Ivor Bell case: IRA totally wrong to have shot and secretly buried’ disappeared victims, Gerry Adams told court BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
October 17 2019 2:03 PM
As the trial of veteran republican Ivor Bell entered its second week, former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was called to give evidence.
Mr Adams – now a TD for Louth – again rejected claims he was a member of the IRA and said he had “no part to play” in the abduction, murder and disappearance of Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville in 1972.
On Monday, October 14, Mr Adams was called as a defence witness.
Five of Jean McConville seven surviving children attended every day of the hearing. In the public gallery, they heard Mr Adams deny he was a member of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade staff when their mother was abducted from her home.
They also heard Mr Adams say “the IRA were totally wrong to have shot and secretly buried these folks” and in his opinion “the IRA did things, including this, that were totally wrong.”
The 71-year-old former Sinn Fein president was asked to comment on an oral interview.
Audio of excerpts of the Boston College tapes were played to the jury last week, including sections where ‘Interviewee Z’ – Ivor Bell – named Gerry Adams as both Officer Commanding of the Belfast IRA in 1972 and of being instrumental in the plan to ‘disappear’ Mrs McConville.
In the tapes, Mr Bell claimed he attended a meeting in west Belfast where he, Gerry and a man now deceased called Pat McClure discussed an informer.
Barry MacDonald QC, for the defence, relayed the alleged conversation in which Mr Bell claimed the woman was being paid for passing information to the British Army, that the discussion included what to do with her, and that “Gerry” had talked to the local priest, who had refused to help with the situation.
Suggesting “the Gerry referred to you was you, Gerry Adams,” Mr MacDonald said: “The question I have for you Mr Adams is whether that conversation ever took place?”
Mr Adams replied: “It didn’t. I never had any discussions with Ivor Bell or indeed any others about Jean McConville. I want to deny categorically any involvement in the abduction, killing and burial of Jean McConville.”
When he was asked if he thought she should have been shot, Mr Adams said “No, I don’t think Mrs McConville should have been shot.”
Mr MacDonald then said “it has been suggested you have been involved in a plan to abduct and murder Mrs McConville and that Mr Bell was involved in it. Were you involved in it?” Mr Adams replied “no.”
He was then asked “do you have any idea why somebody might suggest you were involved?”
Mr Adams said: “Well reading the transcripts, I thought it was interesting that the interviewee Anthony McIntyre asked a lot of leading questions.
“Anthony McIntyre was involved with others in opposing, which he was entitled to do, the strategy I and others were involved in which subsequently led to the Peace Process and the IRA cessation and the end of the IRA, effectively.”
He said Ivor Bell was also opposed to the direction he and others were taking Irish Republicanism, but added “I am only conjecturing that.”
Mr Adams continued: “I have learned to put up with many of the accusations that are made against me. That comes with the work that I do, but suffice to say those who make those accusations were and are very very hostile to the work that I was doing.”
Mr Adams then said he and Martin McGuinness has been called traitors to the Republican cause and their homes attacked over their involvement in the peace process.
Mr MacDonald then asked Mr Adams about interviews given by Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price – both of whom claimed he was a former comrade in the IRA.
Regarding Mr Hughes, Mr Adams said: “Brendan was a very good friend of mine for quite a long time and his public pronouncements were vitriolic in his condemnation.
IRA murder victim Jean McConville’s son Michael outside Belfast Crown Court. October 17, 2019.
“At one point I saw an interview with him saying I should be shot and that he would do it. But if I bumped into Brendan before his death he would always embrace me and apologise for his latest outburst.”
He said Dolours Price also spoke out about his strategy, and that journalist Ed Moloney – who oversaw the Belfast Project – was an “opponent of the process.”
He branded the Boston College project “a most suspect project” with no real scholarly or historic value. He also said the situation in which the interviews were conducted as “ridiculous” and said “if they believe in what they are saying, why don’t they say it.”
Mr MacDonald returned to the allegations that Mr Adams had a role in or discussed the murder and abduction of Mrs McConville. Asked if there was any truth in this, Mr Adams replied: “None whatsoever.
May I also say that when an extract of the tape purporting to be Ivor Bell was played to me at Antrim Barracks when I was under interrogation, I didn’t recognise the voice of Ivor Bell.
“I haven’t talked to Ivor Bell for decades but I didn’t recognise the voice as being Ivor Bell’s and I said that to the police officer.”
IRA murder victim Jean McConville’s daughter Susie outside Belfast Crown Court. October 17, 2019.
Ciaran Murphy QC, for the prosecution, then questioned Mr Adams and asked if he was shocked by the allegation made against him. Mr Adams said “not entirely” as he had seen media reports about Mrs McConville then added: “If you are asking me on a personal level whether I was shocked he made this up, yes I was.”
Mr Adams was asked about his relationship with Mr Bell and he said they were part of a delegation which met the Secretary of State in 1972. He also confirmed they were interred in Long Kesh together.
Regarding the talks in 1972, Mr Murphy asked “were you not a member of the IRA at that time?”, to which Mr Adams said “no.” He was then asked what position Ivor Bell held in the IRA at the time, and said “I cannot comment on that. I don’t know what his position may have been.”
Escapes and attempted escapes from Long Kesh were then discussed, and Mr Adams was asked about Pat McClure. He said they were from the same neighbourhood, they were interned for a period together and when asked what his role in the IRA was, Mr Adams said “I don’t know.”
He then talked about the McConville family and said when he was approached by the family “about the disappearance of their mum, myself and a man called Father Alec Reid commenced the process of trying to establish what had happened.”
He said he and Fr Reid were involved in establishing a commission with the assistance of the Irish and British Governments to receive information on those missing.
Mr Adams said: “I was centrally involved in establishing the commission. Most of those killed by the IRA and buried have been returned but there is still ongoing work for a number whose remains have not been retrieved, and that work I continue to do to this day.”
Regarding his role in the commission, he said: “I was trying to give these families what they deserved, which was a Christian burial. My view, my firm belief, was that a grave injustice was done on them, which the IRA apologised for. These families should never have been left in the situation they were left in.”
