reports for UTV and you’re the Justice Correspondent you’re apparently allowed to say the first thing that comes into your mind and accuracy is a second option as far as people like that are concerned.

And this is part of the problem. You’re getting just absolute rubbish journalism covering this story.

If this was the United States of America and it was happening by this stage, for example, The New York Times and The Washington Post – I would certainly hope and I think they probably would – would have had a team working on the story:

Is it possible to get a conviction?

Would a case like this even go trial on the basis of the evidence that we have?

And the evidence? Let me just go through it:

We have this interview or portion of an interview, small portion of an interview from someone called “Z” who the police are claiming is Ivor Bell.

That was an interview that was not taken under caution such as most police statements have to be in order to be presented into court.

It was not a sworn statement. It was conducted by someone who was an academic researcher and not someone who was a forensic interrogator from the RUC. Or PSNI. (excuse the Freudian slip.)

There’s no supporting evidence. There’s no forensics evidence. There’s no ballistic evidence.

And most crucially of all: there is no admission by anyone, least of all “Z”, least of all whoever “Z” is, if it’s Ivor Bell or not I don’t know.

There’s not a lawyer that I have talked to in the week or so since Ivor Bell was arraigned on these charges who believes: a) that this could secure a conviction and many of them believe this won’t even go to trial.

Yet none of this is reflected in the media coverage. Not one journalist as far as I can make out has made an issue of trying to examine what are the real legal possibilities of even going to trial on something like this never mind securing a conviction.

And on the basis of that the PSNI have been allowed to present a fantastic triumph – breaking, cracking the case of Jean McConville’s disappearance – when in fact as I think events will ultimately prove – you couldn’t be further from the truth.

Now in relation to what Gerry Adams is calling for well, we’ve gone through this before. And we’ve gone through all the attacks that he has launched against Boston College and against this particular project.

I’m asking, or I’m saying this very simply:

if anyone was to conduct a serious history of the Provisional IRA during The Troubles and decided to leave out, because they have fallen out of favor, people like Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price…

…incidentally it would help if Tommie Gorman could actually pronounce her name – it’s not Dolers or Dolores – it’s Dolours. It means sadness. He couldn’t even get that basic fact right.

But if he were to try to construct a history of the Provisional IRA during The Troubles and you left those people out – Dolours Price was in charge of the first bombing team that attacked London back in 1973.

Brendan Hughes was at the side of all the Belfast Commanders from the early 70’s onward including Gerry Adams. He was the closest friend of Gerry Adams. He shared a cubicle with Gerry Adams in a hut in Long Kesh during internment.

He led the 1981 hunger strikes.

He led the debate inside Long Kesh which led to the reorganisation of the IRA in the mid and late 1970’s.

He was involved in all the major phases of the Republican struggle.

And one’s supposed to leave someone like that out because Gerry Adams doesn’t like or didn’t like Brendan Hughes’ attitude towards him and towards the peace process?

I don’t think so.

I think if you were an historian and you left those sort of people out of any attempt to chronicle the real story of the IRA you would be accused by historians of utmost bias.

We went and we sought people like Brendan Hughes because of their value and the totality of what they could contribute in terms of their knowledge of the IRA and their knowledge of the Provisional’s and their history.

And the sections in which he criticises Gerry Adams actually, when you look at the totality of these interviews, were very small indeed. The rest of it, in relation to the Gerry Adams was either neutral or in fact very pro, because he was very close to Gerry Adams and very fond of him and said many, many nice things about him as well as being critical of him.

SB: Ed, getting back to Gerry Adams: I find it very interesting that Ivor Bell is charged with aiding and abetting the murder of Jean McConville.

As far as we know Gerry Adams has not even been questioned about that. But both Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price said he gave the orders for that.

Why is it do you think he doesn’t even get questioned?

EM: I don’t know what’s happening on that particular issue, Sandy, because Gerry Adams issued that offer, if you want to call it that, to the PSNI a couple of days ago and the PSNI have been conspicuous in their silence since.

Some people have said this is a very clever move by Gerry Adams because it will force the PSNI to say “no” we don’t want to interrogate or question Gerry Adams.

But on the other hand the PSNI might consider it wiser to leave the option open and not to give him an answer at this stage. What all that is about I am not entirely sure.

But from what we know – and incidentally – the only person who has actually linked Gerry Adams to the Jean McConville disappearance in our interviews that I know of is Brendan Hughes. Everyone seems to forget this.

Dolours Price DID NOT MENTION the Jean McConville business in her interview with Anthony McIntyre.

Not once did the words “Jean” and “McConville” leave her lips!

She did not talk about her disappearance. She did not talk about the woman. She did not talk about how she was killed or anything like that.

That’s forgotten. It’s just assumed – as was assumed in those reports – none of which are based upon any research. None of those journalists bothered to ring me up, the director of this project, to ask basic, factual questions before they went on air.

I mean it’s astounding! The abysmal standard of journalism that we have in Northern Ireland these days. And that’s a perfect example.

There is only one person who has actually linked Gerry Adams to Jean McConville and that is Brendan Hughes.

Yes, Gerry Adams is coming on and painting with this hugely broad brush about what was said about him and Jean McConville in the Boston archive in fact it comes down to one person out of all of the ones that have been talked about.

Where do you hear that mentioned in the media reports? Not at all. It’s disgraceful!

JM: Ed, you’re talking about the small percentage of the tapes that were handed over. And it seems to be there might be six other people involved.

Do you know what the process that Boston College went through of the editing of these tapes? And who sat down and picked out which parts were going to be handed over?

EM: This is the interesting story, isn’t it?

As you know myself and Anthony McIntyre tried to get included in the case and we were consistently rebuffed. First of all at the district court level, then at the First Circuit level and then we tried to get into the Supreme Court and apparently we quite narrowly failed on that as well.

We were trying to argue that we had certain rights and what have you – those were not recognised by the courts. So the entire case in relation to dealing with the tapes was left to Boston College.

They claimed at district court level that the librarian at Boston College when asked by the judge to go through the interviews and to hand over to him those interviews which were respondent to the subpoena he claims, can you believe, that he had not read one of them and didn’t know what was in them.

Now you can take that with as large a pinch of salt as you can possibly manage to get between your forefinger and your thumb.

But anyway that’s what he said so the judge said well in that case I’ll go through them all. Hand over the entire archive to me. So Boston College handed over the entire archive to the judge, Judge Young, in the district court.

When the case was then lost and Boston College announced that it was not going to appeal and the process of resisting the subpoena as far as they were concerned was over there was an outraged reaction from all sorts of people, not least ourselves, leading the criticism of Boston College for abject cowardice.

That forced them into a re-think.

And the re-think was that they then appealed to the First Circuit that only those interviews which actually dealt with and were respondent to subpoena – i.e. dealt with the Jean McConville case – should be handed over.

So originally something like forty-six or forty-seven interviews were to be handed over (if not more) but as a result of that action and the judgment of the First Circuit that was reduced down to eleven out of forty-six.

So as result of that a very, very much smaller number of interviews were put at risk as a result.

But no thanks to Boston College. None of this need have happened. If they had been honest at the outset and told the judge: Yeah – we’ll go away and look at them and we’ll give you over – they could have handed over even less if they really wanted to.

I know, for example, that one of these interviews – it was handed over on the basis of a question and answer which amounted to: did you know anything about the “unknown cells”. (This was unknown cell that “disappeared” people.) Answer: I heard of them but didn’t know anything about them.

And on the basis of that or a question very similar to that an interview was handed over and therefore, in the words of Tommie Gorman and Sharon O’Neill, that is then translated into really crucial, exciting evidence about Jean McConville’s disappearance.

A lot of nonsense being is talked. Very little research, very few questions being asked by the media and the result is what we have.

SB: Ed, thank you very much for setting the record straight. This is an incredibly important case and we’re going to continue to keep on top of it. I think we’ll be back next week with more on this subject. So thank you very much, Ed.

EM: No problem.

(ends time stamp 53:20)

Ed Moloney and NPR

NPR Admits Mistakes In Boston College Programme
Ed Moloney
The Broken Elbow

This last weekend America’s National Public Radio (NPR) – the nearest the US has to the BBC or RTE – broadcast a follow up to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s devastating examination of Boston College’s handling of the Belfast Project, the oral history archive which sought to collect the life stories of former Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries, but which has been the subject, since May 2011, of subpoenas from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) which allegedly is investigating the IRA’s disappearance of Jean McConville.

NPR’s ‘On The Media’ programme, which regularly deals with issues affecting the American media, used two interviews by Brooke Gladstone, one with Anthony McIntyre, the former IRA prisoner and Belfast Project researcher and the other with Jack Dunn, Boston College’s public relations person to ask what the future of Oral History was in the wake of the subpoenas.

As the more avid followers of the story will know, ourselves and Boston College have been at daggers drawn in both our radically differing accounts of what happened when the project was set up and over our stinging criticism of the college’s cowardly approach to resisting the subpoenas both inside and outside the courts in the US. Invariably this dispute has set ourselves and Dunn at each other’s throats.

That happened again on the NPR programme and in a colourful way, but this time Dunn showed a disregard for the truth that was staggering even by his tacky standards. So outraged was I by the lies he told about McIntyre and myself that I lodged a complaint with NPR’s ombudsman, sent a message to the interviewer, Brooke Gladstone and posted this comment on ‘On The Media’s website which summarised all but one of the gripes I had with her interview with Dunn.

That dealt with what Dunn called McIntyre’s ‘lengthy history of criminal activity’, i.e. his life sentence for the murder of a UVF member in South Belfast. Because of space limitations imposed by the website I was not able to make two points in answer. One was that the US courts have recognised that IRA violence is fundamentally political in nature and to call it criminal is legally inaccurate in this country. And as a friend pointed out, ‘On The Media’ would not dare call a Palestinian fighter a ‘criminal’.

The second point was that it was because of his IRA associations – not despite them – that McIntyre was hired in the first place. The project was constructed on the idea that former paramilitary activists would not speak frankly to academic oral historians but they might to people from their own community and background. That applied to both IRA and UVF interviewees. Boston College enthusiastically embraced that approach and Jack Dunn would have been very aware of it. For him now to use McIntyre’s background against him is despicable hypocrisy.

Anyway here is what I wrote on NPR’s website:


Today, Brooke Gladstone responded, admitting faults in the programme, and this what she had to say:


And here is my response:


Incidentally, for those interested in what Jack Dunn looks like, and for a sample of what he believes, have a look at this. I was pondering for some time what message his face sent and then it hit me: “I am a kiss up, kick down sort of guy”:

Authors to sue Boston College over terror tape ‘guarantees’

Authors to sue Boston College over terror tape ‘guarantees’
By Liam Clarke
Belfast Telegraph
03 February 2014

Three authors who worked on the Boston College Belfast Project are intending to sue the college after it admitted procedures on when controversial material would be published weren’t checked by lawyers.

Ed Moloney, Dr Anthony McIntyre and Wilson McArthur, who carried out the research, are planning to take action against Boston College after it emerged it didn’t check with its lawyers before collecting an archive of taped confessions from IRA and UVF members detailing their involvement in murder and other crimes.

They are consulting Dornan Associates, a Washington law firm, claiming that they collected the interviews only after receiving guarantees that they would not be released until the participants were dead.

It has also emerged that Bob O’Neill and Thomas Hachey, executive director of the college’s Irish programme, each got a 25% cut from royalties on Voices From The Grave, a best-selling book which Mr Moloney wrote. It was based on the taped confession of Brendan ‘The Dark’ Hughes and David Ervine, a former UVF bomber who was prominent in the peace process, the first two of the interviewees to die.

In the preface, Mr O’Neill and Mr Hachey described it as “the inaugural volume of a planned series of publications drawn from the Boston College Oral History Archive on the Troubles”.

Mr Hughes, a 1970s IRA commander and 1980 hunger striker, admitted his part in the abduction of Jean McConville, a widowed mother-of-10 who was taken from her home in Divis flats in 1972, murdered and secretly buried. Hughes accused Gerry Adams, now Sinn Fein president, of being the IRA commander who authorised Mrs McConvilles disappearance. Mr Adams denies this. Mr Hughes’ claims were backed up by Dolours Price, another IRA veteran. Before her death she told a newspaper that she had given an account to Boston College. After this PSNI officers investigating Mrs McConville’s murder took legal action to secure the tapes.

This caused consternation among interviewees who were told their confessions would never be disclosed in their lifetimes.

Mr O’Neill now says that it was “a mistake” not to specify that confidentiality only extended “to the extent American law allows”. He says he did not run the wording past a lawyer.

Mr O’Neill’s statement appeared in a major article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a Washington-based academic journal.

“Boston College’s reputation has been tarnished,” concluded Beth McMurthie, the author.

“There’s institutional failure there on the part of Boston College,” stated Mary Marshall Clark, director of Columbia University’s Center for Oral History Research.

Mr Moloney said: “We went ahead on the basis that the contract had been cleared with lawyers and that it was safe for the participants. Had we known the true position, the project would have been stillborn.”


Forty-six people gave taped interviews detailing their involvement in terrorist violence to Boston College’s Belfast Project. They were assured that the interviews should be released only after their deaths. The first to die was Brendan Hughes, who admitted taking part in the murder of Jean McConville. Now the PSNI is fighting a court battle to get access to the entire archive.

Chronicle Review: Secrets From Belfast

Secrets From Belfast
How Boston College’s oral history of the Troubles fell victim to an international murder investigation
Story by Beth McMurtrie
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Chronicle Review – Chronicle of Higher Education

Anthony McIntyre made one thing clear: The project had to remain absolutely secret. If Boston College wanted him to interview former members of the Irish Republican Army, he needed that guarantee. They would be talking about dangerous things—bombings, shootings, and murder.

It was June of 2000, just two years after a controversial peace accord ended three decades of conflict in Northern Ireland. Mr. McIntyre, an independent historian, was having dinner at Deanes Restaurant, in the center of this small, working-class city, with an Irish journalist and a librarian from Boston College.

The journalist, Ed Moloney, was a friend who had recommended Mr. McIntyre for the project. But the librarian, Robert K. O’Neill, was a stranger. And Mr. McIntyre needed to know what sorts of promises he and Boston College were willing to make. The IRA was an unforgiving organization. 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. The three men at the table understood the insights that could be gained, Mr. McIntyre perhaps most of all. He was a former IRA man, and had spent nearly 17 years in prison for killing a loyalist paramilitary soldier. That’s why Mr. Moloney wanted him for this job: His fellow fighters would trust him.

“No matter how skilled or experienced the academic researcher or journalist,” Mr. Moloney wrote in a proposal two months before the meeting, “ex-paramilitaries know far more about the subject and are familiar with the lifestyles of ex-colleagues in a way others cannot even approach.”

Mr. O’Neill, head of the John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College, might have seemed a surprising partner in such a risky venture. His was a world of manuscripts and manicured campuses. But he also had extensive connections in Ireland, traveling in both the north and the south to develop one of the most comprehensive collections of Irish literature and history in the world. Now, with peace in the air, he was looking to fill a gap in the Burns Library, focusing on the recent political history of Northern Ireland. When Mr. Moloney, Northern Ireland editor for The Sunday Tribune, heard of the librarian’s interest, he proposed an archive collecting the stories of former paramilitary members at “the cutting edge of the conflict.”

Thirteen years later the three men would have vastly different recollections of their first meeting. The two Irishmen walked away from dinner thinking that Mr. O’Neill would not pursue the project unless he could assure them that its secrecy was legally protected. Mr. O’Neill insists he would never have made such a blanket promise.

But all agree on one point. In those heady, early days, when talk of reconciliation dominated public discussion in Northern Ireland, none of them imagined their project would get caught up in an international criminal investigation into a four-decade-old murder. How that happened is a tale of grand ambitions undermined by insular decision-making and careless oversight.

The Belfast Project, as it came to be known, was unique in focus and design. But it is one of a growing number of oral histories undertaken at colleges across the United States. The field has expanded and professionalized in recent decades and now claims its own association, with about 900 members, along with several degree-granting programs. Its popularity is driven by the interest among contemporary historians in the lives of ordinary people and also by digital advances. Simply put, it has become much easier to conduct oral histories and to disseminate them.

Sixteen years after the Good Friday Agreement, the so-called peace walls—a series of metal, concrete, and barbed-wire barriers erected during the Troubles to serve as buffers between Protestant and Roman Catholic neighborhoods—have never been taken down.

The attractions of the Belfast Project to Boston College lay not only in the vogue of oral history but also in the college’s deep ties to Ireland. An Irish-American success story, BC has risen from a modest 19th-century college, founded to educate the children of poor Irish immigrants, into a prestigious institution with an endowment of nearly $2-billion. It has proudly maintained its connections to Ireland through its Irish collection at the Burns Library, its Irish-studies program, and its Irish Institute, which attempts to promote reconciliation in Ireland and Northern Ireland through professional-development programs.

So it was not surprising when, in the spring of 2000, a visiting scholar from Queen’s University Belfast, Paul Bew, suggested to Mr. O’Neill that he consider documenting the recent history of Northern Ireland. Mr. Bew recommended Mr. Moloney, an intense and seemingly fearless journalist who was not averse to risky projects. Having spent decades getting to know people on both sides of the conflict, he was in the process of writing A Secret History of the IRA, a behind-the-scenes look at how the organization had shifted from the gun to the ballot box in its quest for influence.