When Mr Murphy raised asked Mr Adams when he first became aware of the murder of Mrs McConville, he replied: “My first recollection of being aware of it was when I met Helen McKendry. I was representative for west Belfast at the time. I’m not sure what year that was.”
When asked what he was doing in 1972, Mr Adams said he spent a lot of the time on the run due to harassment by the RUC and was “liable to be interned.”
Attention turned again to the Boston Tapes and Anthony McIntyre. Mr Adams said “I wasn’t on the Brigade staff”. He said he was aware of Mr McIntyre due to his opposition to the peace process and the “controversary around the Boston Tapes…but I don’t profess to know him, I certainly have no recollection to having known him.”
Mr Murphy said Mr Bell gave a detailed account of a meeting with “Gerry and Pat”, and Mr Adams replied “I was at no meeting and had no discussion and had no part to play in the abduction, killing and burial of Jean McConville.”
“He has made an allegation I was at a meeting with him and I wasn’t.” Mr Murphy talked of the “specifics” of the meeting, including an allegation that Mr Adams had talked to a local priest to try and “get her out.” This was denied.
Mr Murphy then said: “One of the issues about her being … she had ten children. During these interviews, Z states that had it been known she had ten kids, you may have looked at it differently.”
Mr Adams said: “Well, I have already answered the question that I was not at the meeting and I did not have any discussions about Mrs McConville. You see, I have never hidden my association with the IRA. I have never sought to distance myself. I have denied IRA membership, even though at the time that was a legitimate response to what was happening in Republican working class communities.
“Also, the IRA were totally wrong to have shot and secretly buried those folks. In particular that should be compassion shown to Mrs McConville – a lone woman with ten children. That should have begged compassion.”
“I have exhaustively spend my energy trying to correct this wrong. I cannot bring Mrs McConville and the others back, but at least I can try and rectify the injustice that has been done. I regret there was a conflict. I can say the IRA did things, including this, that was totally wrong.”
Mr Murphy then asked Mr Adams “what is your attitude to touts?” He replied: “I accept if people – I don’t like the word tout by the way – if people are agents or informers, that would go for me as anybody, then they were liable to be shot.”
When he was asked if touts should be shot, Mr Adams said: “It is a regrettable fact that when armies are engaged in war, they do kill those who they perceive to have assisted the enemy by giving information or in any way jeopardising … that goes for all combatants.
“It’s regrettable. It happened in the 20s, it happened I presume at other times. I think that the huge achievement of our time is that it no longer happens.”
He was then asked “would it be fair to say you personally don’t have a problem shooting informers”, to which Mr Adams said “I would have a problem shooting anyone. I think that’s a very leading question. I’m not on trial here.”
And when asked if he supported the IRA’s policy of shooting informers, Mr Adams said he didn’t support all the army’s actions, adding “I have been critical of a number of atrocities that have occurred. I don’t have a carte-blanche support for the IRA.
“I also think, as we reflect back on what has occurred in my lifetime, I am lucky enough to have survived.”
Mr Adams again referred to his work with Fr Reid and the commission which he said has been “harrowing, not least to the families.”
“There was a dig just ended in the last two weeks for Columba McVeigh.” He also appealed for information on the remaining missing bodies of Captain Robert Nairac, Joe Lynskey and Columba McVeigh, and said the remains of those already found were returned because people were prepared to come forward and also “down to the good work of the Commission and those involved in it.”
Mr Adams said he knew nothing about the internal workings of the IRA. Asked again about the meeting, Mr Adams said “I know you have to take me through all of this but if I was not at the meeting, how on earth can I comment on that.”
When it was put to him that Mr Bell said in the tape that Gerry gave the order to kill and disappear her, Mr Adams questioned why Mr McIntyre was not here, then said “I am being asked to comment on an alleged conversation they had about a meeting I have said clearly I was not at, discussing something I was not privy to.”
Mr Murphy spoke of Mr Bell’s detailed account, and Mr Adams said: “He did an interview which was not to be released until after his death, isn’t that correct? I am not going to take lectures from somebody like that. I have stated my position in relation to the IRA. Whatever his position was is a matter for him.”
When Mr MacDonald rose to his feet again following Mr Murphy’s questioning, the defence QC asked Mr Adams to explain what internment and Long Kesh were, “for the benefit of the younger members of the jury.
As Mr Adams started talking about how Long Kesh was built to imprison internees, Mr Justice O’Hara interjected and said: “The jury does not need a history lesson, Long Kesh became the Maze prison.”
He then addressed the witness and said “Mr Adams, you are free to go.”
Ivor Bell found not guilty of soliciting murder of Jean McConville
Judge directs jury to not guilty verdict, ‘you cannot find him to have done the acts alleged’
Gerry Moriarty Irish Times
17 October 2019
The trial of Ivor Bell, charged with soliciting Gerry Adams and the late Pat McClure to murder Jean McConville, concluded on Thursday with the jury on the direction of the judge returning a verdict of not guilty.
There were reporting restrictions placed on the eight-day trial which began last Monday week but these were lifted by Mr Justice (John) O’Hara on Thursday at its conclusion.
On Thursday morning the judge told the jury “there was no evidence that the prosecution can put before you supports the case” against 82-year-old Mr Bell.
“My role now is to direct you to return a verdict of not guilty because you simply cannot find him to have done the acts alleged,” said the judge.
The prosecution lawyer, Ciaran Murphy, QC, said there would be no appeal of this decision.
Mr Justice O’Hara gave his instruction to the jury after on Wednesday ruling that evidence from the Boston tapes featuring Mr Bell was inadmissible.
The prosecution case that Mr Bell “encouraged” or “endeavoured to persuade” Mr Adams and Mr McClure to murder the 38-year-old widowed mother of ten children in late 1972 largely rested on interviews Mr Bell gave to the Belfast Project, also known as the Boston tapes.
The project was an oral history of the Troubles run by Boston College in the US under the directorship of journalist and writer Ed Moloney where former republican and loyalist paramilitaries gave interviews about their roles in the conflict with the commitment these interviews could not be published until after their deaths.