To get the stories of the veterans, Mr. Moloney suggested Mr. McIntyre, who had earned a doctorate in political science, with a focus on the Republican movement, from Queen’s University Belfast after he was released from prison. The two had met in 1993 at a funeral for a young IRA member who had blown himself up in a fish shop in what came to be known as the Shankill Road bombing.

Thomas E. Hachey, Boston College’s newly hired executive director of the Center for Irish Programs and a historian of modern Ireland, became the fourth member of the organizing group. Over time he secured $200,000 for the project—about four-fifths of its estimated cost—from Thomas J. Tracy, an Irish-American businessman who was active in both American and Northern Irish politics.

After their evening in Belfast, Mr. McIntyre, Mr. Moloney, and Mr. O’Neill spent several months hashing out the details of the project and drawing up contracts. All acknowledge that their concerns about secrecy at the time stemmed not from a fear of potential criminal investigations but from possible retribution by the IRA.

“It was a prime concern that the interviewee would say nothing about his or her participation in the project,” recalls Mr. O’Neill. “I didn’t even allow any staff members to have any involvement. We wanted to keep this to the participants and the interviewers and the project director and me and Tom Hachey.”

In what was to become the most contested wording in the subsequent falling out between the researchers and the college, Mr. Moloney’s contract as project director, which he signed in January 2001, stated that each person interviewed was to be given a contract “guaranteeing to the extent American law allows the conditions of the interview and the conditions of its deposit” at Boston College. The document did not specify what those conditions might be.

The essence of the arrangement, as laid out in the subsequent agreement for participants, was that each interview would be sealed until the death of the interviewee. No lawyers vetted the wording, and no one at Boston College other than Mr. O’Neill and Mr. Hachey reviewed Mr. Moloney’s contract or the one drawn up for interviewees.

There was also apparently no discussion of whether Boston College faculty members should direct the project. Mr. Hachey says he didn’t feel anyone on the campus had the necessary expertise. Although a number of faculty members studied Irish culture, history, and literature, he says, “I was looking for someone who was an unequivocal expert” on modern-day Northern Ireland. He relied on the advice of Mr. Bew, who not only had recommended Mr. Moloney but also had been Mr. McIntyre’s adviser at Queen’s.

Mr. Hachey also didn’t see the project as a traditional work of scholarship. “What we intended was a recording of people’s memories at the time from both communities,” he says. “The intent was to preserve these for other generations to profit from it, through a study of the phenomenology of sectarian violence. … I don’t think any pretense was made by any of us at the time that this was going to be following the template for official oral history.”

Yet Mr. Moloney’s contract contained one other requirement: An oversight committee was to be formed “to assure that the strictest standards of historical documentation are to be followed.” At a minimum, Mr. Hachey, Mr. O’Neill, and the head of the Irish-studies program were to be members.

Armed with a tape recorder and his intimate knowledge of the IRA, Anthony McIntyre began conducting interviews in the spring of 2001.

It was a full-time job, one he did for nearly six years in relative secrecy. “We were tight about it,” he recalls in his thick Belfast accent. “I would approach people who I was absolutely certain, as far as one could be, that they wouldn’t run blabbering about it to the IRA and expose the whole project.”

At the time, he was living in Belfast, which remains divided along religious lines to this day. The worst of the fighting took place here: working-class Roman Catholics in favor of a united Ireland against working-class Protestants who wanted to remain citizens of Britain. Pipe bombs placed under cars, masked gunmen entering shops, army tanks rolling through the streets—the terror was close, and the toll was intimately felt. Families lost brothers, mothers, and children. In all, more than 3,500 people died.

Mr. McIntyre, who first went to prison at 16, one in a long line of young men who believed in the rightness of political violence, knew these streets well. He met people at their homes or other safe places, his tape recorder tucked away in a bag. Sometimes he would travel to other towns where former IRA members lived. If they asked him out for a pint afterward, he says, he kept his bag wrapped closely around his chest.

“I was nervous without being shaky,” he recalls. “If I was doing an interview 100 or 200 miles away, I couldn’t rest until I got back to the house.”

Gregarious, erudite, and often profane, Mr. McIntyre most likely put others at ease because he is at ease with himself. He does not hide his past: A memorial sculpture, given to him by fellow prisoners upon his release, sits proudly on a bookshelf in his home. But he also speaks fluidly about his disillusionment with the IRA’s Marxist trappings, his youthful faith in the cause, and the danger of judging people’s actions in war through the prism of peace. His bookshelves are packed with works by or about Marx, Chomsky, Guevara, Indira Gandhi, and Stalin.

He left the movement after the Good Friday Agreement was signed, in 1998.

“We rose up to right a wrong,” he says, reflecting on the life of the Provisional IRA, as the modern-day organization is known. “And in the course of righting that wrong we violated too many rights ourselves.”

Many of the people he interviewed had also fallen out with the organization and saw the power-sharing arrangement as the death of their cause, with Gerry Adams, president of the IRA’s political counterpart, Sinn Fein, as its architect. Mr. McIntyre did interview some who viewed the peace process in a more positive light, but he says if he had approached former leaders of the IRA or Sinn Fein, they would have tried to shut down the project.

“I could not afford having people going back to Gerry Adams or the IRA and saying, ‘This is what he’s doing,’” Mr. McIntyre says. “That would have exposed us all to risk.”

After each interview he had the recordings transcribed. Then he sent the transcripts, without the interviewee’s name attached, by encrypted email to Mr. Moloney, who had moved to New York soon after the project began. Mr. Moloney gave him directions for follow-up interviews: Ask this, double-check that, dig deeper there. It was not unusual for Mr. McIntyre to spend 10 or more hours with one person. Before he turned on his tape recorder, he asked people to think carefully about what they would like to talk about and what they’d prefer not to discuss.

He kept no recordings or transcripts in his home any longer than he had to. He sent them by mail to Mr. O’Neill, who put them under lock and key in Boston College’s Burns Library. The contracts with interviewees—known as “donor contracts” and containing the code to identify the anonymized tapes—were hand-delivered to Mr. O’Neill during his trips to Belfast.

The project expanded during its early years to include interviews with members of the Ulster Volunteer Force, a loyalist paramilitary group. A Belfast-based researcher with connections in that community conducted those interviews. By the time the project ended, in 2006, it included interviews with 20 loyalists.

For his part, Mr. McIntyre interviewed 26 people. He knew some of them quite well. Dolours Price, who helped plant a series of bombs in London in 1973, was godmother to his son. Brendan Hughes, mastermind of some of the bloodiest IRA attacks in Belfast, gave away Mr. McIntyre’s wife, Carrie Twomey, at their wedding.

The interviews proved cathartic for many. “Sometimes,” recalls Mr. McIntyre, “it was hard to get them started. And then it was harder to get them to stop.”

People revealed information about the inner workings of the IRA and shed new light on infamous events.

Richard O’Rawe, now gray-haired, told Mr. McIntyre about secret negotiations behind a prison hunger strike during the 1980s in which 10 people died. Haunted by the belief that IRA leaders could have prevented some of those deaths, Mr. O’Rawe says he never would have told his story to anyone but Mackers, as he calls him. Both had been on “the blanket,” protesting their treatment as ordinary criminals rather than political prisoners by refusing to wear prison uniforms. “I needed to know the guy I was telling this to could be trusted one billion percent,” he says.

Mr. Hughes gave a detailed account of the activities of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade, of which he was a leader, including its role in the murder of Jean McConville. In December 1972 gunmen abducted the mother of 10 from her apartment in front of her children. Ms. McConville was never seen alive again. Mr. Hughes, who monitored the slum known as Divis Flats, where the McConville family lived, said she had been revealed as an informer for the British Army, was ordered killed, and her body buried. That order, he said, had come from Gerry Adams, his commanding officer.

Mr. Adams, who now serves as a Sinn Fein representative in the Irish parliament, has said Mr. Hughes’s accusation was a lie. Indeed, he has always denied he was a member of the IRA, to the disgust of his former friend. Mr. Hughes had once thought of him as a brother.

During his interviews, living alone and struggling with ill health and depression, Mr. Hughes reflected bitterly on his life’s work. He had been beaten and imprisoned, had nearly died in a hunger strike, and had committed horrific acts of violence. And for what? The British had succeeded, he said, “in turning a revolutionary movement into a conservative organization.”

“As everything has turned out,” he told Mr. McIntyre, “not one death was worth it.”

Mr. Hughes decided that he wanted to tell the world what he knew. But Mr. McIntyre warned him against it. The IRA might hunt him down. Equally important, the whole Boston College project might be revealed, endangering many others while interviews were still being conducted.

So they struck a deal: Someday, Mr. McIntyre would make sure his story got told.

What obligations do oral historians and their colleges have if someone reveals sensitive information—perhaps even a crime—during an interview? Who is allowed to hear the tapes and when? Do interviewees understand what might happen to their stories once they speak into the microphone?

“The issues that this case represents are issues we deal with constantly,” says Mary Marshall Clark, director of the Columbia University Center for Oral History, home of one of the largest archives of recorded histories in the world. “We’re ethically bound as historians,” she says, “that the people we interview know what will happen to their material and what could happen.”

Some universities have concluded that oral-history projects should be subject to review by institutional review boards, or IRBs, in the same way as scientific research on human subjects, a view that troubles oral historians. (Boston College now requires IRB review if oral-history archives are to be made public, but the Belfast Project began before those protocols were in place.) The historians say that interviews don’t raise the same ethical questions as medical research and would be overly confined by the protocols, such as vetting questions in advance.

Still, oral history is fraught with its own challenges, which is why Ms. Clark believes scholars must carefully research and consider all of the potential risks, both ethical and legal, before embarking on a project.

“I tend to avoid talking about criminal activity where there’s still risk,” she says. “There’s really no way we can protect people. If it were a project like that, we would be going through the IRB, there’s no question about that.”

She estimates she spent more than a year helping formulate proper protocols for a project Columbia is leading on the impact of the Guantánamo Bay military prison, in which former detainees as well as lawyers and judges have been interviewed. Participants retain a lot of control over their interviews, including being able to review all transcripts and delete portions if they have second thoughts.

“We have procedures in place to triple-check everything,” she says.

In retrospect, Mr. Hachey, of Boston College’s Center for Irish Programs, wishes he and Mr. O’Neill had subjected the Belfast Project to more scrutiny. While maintaining that it was not standard oral history, he says, “that’s not to excuse us for not having been more inclusive in the beginning.”

After Mr. Hughes died, in 2008, Mr. McIntyre kept his promise. Two years later, excerpts from his interview were included in Ed Moloney’s Voices From the Grave: Two Men’s War in Ireland, published in both Britain and the United States. It told Mr. Hughes’s story and that of David Ervine, a former member of the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force and key leader in the peace process, who also had died. Mr. Hachey and Mr. O’Neill wrote the preface. A documentary soon followed.

If anyone involved with the book had a notion of the firestorm about to be ignited, it wasn’t evident. Voices From the Grave represented “the inaugural volume of a planned series of publications drawn from the Boston College Oral History Archive on the Troubles in Northern Ireland,” the preface announced. In one of several publicity interviews, Mr. Hachey told The Irish News that he hoped the archive would “illuminate the mind-set of people who are engaged at the operational level.”

Not everyone in Northern Ireland saw it that way. A retired detective wrote an opinion article saying that Mr. Hughes’s confession could provide evidence on which to build a criminal case in Jean McConville’s death. Danny Morrison, a former director of publicity for Sinn Fein, attacked the project on his blog, questioning Mr. McIntyre’s and Mr. Moloney’s motivations and fairness toward the IRA and Sinn Fein.

Mr. Morrison emailed Mr. Hachey to say that he would like to listen to Brendan Hughes’s interviews for himself. The request took everyone involved in the project by surprise: They had never formally determined how the archive should be released and who should have access.

Mr. Moloney argued that the Hughes tapes, and recordings of others who had died, should be off-limits to all but serious scholars. They contained highly sensitive information that could be used against former IRA members. The quotations in the book and the documentary had been carefully edited. “We had to remove a lot of names for libel reasons,” he wrote to Mr. Hachey, in one of a series of emails he shared with The Chronicle.

Mr. McIntyre felt the same way. While he had initially thought that someday the tapes should be made widely available, pushback from former IRA and Sinn Fein members had caused him to reconsider the timing a few months after the book’s release. The house next to his, in a suburb of Dublin, where he had moved a few years earlier, had been smeared with excrement, in an attack he believed had been meant for him.

Mr. Hachey chastised the two men, writing in an email that he had “never got as much as a hint that there was any expected fallout other than unhappy IRA veterans who would have preferred that this was all left unreported,” and arguing that he and Mr. O’Neill “probably would not have chosen to release the interviews for a decade or more … had we anticipated this sudden change of protocol.” But he also noted that they probably would not have received so much financial support from Boston College and from donors if the project had been “mothballed” for a long time.

Mr. Hachey says today that the book was Mr. Moloney’s idea and that he had relied on the journalist’s judgment about its likely reception in Northern Ireland: “Ed Moloney is the specialist, prize-winning journalist on Northern Ireland. McIntyre served in the paramilitaries. I thought that if they thought it was safe enough … To find McIntyre and Moloney later saying, well, our lives have been placed in jeopardy, what did they expect?”

Mr. Moloney says the book was produced with his partners’ full cooperation. If anything, he says, Mr. Hachey had been pressing them to publicize the project sooner. He, Mr. McIntyre, and Wilson McArthur, who interviewed loyalists, recall being asked by Mr. Hachey in 2006 if interviewees might be willing to renegotiate their contracts to allow for earlier release of their interviews. Mr. Hachey calls the claim “outrageous.”

As for risks to participants in revealing the project so publicly, Mr. Moloney argues that there were none, “as long as people didn’t know who had taken part in this thing” other than those who had died.

Although Mr. Hachey was able to rebuff Mr. Morrison’s request for the tapes, the words of Mr. Hughes and of another project participant, Dolours Price, would come back to haunt the project organizers.

Ms. Price had also struggled to make sense of her life and her feeling of betrayal by Gerry Adams and the IRA, and had suffered from both alcoholism and depression.

Around the time Voices From the Grave was released, two newspapers published articles that said she was going to tell authorities about her participation in the abduction and murder of several people during the Troubles, including Jean McConville. One article stated that Ms. Price had “made taped confessions of her role in the abductions to academics at Boston University.” The institution’s name was wrong, but the reference, buried deep in the story, confirmed her involvement in the project.

The public now knew three things: Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price had been involved in the death of Jean McConville. Both alleged Gerry Adams had been their commanding officer. And both had participated in an oral-history project at a Boston college.

A little over a year later, the college would find out just how vulnerable that project had become.

The first subpoena arrived on May 5, 2011. Its contents were under seal. Boston College was told only that the U.S. Department of Justice, acting under a mutual-legal-assistance treaty with Britain, was seeking the interviews of Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, for help in a criminal investigation in Northern Ireland involving kidnapping and murder.

The subpoena was a shock. None of the four principals was aware that such a treaty existed, allowing the Police Services of Northern Ireland to ask the United States for help in securing evidence they thought relevant to their case. And just two months earlier, the British government had given the college highly sensitive papers related to the disarmament process, to be kept locked away for 30 years. Yet that same government now wanted access to other sensitive documents about the same era.

“That irony was not lost on any of us,” says Jack Dunn, the college’s spokesman.

To some the motive was obvious: politics. Mr. Moloney, Mr. McIntyre, and other observers were quick to argue that the investigation wasn’t about solving an old crime. It was about embarrassing Gerry Adams, who had just won his position in the Irish parliament.

“Clearly, for some police involved, it’s an opportunity to score huge brownie points for solving one of the most atrocious crimes of the Troubles,” says Mr. Moloney. “But at the same time, no policeman can start out on this investigation without knowing that it’s going to end at the door of Gerry Adams.”

Mr. Moloney contacted The New York Times within days of learning about the subpoena. He felt publicity was the best defense, to both rally support and pressure Boston College to fight back. He also talked to The Boston Globe, telling a reporter that the college might need to destroy the rest of the archive if forced to hand over the tapes.

That assertion rankled people on the campus. According to emails Mr. Moloney shared with The Chronicle, Boston College’s president, the Rev. William P. Leahy, was unhappy that Mr. Moloney had spoken to the press and that he had raised the possibility of destroying the collection. “We are perilously close to losing the crucial support of a president who was/is willing to take on all comers,” Mr. Hachey wrote to Mr. Moloney, calling his remarks about the archive “over the top.”

The next day he and Mr. O’Neill held a conference call with Mr. Moloney, Mr. McIntyre, and Mr. McArthur, the other interviewer. It was the first time, the Irish researchers recall, that their Boston College colleagues began asking questions about what exactly the interview subjects had been promised.

Less than two weeks later, Boston College turned over the Hughes interviews to the Justice Department. It kept the Price interviews, but as far as the college was concerned, it had no grounds on which to hold Hughes’s tapes, because he was dead. The researchers saw that step as a dangerous concession.