Mr Bell, a former alleged IRA chief of staff gave interviews to the lead researcher in the project, former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre, a history PhD graduate.
During the trial two tapes of the interview given by Mr Bell were played in court where he alleged that Mr Adams said Ms McConville should be shot as an alleged informer – an allegation that the former Sinn Féin president, who also gave evidence, strongly denied.
In the tape when asked what was Mr Adams’s attitude to burying Ms McConville Mr Bell replied: “just that she was a tout. She should be shot.”
Mr Bell told Mr McIntyre he (Mr Bell) had no objection to shooting “touts” but that he disagreed with burying or disappearing them because it “defeats the entire purpose” of killing them.
He said he made that point clear to Mr Adams and the late Mr McClure who, it is alleged was directly involved in the shooting of Ms McConville at Shellinghill Beach in Co Louth, but that Mr Adams and Mr McClure said she should be buried.
When Mr McIntyre asked Mr Bell did he recall Mr Adams or Mr McClure saying that she “should be disappeared” he replied, “Yeah. They said they couldn’t take the heat from throwing her on the street.”
This happened, said Mr Bell, at a night meeting on the Falls Road late in 1972 attended by him, Mr Adams, Mr McClure and a “girl” who stayed in the background.
During Mr Adams’s evidence the prosecuting counsel, Ciaran Murphy, QC, asked the former Sinn Féin leader would he have had a problem “shooting touts”.
“I would have a problem shooting anyone. That’s a very loaded question. I am not on trial here,” Mr Adams responded.
Mr Adams denied the allegations, insisting that he attended no such meeting on the Falls Road with Mr Bell and Mr McClure in late 1972.
With five of Ms McConville’s children looking on from the public gallery on a number of occasions Mr Adams denied involvement in their mother’s murder.
“I categorically deny any involvement in the abduction, killing and burial of Jean McConville or indeed any others,” he said.
Mr Adams said Ms McConville should not have been killed. It was “totally wrong to have shot and secretly buried these folk”. He said there should have been “compassion shown to Mrs McConville – a lone woman with 10 children – that should have begged compassion”.
Mr Adams under cross-examination from Mr Murphy said during the Troubles if people were agents or informers they were liable to be shot.
“It is a regrettable fact that when armies are engaged in war they do kill those that would have been perceived as having assisted the enemy by giving information or in any way jeopardising (the organisation),” he said.
Mr Adams also was highly critical of Mr Moloney and Mr McIntyre and the Belfast Project which he said was “most suspect” with no “real scholarly, historical process of evaluating and bringing forward facts about Irish history”.
On Wednesday Mr Justice O’Hara, following an application by defence lawyer, Barry MacDonald, QC, ruled that the Boston tapes used by the prosecution should be inadmissible.
Mr MacDonald over the course of the trial had argued that the Belfast Project had been discredited by academics. One of the witnesses, history professor Kevin O’Neill from Boston College said the project was “now held up as a model of how not to do oral history”.
Mr MacDonald contended that Mr McIntyre “was a man on a mission and had an agenda to discredit Gerry Adams and other architects of the peace process”.
Mr Justice O’Hara said Mr McIntyre was not a “neutral interviewer”. He said he and Mr Bell had a “clear bias and were out to get Gerry Adams”.
His version of the truth
The judge added that “while Mr Bell may have felt he was free to tell his version of the truth…..the difficulty is he also may have felt free to lie, distort, exaggerate, blame and mislead”.
After the case a statement was issued on behalf of Mr Bell and his family. They acknowledged that the “entire process has been a difficult and at times frustrating process for the family of Jean McConville, who have been seeking truth and justice for over 50 years”.
They added, “From the outset of this process Ivor has vehemently denied the allegations levelled against him relating to the murder of Jean McConville. He put forward an alibi at the earliest opportunity at the police station.
“In the course of this trial process the court heard evidence which corroborated Ivor’s alibi, and that he was not in the jurisdiction at the time of the murder.”
Mr Bell and his family added that the “court has rightly held that the Boston College tapes are inherently unreliable. we now look forward to putting this case and its ill-founded allegations behind us”.
Peter Corrigan, Mr Bell’s lawyer added: “The Boston tapes were of no benefit from a historical perspective, never mind meeting the threshold of evidence in a criminal trial.
“The process from start to finish was fatally flawed, which lacked the relevant safeguards and as described by one expert during the course of the trial ‘is exactly not to conduct an oral history project’.”
Ivor Bell found not guilty of soliciting Jean McConville murder
17 October 2019
Judge Mr Justice O’Hara directed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty having earlier ruled that taped interviews, which were the central plank of the prosecution case, were inadmissible.
A veteran republican has been cleared of soliciting the murder of a mother of 10 in 1972, after a trial which heard a claim that Gerry Adams recommended her secret burial.
The former Sinn Fein president rejected the allegation as he appeared as a witness at a trial of the facts into two charges against Ivor Bell.
Five of Jean McConville’s surviving children were at Belfast Crown Court on Thursday as a jury of four women and eight men found Mr Bell not guilty of encouraging her murder.
Mr Bell, 82, of Ramoan Gardens in Belfast, was not present for the trial of the facts which came after he was found medically unfit to stand trial in December last year. He was excused from attending due to his health.
Judge Mr Justice O’Hara directed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty having earlier ruled that taped interviews, which were the central plank of the prosecution case, were inadmissible.
“As a result of some legal rulings which have been made over the last two days there is now no evidence that the prosecution can put before you to support the case it was putting against Mr Bell,” he said.
“My role now is to direct you to return a verdict of not guilty because you simply cannot find him to have done the acts alleged.”
The judge also lifted restrictions that had prevented reporting of the two-week trial of the facts.
Mr Justice O’Hara told the jury at Belfast Crown Court: “As a result of some legal rulings which have been made over the last two days there is now no evidence that the prosecution can put before you to support the case it was putting against Mr Bell.
“My role now is to direct you to return a verdict of not guilty because you simply cannot find him to have done the acts alleged.”