No doubt, Mr. Moloney wrote in an email to Mr. Hachey, there are “teams of lawyers working in the bowels of the British government trying to discover ways to force BC to surrender the names of other possible interviewees named by Hughes.” He devised a new proposal: Dispatch the rest of the archive to Mr. McIntyre, who was willing to go to jail, if needed, to keep it safe from both American and British law-enforcement agencies. Boston College immediately rejected the offer.

Instead, the college hired Jeffrey Swope, a Boston lawyer who had successfully argued a case against the Microsoft Corporation, in which the company had sought confidential interviews two scholars had conducted with officials at a rival business, the Netscape Communications Corporation. The Boston College case, Mr. Swope knew, could be a tougher fight. Courts have given more weight to the demands of a criminal investigation than they have to civil lawsuits like Microsoft’s.

Mr. Swope argued that, in reviewing the government’s request, the court should consider the promises of confidentiality given to sources—without which they would not have cooperated—and the value of the research itself in shedding light on the Troubles. He also argued that the release of the tapes could threaten the safety of participants, the peace process in Northern Ireland, and the broader field of oral history.

It is hard to pinpoint the moment at which the researchers and Boston College became irrevocably divided. But according to the college’s lawyers, Nora E. Field and Joseph M. Herlihy, Mr. Moloney’s statement to the Globe about destroying the archive was a turning point. The lawyers say they believe it led to a second subpoena three months later. (Mr. Moloney argues that the second one was an extension of the British government’s “fishing expedition”—hence his request that the college move the rest of the archive.) This subpoena revealed the focus of the police investigation: It wanted all interviews in the Boston College archive that contained information about the abduction and death of Jean McConville.

As the case progressed in court, Boston College saw itself as a vigorous defender of academic freedom within the limits of the law. The Irish researchers saw cowardice. “It’s the obligation of a researcher to destroy their material before allowing it to fall into the hands of anyone who would bring it to harm,” says Mr. McIntyre. “Boston College had an obligation to engage in an act of civil disobedience.”

After the second subpoena was filed, Mr. Moloney and Mr. McIntyre hired their own lawyers to argue, among other things, that the mutual-legal-assistance treaty was being used for political ends, not criminal ends, and that the subpoena was capricious.

They also ratcheted up their public campaign, giving more interviews, writing op-eds, and calling on academic organizations, lawmakers, and others to get involved. Mr. McIntyre’s wife, Carrie Twomey, created a website that detailed every twist and turn of the case. She also traveled four times to the United States to urge politicians and Irish-American associations to lend their support. Several members of Congress, including Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts and Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, were persuaded to voice their objections to Hillary R. Clinton, then secretary of state. The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts submitted a friend-of-the-court brief.

Still, Mr. Moloney felt, their efforts would have little impact on their own.

“Boston College blessing the campaign would have made just a huge difference,” he says. “As it was, it was a couple of Paddies, trouble-making Paddies, fighting by themselves. Who no one cared about. We didn’t have any money. We didn’t have any political clout. We didn’t know anyone. Who the hell were we?”

To Boston College, Mr. Moloney was an impediment in court and a distraction outside of it, publicly questioning the college’s intentions.

“Had our efforts gone to Congress in identifying supporters, to work with the State Department and the Department of Justice, we could have been more effective,” says Mr. Dunn, the college’s spokesman. “But our efforts were involved in legal matters and distancing ourselves from the reckless rhetoric of Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre.”

Boston College faculty members, meanwhile, were stunned by what they were reading in the newspapers.

Most surprised of all was Kevin O’Neill, an associate professor of history and former director of the Irish-studies program. Like others on the campus, he knew little of the project and had shared the puzzlement of colleagues when Voices From the Grave appeared. “The reason I understood none of us knew anything about this was the need for secrecy,” he says. “Then a major participant in the project publishes a book, blowing the cover off any secrecy about it. I got a lot of questions from my colleagues in Ireland wanting to know what the heck was going on. It was rather embarrassing.”

As the court case proceeded, Mr. O’Neill, who is not related to Robert O’Neill, learned that he was supposed to have been on an oversight committee, as described in Mr. Moloney’s contract. But the oversight committee had never been formed. The original group preferred to keep the project as closely held as possible. “I was shocked,” Mr. O’Neill says. “It’s inexplicable how you could have something in the contract like that and then not do it.”

He had been asked by Mr. Hachey in early 2002 to review a couple of interview transcripts. He wrote a memorandum saying that he was impressed by their potential value to historians, but was very concerned that the interviewer didn’t appear to have much experience with oral-history methodology—asking leading questions, for example. He says he never heard back from Mr. Hachey.

Kevin O’Neill and other faculty members say they believe Mr. Hachey and Robert O’Neill were able to avoid any sort of internal review because neither was based in an academic department. Mr. Hachey was also highly placed at the college. A former colleague of President Leahy’s at Marquette University, he had been hired to fill the newly created position of executive director of Irish programs, which gave him authority over the Irish-studies program and the Burns Library’s Irish collection, among other things.

“He was not communicating about the project to any of us in the Irish-studies program,” Kevin O’Neill recalls of those early days. “He made it quite clear that his activities were none of our business.”

The court case revealed other questionable aspects of the project. Some interviewees’ contracts had been lost, for example, making their identities on tape irretrievable.

Eight months after the first subpoena was served, Judge William G. Young of the U.S. District Court in Boston ordered Boston College to turn over Ms. Price’s interviews as well as 85 interviews of seven other former IRA members that he deemed relevant to the investigation.

The college considered Judge Young’s ruling a victory in one key way: It rebuffed the government’s argument that the court was required to order the college to release all materials requested, without passing judgment on what might be relevant. The judge agreed that subpoenas of confidential academic research deserved heightened scrutiny. Even so, Boston College believed the judge’s interpretation of relevancy was overly broad. Both the college and the researchers filed appeals.

On January 25, 2012, five days after the court ordered the tapes handed over, Ireland’s public radio station, RTE, broadcast a report about the Belfast Project. During it, Mr. Dunn, the college’s spokesman, described Mr. Moloney as a questionable partner who was out for money.

“I think quite frankly that Mr. Moloney was so excited about this project and quite frankly so eager to write a book from which he would profit,” Mr. Dunn said, “that he chose to ignore the obvious statements that were made to him, including a contract he had signed expressing the limits of confidentiality.”

It was a narrative that Boston College was to employ regularly in the news media, one in which the college was a victim of Mr. Moloney’s recklessness.

There was a problem with that version of events, however. Not only had Robert O’Neill and Mr. Hachey written a glowing preface to the book, but each had received 25 percent of the royalties. Mr. Dunn acknowledged in a follow-up interview with RTE that he had not known about the payments.

But he, Mr. O’Neill, and Mr. Hachey continued to argue that Mr. Moloney had known about the limits of the confidentiality agreements and chosen to ignore them. Specifically, they noted that Mr. O’Neill had written in a letter to Mr. Moloney a month before their dinner at Deanes Restaurant that “I cannot guarantee, for example, that we would be in a position to refuse to turn over documents on a court order without being held in contempt.”

The two researchers put forth a competing narrative, in which Boston College had failed to fully vet the legalities of the project and had made promises it couldn’t keep, putting everyone involved at needless risk. Mr. O’Neill, they said, was reassuring when they met over dinner in Belfast. “Bob O’Neill made it very clear that nothing—and the words he used were ‘legal repercussions’—he said nothing would be permitted or accepted into the library if there were legal repercussions for those involved,” recalls Mr. McIntyre.

Mr. McArthur, who interviewed loyalists, corroborates that view. He says he was told by Mr. O’Neill when he joined the project, around 2003, that it was legally protected. “The phrase that stuck in my mind was ‘ironclad,’” he says. In conversations with Mr. Hachey, whom he met later, “it was implicit in everything we said.”

Mr. O’Neill says he never made such promises. Boston College’s chief lawyer, Mr. Herlihy, confirms that he told the librarian, in their one, very general conversation about the proposed project, that U.S. courts have never given absolute protections to academic research. “Once I had the advice of counsel,” says Mr. O’Neill, “I would not have taken it upon myself to nullify the position.”

Even so, the contracts with interviewees made no mention of legal limits on confidentiality. “I am working on the wording of the contract to be signed by the interview[ee], and I’ll run this by Tom [Hachey] and university counsel,” Mr. O’Neill wrote to Mr. Moloney in early 2001, the day the journalist signed on as project director.

Mr. O’Neill never did check with a lawyer about the wording. Instead, the one-page document said that the interview subject had agreed to give Boston College possession of the interview, which would be restricted until after the person died, unless he or she otherwise allowed.

“In retrospect, that was my mistake,” Mr. O’Neill says. “The contract unfortunately omitted the phrase ‘to the extent American law allows.’” But he and Boston College maintain that all participants were ultimately subject to the terms of Mr. Moloney’s contract, in which that requirement was clearly stated, and that the researchers understood this.

Mr. Moloney disagrees.

“If that phrase had been in the donor contract, that project would have been dead,” Mr. Moloney says now. “There’s no way myself, Anthony McIntyre, or any of the participants would have had anything to do with it because it would have been a red flag, and we would have immediately have said, ‘What the hell does that mean?’”

To many academic observers the Boston College case, as troubling as it was, remains an oddity. Not many oral historians choose to interview members of paramilitary organizations. And few universities contract out such work.

But the case has had a chilling effect among scholars. Richard L. English, director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, says he has heard from a number of researchers seeking advice about whether to pursue research on political violence if it includes interviewing those involved in conflict. “I think the fallout is much wider than Northern Ireland,” he says. “There has been a shadow cast over this kind of research.”

Clifford M. Kuhn, executive director of the Oral History Association, says the Belfast Project offers several lessons. Make sure you consult your legal team in advance, for one, and get the top administration on board. “Perhaps a word of wisdom is, if you have this kind of project,” he adds, “don’t open it up until all participants are deceased. At the very least, do your best not to publicize it.”

Ted S. Palys and John Lowman, professors in Simon Fraser University’s School of Criminology who have written extensively about legal protection of confidential research, say the Belfast Project illustrates the necessity of outside review, by both a university research board and university lawyers. No doubt such a review would have raised questions about the wisdom of releasing information about the project while some participants were still alive, they say. It also would have caught the inconsistencies, negligence, and lack of awareness of the legal landscape before the project even started.

The project remains controversial on the Boston College campus. Faculty members have repeatedly asked the administration to explain how it came about.

Susan A. Michalczyk, president of the campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors, says the lack of on-campus consultation conveyed “a complete lack of understanding of what a research university is supposed to be about. No one can have a pet project, and no one individual should make decisions on something as sensitive as this without taking seriously what the specialists in those areas would be able to offer.”

Last May, Boston College won a victory of sorts when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that the district court had “abused its discretion” in determining which tapes were relevant to the criminal investigation. It greatly scaled back the number of tapes to be turned over, from 85 to 11.

Ms. Price’s interviews were released in full. She had died at her home a few months earlier, and Boston College saw no grounds for keeping them.

What will become of the dozens of tapes now in the hands of the police in Northern Ireland is unclear. The police have not spoken publicly about why they sought the recordings, and they declined to speak to The Chronicle.

What is clear is that in Belfast the past lives on. The investigations into Jean McConville’s death and others who disappeared during the Troubles are mired in political infighting. Giant murals celebrating the martyrdom of fighters on both sides are daily reminders to passing shoppers of what was sacrificed. The so-called peace walls, a series of metal, concrete, and barbed-wire barriers erected during the Troubles to provide buffers between Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods, have never been taken down.

“Truth isn’t used here for reconciliation,” says Mr. McIntyre. “Truth is used here for recrimination. It’s about poking your enemy in the eye.”

Robert O’Neill retired last month from Boston College. Mr. McIntyre and Mr. Moloney say they’ve worked little in the past few years, spending most of their resources and time battling the case and Boston College.

“To me, personally, it’s the single most devastating thing that ever happened to me,” says Mr. McIntyre, worse even than going to prison. Boston College’s reputation has been tarnished. Faculty members say they’re still questioned about the case by colleagues at other universities. “There’s institutional failure there on the part of Boston College, not just the interviewers,” says Ms. Clark, of Columbia.

The remaining interviews are locked away in a vault inside the Burns Library. A number of participants—including everyone interviewed on the loyalist side—have asked for their recordings back. Mr. Dunn says the college will consider those requests and honor them “to the extent we are able.”

The project itself is dead. No more books, no more revelations, no further insights into the minds of former paramilitary fighters. “It can never be used now,” says Mr. Moloney. “It’s all done for nothing.”

The Troubles and the Tapes 1965 – 2014

1968 A civil-rights march heralds growing unrest.

1969 The Provisional Irish Republican Army is formed.

January 1972 Bloody Sunday: British paratroops fire on civil-rights protesters, killing 14.

July 1972 Bloody Friday: The IRA explodes up to 22 bombs across Belfast, killing at least nine.

December 1972 Jean McConville is abducted and killed by the IRA.

1973 The IRA explodes two car bombs in London, killing one and injuring 200.

1981 A hunger strike by IRA prisoners, protesting the conditions of their interment, leads to the deaths of 10 men.

1983 Gerry Adams is elected president of Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political counterpart.

1993 British and Irish governments commit to a peace process founded on self-determination.

1994 Talks continue among most major parties to the Troubles, and the IRA declares a cease-fire.

1998 The Good Friday Agreement ends fighting and begins a power-sharing arrangement.

1999 The IRA admits to the murder and secret burial of nine people during the Troubles, including Jean McConville.

2001 The Boston College Belfast oral-history project begins.

2003 Jean McConville’s body is found on a beach in Ireland.

2006 The Belfast Project ends. The Police Services of Northern Ireland’s ombudsman concludes the police failed to investigate Jean McConville’s death.

February 2010 Dolours Price tells reporters she participated in the abduction of Jean McConville.

March 2010 Voices From the Grave, a book based on the Belfast Project, is released.

March 2011 Gerry Adams is elected a member of the Irish parliament.

May 2011 The Police Services of Northern Ireland, with the help of the U.S. Justice Department, seeks interviews with participants in the Belfast oral-history project as part of an investigation into Jean McConville’s murder. Tapes of interviews with Brendan Hughes, who died in 2008, are released.

May 2013 A U.S. appeals court confirms that Boston College must turn over more of the Belfast Project interviews.

July-December 2013 Northern Irish political parties hold talks on lingering issues related to the peace process, including how to handle crimes committed during the Troubles, and fail to reach consensus.

Early Retirement of head of PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET)

Goodbye Dave Cox And Good Riddance!
Ed Moloney
The Broken Elbow
September 7, 2013

I was delighted to hear that the former head of the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), former Scotland Yard detective Dave Cox has been forced to take early retirement in the wake of a damning report by the British Inspectorate of Constabulary which found that the HET, under his direction, had treated killings carried out by state forces with less rigour and scrupulousness than paramilitary cases.

The HET, set up in 2005 as part of the peace deal, was supposed to investigate all 3,300 killings between 1968 and 1998. Cox’s sacking is an official admission it failed in this task.

This conclusion will have come as no surprise to readers of who learned of the HET’s bias and disregard for ordinary victims of violence from two pieces we published back in January 2012 dealing with the case of Patrick McCullough, a 17-year old Catholic who was gunned down by Loyalists near his North Belfast home in 1972. You can read themhere and here.

His case was highlighted by his brother, Catholic priest Joseph McCullough who wrote to The Irish Times about officialdom’s uncaring attitude towards Patrick’s death. No serious attempt had been made by the police, Fr Joe said, to discover who pulled the trigger and the HET’s attitude he described as “abysmal”. The police ineptitude or worse was in stark contrast to the efforts ofIrish News reporter Sharon O’Neill who able to discover not only that the UVF had killed Patrick McCullough but to put names to the killers who, she wrote, were well known in the area as the culprits.

Only when his letter was published and the HET shamed in public did officers from the unit contact him. Fr Joe was also interviewed by  and he told of how after his brother was killed in a drive-by shooting on the Antrim Road, the police – in those days the RUC – never came near the home to explain what happened or to update the family on the investigation.

But the home was visited by the British Army who invaded the street in which the McCullough’s lived. They were ostensibly searching the area for weapons but the only house they raided was the McCullough’s, a respectable, peaceable family with no history of republican activity. Fr Joe suspected they were going to plant  weapons in the house to discredit the family and thereby justify the Loyalist killing and would have had the local parish priest not intervened.

All these circumstances strengthened the suspicion that perhaps Patrick McCullough’s killers and the security forces were colluding together. To add insult to injury the RUC then lost all the paperwork on the case and so Patrick McCullough’s sad death was forgotten. I wrote about the case because of the contrast with all the energy officialdom has recently invested in investigating the Jean McConville case where the IRA was the culprit.

The pro-security bias of the HET lies behind the scandalous treatment of the McCullough family and evidence for it can be found in the HET’s official video which is still available on YouTube. This is what I wrote in January, 2011:

The film features four victims, the son of a Catholic shot dead by the UDA; the sister of a British soldier shot dead, presumably by the IRA; the husband of a victim of the IRA’s Shankill Road Fish Shop bomb and the brother of two Catholic men killed by the UVF.

And what’s missing? Well any relatives of people killed by the police or army, that’s who’s missing. Seemingly they don’t rate a mention on the HET video and that is not insignificant surely? It means they don’t really appear on the HET radar and in such a way are almost airbrushed out of existence. The video provides a subliminal and fascinating peek into the HET’s consciousness.