Mr Justice O’Hara lifted reporting restrictions which had prohibited the reporting of the trial of the facts following the verdict.
A jury of eight men and four women were directed to reach the not guilty verdict following a trial of the facts after Mr Bell, 82, of Ramoan Gardens in Belfast was found medically unfit to stand trial in 2018.
The aim of a trial of the facts is to determine the truth of the allegations against the defendant.
It cannot result in a conviction, but if the court is not satisfied that the accused committed the acts alleged, then he will be acquitted.
Mr Bell was excused from attending proceedings at Belfast Crown Court over the last two weeks due to his health.
The trial was the subject of blanket reporting restrictions which were lifted on Thursday following a challenge from a number of media organisations including the PA news agency.
Mr Bell had been charged with encouraging murder and endeavouring to persuade people to murder.
The prosecution case centred on an interview given by interviewee Z to Anthony McIntyre for the Boston College-sponsored Belfast Project, an oral history project of Northern Ireland’s troubled past.
Tapes from the project were seized by the PSNI in 2014 following a transatlantic court battle. The prosecution argued that Z is Mr Bell.
Following the Crown Court ruling, the McConville family said they are “bitterly disappointed”.
In a statement they said: “It was not easy to listen to Ivor Bell’s confession and we are bitterly disappointed that it cannot be used in evidence in this case.
“But whatever happens (with) the legal technicalities, everyone in the court this week heard how the abduction, murder and disappearance of our mother 47 years ago was planned.
“For 20 years the IRA denied they had anything to do with murder and disappearance and they only admitted it when it suited them.
“She was not an informer and Gerry Adams has confirmed in court that he didn’t believe that she was.”
The McConville family have demanded a full public inquiry into their mother’s death.
“She was a loving, working class widowed mother doing her best to raise 10 children,” their statement added.
“They murdered her because they could.
“We may not have got justice but we have got some truth. But this cannot finish here.
“We need and demand a full public inquiry. We’ve heard Gerry Adams often call for inquiries.
“Will he support this one?”
A statement issued on behalf of Ivor Bell and his family said: “At the outset the family would like to acknowledge that today and the entire process has been a difficult and, at times, frustrating process for the family of Jean McConville who have been seeking truth and justice for 50 years.
“Today’s ruling vindicates Ivor Bell and comes as exoneration after a five-year-long legal battle.
“From the outset of this process, Ivor has vehemently denied the allegations levelled against him relating to the murder of Jean McConville.
“He put forward an alibi at the earliest opportunity at the police station.
“In the course of this trial process, the court heard evidence which corroborated Ivor’s alibi, and that he was not in the jurisdiction at the time of the murder.
“The court has rightly held that the Boston College tapes are inherently unreliable. We now look forward to putting this case and its ill-founded allegations behind us.”
Ivor Bell’s solicitor Peter Corrigan said: “The Boston Tapes were of no benefit from a historical perspective, never mind meeting the threshold of evidence in a criminal trial.
“The process from start to finish was fatally flawed, which lacked the relevant safeguards, and is described by one expert during the course of this trial as ‘exactly not how to conduct an oral history project’
Bell found not guilty of encouraging Adams to murder McConville RTE NEWS
Updated / Thursday, 17 Oct 2019 11:20
By Vincent Kearney
Former self-confessed senior IRA member Ivor Bell has been found not guilty of encouraging Gerry Adams and another man to murder and secretly bury mother of ten Jean McConville.
The former Sinn Féin president categorically denies any involvement in the killing in 1972.
A judge in Belfast Crown Court ruled that the key prosecution evidence against former IRA member Mr Bell from west Belfast was inadmissible.
Mr Justice O’Hara this morning directed the jury of eight men and four women to find him not guilty.
“The jury has confirmed, by my direction, Mr Bell is not guilty of the two offences of soliciting the murder of Mrs Jean McConville,” the judge said.
The trial began last week and took place over seven days, but the media were banned from reporting until today.
The prosecution case was based on interviews Mr Bell gave as part of an oral history project by Boston College.
During the interviews he alleged that Gerry Adams and another man discussed the killing and disappearance of Ms McConville during a meeting shortly before she was killed.
Questioned as a witness on Monday, the former Sinn Féin leader said he had not attended any such meeting and never discussed Ms McConville with anyone.
“I want to categorically deny any involvement in the abduction, killing and the burial of Jean McConville,” he told the court.
After seven days of hearings, the judge yesterday ruled that the tapes were inadmissible as evidence.
Mr Justice O’Hara said the person who conducted the interviews, former IRA member Anthony McIntyre, was a man with an agenda who was “out to get Mr Adams”.
This morning he directed the jury to enter a finding of “not guilty”.
Storey arrest ‘based on information given to oral history project’
FRIDAY DECEMBER 5 2014
It was like listening to Walter Mitty and Billy Liar being interviewed by Lord Haw Haw — Bobby Storey
BOBBY Storey has described his arrest in connection with the disappearance of Jean McConville as “politically motivated’ and said it was based on information given to the Boston College project.
The senior republican and northern chairman of Sinn Féin was arrested last week and questioned for several hours in connection with the 1972 abduction, murder and secret burial of the west Belfast mother of 10.
The 58-year-old, who would have been 16 at the time of Mrs McConville’s abduction. said he was questioned solely about information contained in interviews made by former IRA men as part of an oral history project.
He also claimed his arrest, and that of other senior republicans, including party leader Gerry Adams, was aimed at stunting “the rapid growth of Sinn Féin”.
In an interview with the Belfast Media Group the former IRA prisoner, who was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, said he was “innocent of any involvement” in the disappearance of the west Belfast woman.
“There is absolutely no need to use coercive legislation to deal with legacy issues but someone clearly wanted a headline-grabbing arrest,” he said.
However, he added “despite my arrest, we (Sinn Féin) will not allow old agendas to get in the way of progress.
“I will continue to support efforts to make the PSNI accountable”.
The senior Sinn Féin member said he was read transcripts of the Boston College tapes by detectives in Antrim who told him the names of the interviewees.