That’s not to say that in the video the HET’s commander Dave Cox does not at all address the issue of security force collusion in killings. He does, but look at how he deals with it: “Could his death have been avoided, was there collusion? Most times we are able to actually answer and dispel those worries.”

In other words: “Our work is about nailing all those terrible terrorists and setting minds to rest about the role of the RUC and army.” It’s an approach that dovetails exactly with the state narrative of the Troubles, with the state and its forces on the good side and everyone else on the bad side. Problem is, it wasn’t ever as simple as that.

Here’s the video and Dave Cox’s appearances start at 1 minutes 7 seconds:

And confirmation of this bias was there in the Inspectorate of Constabulary’s report published this July, which detailed all the various ways in which security force killings were treated more leniently than others by the HET (e.g. soldiers who pulled triggers were never interviewed under caution, meaning it would be so much harder to charge them if evidence emerged during questioning of a crime. If they claimed to be sick they could avoid being interviewed, and so on. None of this magnanimity was shown to non-security force suspects).

The pro-Army/Police bias was so intense that it was codified into the rules governing the HET’s investigations. Add to that the fact that the HET’s intelligence branch was stuffed full with former RUC Special Branch officers and the result is all too predictable.

Here is what the HET Operational Guide states:

“HET maintains it is not appropriate to compare the review processes in military cases with reviews of murders committed by terrorists. Soldiers were deployed on the streets of Northern Ireland in an official and lawful capacity, bound by the laws of the UK and military Standard Operating Procedures of that time.” (HMIC report, pp 74-75)

So, there you have it. The official body charged with investigating Northern Ireland’s troubled and violent past is set up on the basis that killings carried out by soldiers were probably lawful whereas those committed by groups like the IRA were crimes. So no need to investigate security force slayings with any enthusiasm or vigour.

It is not possible to deal with this subject without making two comments. One is that the approach of officers like Dave Cox and his colleagues in the HET are confirmation that for many in the British security apparatus the war against the IRA goes on. In theory the peace process was supposed to signal a score draw in the battle between the British state and republicanism; in practice ‘la lotta continua’ in the British mindset. The IRA has stopped shooting soldiers and policemen and stopped planting bombs; but the British are still trying to put republicans in jail.

The other obvious comment is that all this happened on Sinn Fein’s watch but the party charged with overseeing Nationalism’s interests in the peace deal did nothing to stop it, not even to issue warnings about the HET’s all too obvious bias. The HET’s faults were exposed by an academic from a Belfast university not by a Sinn Fein minister or Assembly member (nor any SDLP ones either) and it took seven years to get rid of the man responsible for them. What, one may ask, is the point of being in government if such things are allowed to happen under your nose and you do nothing about them?

Anyway Dave Cox will soon be taking the Liverpool ferry back home. It will be good to see the back of him.

The Breathtaking Hypocrisy of the British State

Breathtaking Hypocrisy!
Ed Moloney
The Broken Elbow 

Sometimes the hypocrisy of government can be so brazen it literally takes the breath away. I am still struggling to retain my composure after reading a news story in The Irish Times today sent by a friend in Ireland.

The story dealt with a successful legal move by the NI Secretary, Theresa Villiers and the PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggot to prevent the relatives of three victims of the security forces from being able to read inquest documents because of British concerns “about the possible disclosure of any sensitive information on members of the security forces”.

Relatives of the three are attempting to re-open their cases and the information is potentially important to them in this effort.

A fuller account than The Irish Times’ is carried in the often excellent Detail website, which I recommend you read.

The three victims were IRA man Paddy McAdorey who was shot dead by a British Army sniper on the morning of internment, August 9th, 1971; Michael Donnelly who was killed by a plastic bullet in 1980 and Sadie Larmour, a Catholic woman who was shot dead in October 1979. Mrs Larmour’s death is especially intriguing. She was killed at her home in Rodney Drive, in the heart of the Falls Road by a UVF gunman who broke into her home. Why is her killing considered by Villiers and Baggot likely to lead to “sensitive information on members of the security forces?” Don’t we have a right to know?

The hypocrisy is breathtaking because at the same time these two individuals, Baggot directly and Villiers by virtue of her post in the British government, are demanding that all information in the archives of Boston College relating to a killing carried out by the IRA must be handed over, no exceptions allowed.

So here we have a classic example of double standards. Boston College must hand over everything but the British can seek to hide what they will, and probably will get away with it. Unless that it is public opinion can be mobilised to force them to play by the same rules they apply to everyone else. Over to you, Irish media. There’s a story here. You do remember what a story is don’t you?

Safe for Research? Boston College: The Truth Behind The Lost Contracts

Boston College: The Truth Behind The Lost Contracts
Ed Moloney
The Broken Elbow
6 August 2013

Around the beginning of July this year, myself and Anthony McIntyre began getting increasingly edgy messages from Boston College (BC) alleging that a crisis in the over two-year long subpoena saga was developing which needed urgent and radical action. Only ourselves, we were told, could provide the way out.

What followed was another depressing chapter in the story of Boston College’s seemingly boundless yearning to give up its precious research participants to the US government, the IRA activists who agreed to give the college valuable interviews between 2001 and 2006 about their lives during the Troubles.

The message was clear that that unless we identified three interviewees whose contracts with BC had been lost by the college then the Department of Justice, on behalf of the PSNI, would get a bonanza. BC issued warnings that a court decision this May which severely restricted the number of interviews that were eligible for handover could be reversed by the US government. That outcome, the message suggested, could be a disaster for the Belfast Project. Unless we named the three anonymous interviewees.

What had happened was this. At the very start of the legal challenge to the PSNI/DoJ subpoenas in 2011, a lower court ruled that every single interview given by anyone who mentioned Jean McConville had to be given to the PSNI. Most of the interviewees had provided a number of interviews, such that there were several transcripts related to each interviewee.

The lower court’s ruling created the following ludicrous situation: let’s say interviewee A gave fifteen interviews and had talked about McConville in only one. Even if that mention was just for the equivalent of say a couple of paragraphs, all fifteen interviews would nonetheless end up with the PSNI. Although fourteen of A’s interviews had nothing to do with the disappearance of Jean McConville, they would all be handed over.

Without going into all the detail suffice it to say that in May a higher court known as the First Circuit reversed that decision and very sensibly said that only those interviews which actually mentioned Jean McConville were eligible for handover. So for that hypothetical interviewee A, only one of his or her fifteen interviews could be sent to Belfast.

This was an important change especially for the interviewees because otherwise they possibly could face charges for a multitude of offences that had nothing to do with the McConville case. Doubtless the most disappointed party after the decision was made public was the PSNI.

But this is when BC began to undermine its own project, in the course of which it exploited the potential vulnerability of the interviewees to criminal charges beyond the McConville case in efforts which would have discredited myself and Anthony McIntyre.

The interviewees could only be identified by an alphanumerical code attached to all the transcripts and tapes sent to Boston by the two researchers, Anthony McIntyre and Wilson McArthur. But each interviewee also signed a contract which consigned their interviews to BC on condition that they would only be published after their death. The process included a guarantee of confidentiality and the contract was proof of BC’s ownership.

The agreement between myself and BC was to use a coding system to maintain the anonymity of the interviewees, and that only myself and the Burns Librarian would have access to this code. The only way by which this code could be created was by reference to the donation agreements, which the Burns Librarian – not Ed Moloney – was obliged to collect in Belfast and transport to Boston.

Needless to say, the donation contracts were the most sensitive documents handled by anyone involved in the project. Without them, the interviewees could be not identified, and so they were handled with great care. Written into the arrangements that governed the project was the instruction that these contracts could only be carried to Boston by hand. They could not be sent by mail or via the internet because the risk of interception was too great.

As it happened the man in charge of the project, BC librarian Bob O’Neill was a regular visitor to Ireland and he would arrange to meet the two researchers from time to time to pick up the contracts which he would then take to Boston.

Alas, it seems that O’Neill lost, mislaid or otherwise never collected a number of these contracts. Even though the project ended in 2006 BC claims to have failed to notice this crucial gap in his paperwork until two years or so ago. The extent of the problem was not admitted by BC until the recent court decision when the college had to come clean. That is when we started getting those anxious messages.

Seven interviewees aside from Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price had mentioned Jean McConville in their sessions but the contracts for three of them, identified only as “S”, “Y” and “Z”, had been lost, we believe by O’Neill since both McIntyre and McArthur had compelling reasons to ensure the contracts ended up in his hands.

The message to us from BC was that the the DoJ had made an official request for the names of the three interviewees, absent which it could not identify them. If we failed to cooperate, we were told, the DOJ would request that the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Boston reconsider its decision and issue the whole transcripts, if not the entire archive, so that the DOJ could identify those interviewees whom the First Circuit found had knowledge of the McConville case.