The interviews were carried out by former IRA man Anthon McIntyre as part of a project directed by journalist Ed Moloney.
While the former IRA members interviewed were given assurances that the recordings would be kept secret until after their deaths, a number of tapes were handed over to the PSNI following a legal battle in the USA.
Mr Storey, who was part of an IRA gang who escaped from the Maze in 1983, said having heard transcripts of the interviews he “understood” while those involved were keen to keep the project secret.
“They are shameful if not a bit pathetic… they are full of contempt, anger and vitriol.
“It was like listening to Walter Mitty and Billy Liar being interviewed by Lord Haw Haw. It all sounded like self inflated, ego tripping, propagandising rants.
“A typical question was like a mini speech with a question mark at the end of it. In everything they read out to me the question was four or five
times longer than the answer,” he added.
To date nine people — four men and five women — have been questioned in connection with the historic investigation into the murder of Mrs McConville.
One man Ivor Bell (77) has been charged with IRA membership and aiding and abetting the murder.
BOSTON TAPES READ TO STOREY
QUESTIONED: Bobby Storey is scathing about the tapes’ contents
Content ‘shameful and pathetic’ says SF chair
It was like listening to Walter Mitty and Billy Liar being interviewed by Lord Haw Haw. It all sounded like self inflated ego-tripping, propagandising rants.” Bobby Storey
BY ANTHONY NEESON
Saturday Edition, 6 December 2014 (published 4 December 2014)
EXTRACTS from the controversial Boston College tapes formed the basis of the interrogation of the leading Belfast republican Bobby Storey After his arrest last Thursday.
The Sinn Féin six county chair was questioned for several hours in Antrim Serious Crime Suite about an IRA investigation into the whereabouts of Divis mother- of-ten Jean McConville, who was abducted and shot dead by the IRA in 1972 before being secretly buried. Her remains were found in 2003.
The tapes were recorded as part of the now discredited Boston College Belfast Project in which conflict protagonists gave interviews on the understanding that they would not be made public until after their deaths.
Despite this, the tapes were handed over to the PSNI after a US court battle. Some interviewees say they now plan to sue Boston College.
Speaking to the Andersonstown News this week, Mr Storey said his arrest was politically motivated and followed a pattern which has seen the recent arrest of several senior republicans. He added that the arrests are an attempt to “thwart the rapid growth of Sinn Féin”.
“When the PSNI arrived at my home they said, ‘You’re under arrest as part of the investigation into the murder of Jean McConville.’ I replied,
‘Jean McConville? Seriously?’ such was the ridiculousness of it to me. The cop looked awkward. I said to my partner before I left, ‘This is the politics of the day, I’m arrested because I’m the chair of Sinn Féin in the six counties. This is about the party, not me.
‘Let me be very clear, I am innocent of any involvement in the conspiracy to investigate, abduct, kill or bury Mrs McConville. ”
The former IRA prisoner said his arrest could have been handed differently.
“There is absolutely no need to use coercive legislation to deal with legacy issues but someone clearly wanted a headline- grabbing arrest. There are two standards operating here. No British soldiers or RUC officers involved in killings, conspiracies or collusion are subject to the same treatment. But the nationalist community is not fooled by all this. The amount of support I’ve received since last week is phenomenal. I see that as a clear sign that people know well this is not about the tragedy around Mrs McConville. This is about assailing Sinn Féin.”
‘Boston tapes questions longer than answers’
“Our communities have watched on as the British government reneged on its commitment to hold an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, refuses a Hillsborough-type inquiry into the Ballymurphy Massacre and continues to cover up the role of the British state in collusion and killings.
“It all emphasises the need to deal with the past, not cynically exploit it. This is why we need a proper process such as that proposed by Richard Haass and Meaghan O’Sullivan.
“I want to also make it clear that, despite my arrest, we will not allow old agendas to get in the way of progress.
I will continue to support the efforts to make the PSNI accountable. Obviously this is work in progress, but I’m determined to work with others to build a genuinely civic policing service.”
Mr Storey said his questioning ran the gamut “from comedy to farce”.
“It was an almost surreal scenario where a very tragic situation was being used, in my firm opinion, as part of a political demonisation agenda against members of the Sinn Fein leadership,” he said. “I was presented with this following picture, which is becoming a recognised concoction against republicans in recent times.
“Person ‘A’ requests to meet the IRA. The IRA allegedly agrees to meet them to assist them. The meeting then allegedly takes place. Person ‘A’ subsequently goes to police to tell them about the supposed meeting. Person ‘A’ then wants the people they say they met charged with membership. So Person ‘A’ created and shapes the whole scene, then wants to use it to condemn who they say they met. This is the third such similar case in recent times.
“I was questioned on allegations from the infamous Boston tapes. Police told me the names of the interviewer on the tapes and the interviewees and the information that they provided on army volunteers, meetings, units, structures and operations, naming individuals and events.
“The tapes that were read out to me were read out in full – who said what. The PSNI told me these tapes were made in the belief they would not be released until after the interviewee’s death. It’s only when you listen to them that you appreciate why that proviso would be in there.
They are shameful, if not a bit pathetic.
“What strikes one upon listening to them is they are full of contempt, anger and vitriol. It’s also clear to me, listening to them, that truth is a casualty, as the interviewer and interviewee throw flowers at themselves as they demonise and ridicule everyone they regard as a political enemy.
“It was like listening to Walter Mitty and Billy Liar being interviewed by Lord Haw Haw. It all sounded like self-inflated ego-tripping, propagandising rants.
“The interviewer set the context and tone, and each question was leading by nature. A typical question was like a mini-speech with a question mark at the end. In everything they read out to me the question was four to five times longer than the answer. The answer was like an acceptance with the context of the question.”
Mr Storey says that despite his arrest Sinn Féin will “work flat-out making policing accountable”.
“We promote good civil policing in society and we condemn bad policing,” he said. “We need to get beyond the old agendas, this is policing at its poorest.
“We’ve had the party president arrested earlier this year and two councillors in the past few days, as well as myself. I would say most people would see it as politics.