Bear in mind that the DOJ had never asked for the code in its subpoenas, but BC’s alarmism suggested the DOJ would be granted what they never subpoenaed. If the DOJ got their way, then all of the hypothetical participant A’s fifteen interviews would go to the PSNI and the US government would justify this on the grounds that full access was the only way to identify “S”, “Y” and “Z”.

The clear implication of the messages from Boston College was that we, and specifically myself, would be responsible for the collapse of the entire project if the May decision was reversed. As one message from BC put it, referring to myself: “Does your client want this [opening up of entire interviews] to be his legacy?” (What? As opposed to giving up names to the PSNI?)

And so we waited with baited breath for the DoJ’s submission to the First Circuit in expectation that the government, in a fit of pique, would ask the First Circuit court to reverse its decision in the case of “S”, “Y” and “Z”. But we waited in vain.

Last Friday the government’s filing was made public and there was not a mention of this threat at all. Not one. Not even a hint of a threat. Instead the DoJ simply asked the court to not to change the result regarding the release of transcripts, but rather to reaffirm in principle the executive branch’s supremacy in relation to the exercise of treaties governing subpoenas delivered on behalf of foreign governments. However, the DOJ wholly declined to challenge the First Circuit’s earlier decision which still stands.

So, what is the explanation for Boston College’s groundless threats against myself and by implication Anthony McIntyre? The most charitable is that the college and its attorney completely misread the US government’s intentions. They cocked it up, in other words.

The least charitable is that the college knew full well that the DoJ had no intention to challenge the First Circuit’s restriction on the interviews but that, with some well-directed bullying and strong-arming, the result might be that we could be maneuvered into betraying our sources to the PSNI, an act that would completely discredit us in Ireland and end our campaign. If this was the case it is testament to how underhand BC’s tactics had become, and how little understood our motives in waging this battle.

I know which of these theories I believe and I believe it because there is another motive at work here, one that has been apparent almost from the outset of this legal case. That has been BC’s eagerness to put the US government’s law enforcement interests ahead of those of its research subjects; ensuring that it was seen to provide aid to law enforcement in its (bogus) murder investigation always seemed more important to BC than protecting the people who agreed to share important and sensitive historical information with the institution.

And herein lies a very important message. Boston College should be shunned as an institution for academic research until it proves that it will fight with integrity and determination to protect the confidentiality and interests of its research subjects. Until then BC simply cannot be trusted. It is not a safe place to conduct research.

Where blame lies over lost Boston tape names

Where blame lies over lost Boston tape names
The war of words between Boston College and the former director of its Belfast Project has become increasingly acrimonious. Here US-based journalist Ed Moloney answers his critics
Ed Moloney
Belfast Telegraph
05 AUGUST 2013

Dr Robert O’Neill, the Burns Librarian at Boston College, describes as “bizarre” a claim from me that he “lost” materials for the Belfast oral history project at the college.

The materials were, in fact, contracts, or donor forms, signed by IRA participants in the project, without which the PSNI probe into the disappearance of Jean McConville is stalled.

“Bizarre” is not the word I would use. “Inescapable” is a better adjective, for that is the only conclusion a rational person could arrive at from the evidence that Dr O’Neill himself presented to a Boston court in 2011.

Admitting to the court that Boston College could not locate the donor form for interviews given by the late IRA member Dolours Price, he wrote in an affidavit, lodged at the federal district court in Boston: “We have conducted a search of the archives of the Belfast Project and have been unable to find the form executed by Dolours Price, but we have no reason to doubt that she did sign one, just as the same donation agreement was signed by most of the other interviewees in the Belfast Project.”

So, Dolours Price contract was signed by her and sent to Boston College, but then could not be found. In Boston, as well as in Belfast, that is what most people would regard as having been lost.

And, having lost Dolours Price’s contract, is it not reasonable to suspect that others have also gone missing from Boston College’s archives in the same way?

Dr O’Neill also referred in the same affidavit to the donation agreement having been signed “by most of the other interviewees”, indicating that, at that point, Boston College was well aware that not every interview had a corresponding donor form.

So, it is beyond doubt that Dr O’Neill and Boston College knew in 2011 that there were multiple missing contracts. Yet they did nothing about it.

Dr O’Neill now accuses me of “a clear contractual violation” by not providing the donor forms. But, if Boston College was in any way concerned about any contractual violation, it failed to either raise the issue with me, or to take any action before the time limits expired for enforcing any obligations in 2012.

Not that there was any breach of contract on my part, but if the college really believed that there was, then its failure to enforce the agreement only further compounds its incompetence.

It had the opportunity to complain of contractual breach as late as 2011 when the subpoenas were issued and it realised it did not have several donor agreements, but never once did so.

The college is precluded from taking any action on that contract now and would have been unsuccessful in any action in any event.

Boston College is unable to identify three of the seven interviewees, whose archive material has been cited by US courts as responsive to the second subpoena. The Belfast Project ended in 2006, some five years before both the first and second subpoenas.

In that time-frame, in which Boston College co-operated in the publication of a book and a documentary film based upon material from the archives, no-one from Boston College had ever raised the problem of missing contracts.

Following my move to New York in 2001, Dr O’Neill accepted that the original arrangement would have to change. (Incidentally, the UVF archive was begun after I left Ireland and all the arrangements were exclusively in Dr O’Neill’s hands.)

Since our contracts mandated that the donor forms had to be picked up in Ireland and then delivered “by hand” to Boston for security reasons, and since I now lived 3,000 miles away from Ireland, I could no longer play a part in the process.

In fact, it even became too dangerous for me to know the identities of those taking part in the project and so I stayed out of this particular loop.

To maximise security for the archive, Dr O’Neill agreed to collect the donor forms in Ireland from the researchers and ferry them back to Boston. As a buyer of artifacts for his library, Dr O’Neill was a frequent visitor to Ireland and this arrangement was most convenient.

A key aspect of the arrangement was that no donor form ever came into my hands. Since I never handled the forms, I could not lose them.

So, why are Dr O’Neill and Boston College desperately attempting to shift the blame for this debacle on to me?

I suspect it is because the recent revelations that one of America’s premier colleges cannot identify its own research participants raises uncomfortable and embarrassing questions about the competence of the college staff and their handling of this most sensitive project. And, so, the impulse is to shift the blame elsewhere.

Not for the first time since this saga began, Boston College is attempting to fault others for its own mistakes, instead of committing its full energies to protecting the integrity and confidentiality of the Belfast Project archive and, most of all, the safety and security of the oral history interviewees.

Boston College Belfast Project Key Procedure

Burns Librarian Robert O’Neill, writing in the Belfast Telegraph, claims “the materials [donation agreements/key to archive] were not lost; rather, they were never received, in clear violation of [Ed Moloney’s] contractual obligation.”

The contract reference is found in Agreement A , aka the Moloney Agreement, on page 2:

“The Project Director will develop a standard coding system for all interviews.

The transcribed and tape/video recorded interviews will be given an anonymous numerical/alphabetical identity and stored both in Belfast and at Boston College.

A separate key to this code shall be kept and be accessible only to the Project Director and to the Burns Librarian.

The key should be kept only in Boston and should only be transported to Boston by hand (i.e., during the Burns Librarian’s visits to Ireland).

The statements of authenticity should also be kept separate from the transcripts/tapes and stored alongside the key to the codes at Boston College.”

The standard practice was for the Burns Librarian to collect the donor agreements from the researchers during his visits to Ireland.

The Burns Librarian was to bring the hand-collected agreements, identified with their code as seen in the Brendan Hughes agreement, back to Boston College with him, where the material would be archived.

The codified transcripts/interviews were sent separately, directly to Boston College.

The Project Director was not involved whatsoever in this procedure, nor does the contract state he should be.

Note: “While that Agreement refers to interview materials being stored both in Belfast and at Boston College, in fact all of the materials were sent for deposit in the Burns Library, to assure their security and confidentiality.”
Robert K O’Neill affidavit;

“Although that Agreement provides that interview materials would be stored in both Belfast and in the Burns Library at Boston College, it was decided from the outset that for security reasons that the sole repository for the materials would be the Burns Library at Boston College”
Ed Moloney affidavit

In regards to the Dolours Price donor agreement, Robert O’Neill’s affidavit states:

“I understand that the person who interviewed Dolours Price, Anthony McIntyre, recalls that she signed a donation agreement in the form of O’Neill Attachment 2, and that he sent the form she had executed to the Burns Library. We have conducted a search of the archives of the Belfast Project and have been unable to find the form executed by Dolours Price, but we have no reason to doubt that she did sign one, just as the same donation agreement was signed by most of the other interviewees in the Belfast Project.”