“This is all going on at a time when two things are happening. There is a rapid growth in Sinn Féin and we are at our strongest since 1918. Our political opponents thought we had peaked at almost half a million votes in the European elections north and south. However, polls are indicating that our vision of a modern Irish republic based on equality continues to click with people.
“Secondly, we in Sinn Féin are the subject of the biggest demonisation campaign ever and it’s right across the island. Both these things are connected as our political opponents fear our vision.”
Old Wounds & Oral History: The Aftermath of the Belfast Project
The Kojo Nnnamdi Show WAMU.org
Wednesday, Jul 9, 2014
Boston College’s “Belfast Project” aimed to compile first hand accounts of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, collecting the oral histories of 46 former combatants with the promise of confidentiality. But after British prosecutors compelled the college to hand over contents from the archive, and detained a prominent political leader for crimes allegedly committed in the 1970s, many observers are worried the tapes could destabilize the country’s peace agreement. We explore the debate in Belfast and within American academic institutions.
Guests Zachary Schrag
Associate Professor, Department of History and Art History, George Mason University; Author, “Ethical Imperialism: Institutional Review Boards and the Social Sciences, 1965-2009” (Johns Hopkins)
Metro Columnist, The Boston Globe; co-author, “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice”
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
From WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to “The Kojo Nnamdi Show,” connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, we talk with journalist Louisa Lim about her new book, “The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Square Revisited.” But first, three decades of violent conflict in Northern Ireland, known as the Troubles that pitted the Nationalist Catholic Irish Republican Army or IRA against Protestant loyalists under the banner of the Ulster Volunteer Force or UVF, came to a tenuous end in 1998.
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
But the tensions and traumas of the time have remained close to the surface in Belfast, a fact driven home earlier this year when Gerry Adams, a long-time leader of Sinn Fein, the nationalist political party, closely linked the IRA, was arrested by police and questioned about the 1972 murder of a mother of 10. A move fueled by police in Northern Ireland, getting hold of information from an oral history project out of Boston College. An idea with altruistic goals but plagued with problems.
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
Here to bring us up to speed on the fallout and to help us understand the implications is Zachary Schrag. He’s a professor in the Department of History and Art History at George Mason College. His books include, “Ethical Imperialism: Institutional Review Boards and the Social Sciences,” and “The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro.” Zachary Schrag, thank you for joining us.
MR. ZACHARY SCHRAG
Delighted to be here.
Joining us by phone, from Boston, Mass., is Kevin Cullen. He’s a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and a Metro Columnist for The Boston Globe. He’s also co-author of “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice.” Kevin Cullen, thank you for joining us.
MR. KEVIN CULLEN
Kevin, Boston, which as you note, has long been seen as a moderate, so-to-speak, base of Irish-America. It may seem a natural home for a project, chronicling the troubles. What were the aims of this Boston College Project and who was behind it?
Well, first of all, it — the genesis of it was, sort of, in the heady days, right after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, ended the troubles as we knew them. And the idea was to create an oral archive to go and talk to the combatants, the people that fought and were willing to kill and were willing to die for what they believed in, at the time.
And so it was conceived that they would, you know, hire people on the ground, in Northern Ireland, who could get to these former combatants, interview them, record what they say and place it in an archive here at the Burns Library at Boston College, which is the biggest repository in the United States for Irish related issues. And the idea would be, it eventually, historians, journalists, people interested in this would read it after all — everybody that was involved in it had long since past. And that we might learn about the motivations, conflict and how conflict is resolved.
Unfortunately, there was a book published by the project director, Ed Moloney in 2010, which kind of signaled the fact that they had these interviews, they’re very specifically, the book was based on the interviews given by David Irvine, who was a leading loyalist, paramilitary, before he became a politician and Brendan Hughes who was known as the Dark. And he was a senior IRA man, very close to Gerry Adams at one time but then had a falling out with him over the direction of the peace process.
And in that book, Brendan Hughes implicated Gerry Adams in the murder and the abduction-murder and secret burial of Jean McConville. Eventually, the police and the — I think, the timing of all this is very questionable. The police decided they wanted that evidence, they thought that that could help them solving the murder of Jean McConville, 40 years after it happened. And that — thus began the, sort of, tug-of-war, pitting the issues of academic freedom, criminal investigation and, frankly, the political prosecution of cases of the past.
A lot of what this comes down to is, the Boston College Project, I think, was well intentioned. It hoped that it could somehow contribute to the understanding of conflict and hopefully, you know, promote resolution of conflict and maybe even the prevention of conflict. Instead it has become a political football and you have the case, I think, very disturbing case, of an American academic institution being used as a proxy investigative arm of a foreign government.
But one technicality here, if you will, and that is, Gerry Adams, it is my understanding, was in favor of the project but he was not in favor of the individuals to whom it was entrusted because he felt that they would bring a bias view to their presentation.
That’s true, he believes, as do many people in the Republican leadership, that Ed Moloney, the journalist, who was the project director and Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA prisoner, who did the research, who did the actual interviews of these people, they believed that they are bias, that they are opposed, that they have been on the record as being hostile to Adams and the rest of the leadership of the Republican movement. As Adams sees it, there’s no way that these guys would not ask leading questions. They would not — they would shape the research to get to a — get to a point where they want it to be.
The one thing I found interesting, when I was in Belfast, last week, in talking to some of the people that gave their interviews, yeah, they openly acknowledge that they don’t agree with Adams and the direction he took the Republican movement. But they said, that’s irrelevant to their history. The way they view it, if BC did not record their history, they would never — know one would know what they think because they fall outside the mainstream of Republican thought, these days.
So they are, sort of — they’re not dissidents in the sense they endorse the dissident groups that are carrying on violence now, but they’re certainly dissidents in the sense that they don’t agree with what the Republican leadership settled for. And they feel as though it’s very important that their side of the conflict is recorded for history.
Well, it was recorded for history but as Zachary Schrag, in most coverage, we’ve heard this collection at BT — BC, referred to as an oral history project. But that description may be it glosses over a very important fact, and that is, that the people conducting these interviews that were mentioned earlier, were not oral historians. Why is that important?
Right. So this was a project designed to document history but it was not a project run, for example, by the Boston College History Department. And, in fact, the history department at Boston College has been rather public in its dismay that it was not brought in. The interviewers at Moloney is journalist, the other interviewers, I believe, both have doctorates in political science, clearly these are related fields. But it does not necessarily flow that they were aware of the training in methods of oral history that go back several decades, since the historians started picking up tape recorders.
And this is not to say that historians have a lot of experience with subpoenas. We do have presidents where political scientists and sociologists have their interviewed subpoenaed and had people been more aware of this, then maybe they would’ve taken more precautions. But I do think it would’ve been possibly helpful to have more historians involved in the process, talking it over. As it is, neither the interviewers nor the Boston College librarians were able, between them, to work out all the implications of their plans.
Among oral historians, you just implied by saying what the Boston College History Departments responses, but among oral historians, this case has been closely watched. And you say, that some people are trying to distance themselves from the BC project, why?
Well, in an interview with the chronicle of higher education, Mary Marshall Clark of Columbia University, who’s certainly one of the leading oral history experts, repeatedly said this was not an oral history project. And, I think, what she meant by that was that there are, again, methods developed over the decades to try to avoid this kind of situation where promises are made and not kept. For a long time, oral historians have tried to offer narrators the option of sealing parts of their interviews, so that if there’s something that they think should be part of the historical record but are not quite ready to go public with, right then, it can be sealed for a matter of decades.
Now, again, we’ve not had a lot of experience in the profession with actually subpoenas coming in and so even if a bunch of expert archivists and historians had gotten together on this, it’s not entirely clear to me that they would’ve been able to come up with workable safeguards to allow this project to go forward.
If you have questions or comments for it, you can call us at 800-433-8850. What do you make of this BC project and the unintended consequences that it has had, 800-433-8850? You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet @kojoshow. Kevin Cullen, in the last decade, Belfast has changed dramatically in some ways and stayed much the same in others. What did you find in both respects on your recent visit?
Well, I mean, I’ve been going there for almost 30 years. So I kind of knew it in the bad old days and certainly from a cosmetic point of view, Belfast is shiny and new. I was so struck by the Fitzwilliam Hotel, which is just shear plate-glass window. And that would’ve been sheer folly to have that thing up in the ’70s and ’80s.
When bombs are going off everywhere.
Yeah. It just was — I mean, I actually — some of the richest people I met in Ireland, over the years in the North of Ireland, were glaziers because they’re very busy during that stuff. But it — the, sort of, underlying problems in that society, particularly, one of segregation, has not changed much in the year since the Good Friday Agreement. In fact, the, sort of, ironically named Peace Lines, they put walls up to separate working class republican nationalist areas from working class loyalist areas.
They’ve actually increased in numbers since the Peace Agreement. They’re many — I think, there are probably three or four dozen of them that have gone up in the intervening years. You know, it — when the Peace Agreement was signed in 1998, about five percent of kids in Northern Ireland went to integrated schools. That number has not changed one iota in the intervening years. So there’s sort of a — here in America, you know, in the Brown vs. Board of Education case, our Supreme Court made it very clear that separate but equal was not acceptable in the United States, under our Constitution.
But in fact, that is exactly how the society functions in Northern Ireland now. It is separate but equal. You know, there’s equal funding given to Catholic schools and state schools, which for all intensive purposes are Protestant schools. And the other thing that I really picked up on the ground, in there, is you know, when people talk about, you know, the North of Ireland, is this sort of, textbook case of how attractable conflicts can be resolved. That’s true as far as getting to say yes, in 1998.
But they really struggled since then to figure out how to deal with the legacy issues, to deal with the past. And I think the BC dilemma or conundrum, whatever you want to call it, debacle, fits into — with this micro — it’s a microcosm of the society not being able to confront, unlike, say, in South Africa where they had a very formalized truth and reconciliation process. They don’t have one in Northern Ireland and it shows. So you’ve had Peace Mail investigation, say, it’s a bloody Sunday and to different individual killings and controversy’s.
And then you have the BC thing with, sort of, this attempt at, well let’s put it out there and maybe historians will make sense of it down the road. And obviously that went to pot. But I think, it also, the reason it happened is that the Irish have not been able to figure out who gets to decide what their legacy is and who tells that story. And really, the stuff that I picked up on the ground, this was — this was really, even though it is a problem in the loyalist community, it’s much — a much bigger problem in the Republican community because there are Republicans fighting over who gets to tell the story.
And it’s obviously Sinn Fein is the mainstream, the political power. And then you have these people that have fallen away from that group and who actually resent that group. And so, that’s why the arms struggle of Irish Republicanism has been replaced by a legacy struggle.
Gotta take a short break. When we come back, we’ll continue this conversation on Boston Colleges oral history project and the Troubles in Northern Ireland. But you can still call us at 800-433-8850. What kind of rigor and standards do you think should be applied to oral history projects, 800-433-8850? You can send email to email@example.com, I’m Kojo Nnamdi.
Welcome back to our conversation on the Boston College oral history project and the troubles in Northern Ireland. We’re talking with Kevin Cullen. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a metro columnist for the Boston Globe. He’s co-author of “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice.” He joins us by phone. Joining us in studio is Zachary Schrag. He’s a professor in the department of history and art history at George Mason University whose books include “Ethical Imperialism: Institutional Review Boards and the Social Sciences,” and “The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro.”
Kevin, Gerry Adams’ address in May may have made international headlines but with conflicts raging around the world, it has since faded for many but not all. What kind of ripple effect is it having in Belfast?
Well, I think people are curious to see if in fact this is just, you know, a political show to drag him in before the elections. Frankly if it was an attempt by police to embarrass him, it had the opposite effect. Sinn Fein’s vote was surprisingly much better than expected, both in local and European elections, both north and south. So there is always that sort of tendency when the British authorities — or in this case, you know, the Police Service of Northern Ireland — when they are seen to do something that is seen as unfair, that will help Sinn Fein, not hurt it.
That said, I think people are sitting back and saying, are they going to charge him? And if in fact they do charge him, I think there could be a serious effect on the peace process if only it will allow the people that are trying to kind of radicalize a new generation to take up arms. They would — their hand would be strengthened. They would be able to go to young people in Northern Ireland and say, hey look at this the Sinners did everything the Brits asked them to do and look what the Brits are still doing to them. And they’re not — there’s a real level of hypocrisy that I’ve heard people talk about.
You know, the police agency that is demanding access to the entire oral history archive at Boston College refuse to submit their own records to the police ombudsman’s office which is trying to conduct an independent review of at least 60 cases in which police offices and British military officials were accused of extrajudicial killings during the troubles.
So, you know, you talk to people on the ground there, both in Republican and Loyalist camps, they say, oh yeah, the cops want to come after us but they won’t go after themselves. And so there’s a lot of frustration at that level.
Do have to mention the presence of the British, which is what Brendan in Vienna, Va. would like to remind us of. Brendan, your turn.
Kojo, thank you. You have a fascinating program today. I’m a George Mason University history graduate and Irish American, so a great show today. Yes, wanted to comment on the fact that in the introduction you mentioned a conflict between the Loyalist paramilitaries and the IRA. Just want to add that a man combatant would be the British Army in Northern Ireland who the IRA would certainly argue that they were in conflict with as part of a national liberation struggle to unite Ireland.
And also wanted to comment on the — since you mentioned the Loyalist paramilitaries on the collusion between the British government, the British Army and the Loyalist paramilitary. And I’ll take my comments off the air.
Thank you very much for your call. Kevin, the violence may have subsided but you note that language remains loaded in Northern Ireland. And sharing even an intensely personal story from the time can be dangerous. Explain to us what a tout is and what can happen to someone labeled as one.
A tout is the local slang for an informer. And it is probably the most provocative loaded term anywhere in the North of Ireland. And throughout the troubles, you know, touts would turn up with hoods over their heads, their hands tied behind their back and at least one bullet in their head. And it was obviously the most ignominious end for anybody in those circumstances.
And Irish history is replete with, you know, the whole — the specter of the informer hangs over so much of Irish rebellion down through the centuries. And so after Gerry Adams was arrested in May, graffiti appears all over parts of Belfast. And it said, Boston College touts, the implication being anybody who took part in the Boston College project was touting because they were talking about IRA operations.
Now I spoke specifically with two people who had been identified publically as having given interviews to BC. One is Ricky O’Rawe who was actually the spokesman for the hunger strikers in 1981. He was one of the blanket men who refused to wear prison uniforms when he was doing his time for IRA activity. Other fellow I talked to is Tommy Gorman, another IRA veteran I think spent about 13 years in prison for IRA activity, Escaped from prison twice.
They saw that as a direct threat on their lives. They believe that there are people, the erstwhile comrades who would consider themselves justified in killing them because the touted. That’s the way it’s being seen. And again, in the story I told — and this is — I didn’t even know about the story and, I mean, I had — I’m in Northern Ireland pretty regularly, but I somehow missed this one.
A few years ago a guy named Gerry Bradley who was a member of the IRA in North Belfast, he wrote his own book and he did not vet it. He did not send the manuscript for vetting with the Republican leadership. And after his book came out — and Jerry — in an interview he gave he said, you know, I didn’t name anybody. This was my story and I didn’t submit it for — I’m not going to have my story censored. And very shortly after the book came out, it appeared on the walls in the (word?) which is the neighborhood where Jerry lived. And he was accused of being a tout. And he eventually left his neighborhood and was despairing and he killed himself.
So there are real implications for this word and it’s thrown around kind of willy-nilly in circumstances like this. There are people pointing fingers at each other and publically accusing each other of being touts. And again, that is a word that carries enormous consequence in the North of Ireland.
Zachary Schrag, these tapes contain narrators implicating other in acts of violence, which raises all kinds of murky questions about slander, about liable. What recourse, if any, do those who took part in the project likely have?
Well, unfortunately there’s not good law right now. So Boston College has sent back the interviews to those it can. And Mr. Cullen’s article describes one set of interviews being burned by the person who gave it. In the long term we do have federal protections for some kinds of research, if you’re doing health research, for example, with sex workers or drug users who you know they commit crimes but you’re trying to do public health research, you can get protections from subpoena for that.
If you want to research criminals and are willing to burn the tapes afterwards, you can get shield law protections from the Department of Justice for that. But what we don’t have in U.S. federal law are broader protections where people doing this kind of research could really guarantee that the materials would not be released under subpoena. And until we have that we can’t get the kind of reconciliation that Mr. Cullen talked about.
As a journalist on a live broadcast, I ask a guest a question, you answer it. That answer’s out there for everyone to hear, maybe read at a later date, whether it’s tomorrow, five, ten years from now. But oral history works on a very different set of assumptions and procedures with a very different end in mind. The saying goes that journalists write the first draft of history, so what needs to happen to create a final or more definitive draft?
Well, ideally in an oral history project you go to a narrator, go back and forth multiple times, you do a recorded interview, you transcribe it, the narrator reads it, maybe adds some things, takes out some things. And what you’re trying to do is to get a polished finished narrative that the narrator thinks really represents his or her experiences in position. And that will last as an archive. It’s almost like writing a memoir only without limiting it to the relatively few people who have the time and money and resources to actually publish a memoir.
The problem, again, is that if there are going to be people coming into that process, either through subpoena, Freedom of Information Act requests, which is a problem for those of us who work at public universities, then that bond between interviewer and narrator is broken. And the narrator can’t be as candid as he or she would like. And you have to limit things to what’s on the record.
Fortunately for most oral history projects that’s fine. Most oral history projects are not about unsolved murders but it’s still unfortunate that we have this kind of project hanging over us and perhaps deterring future research.
Kevin Cullen, the nature of truth and memory issues of ownership of a story, who gets to write the history, all central to this current conflict. As a journalist who’s covered both international conflicts and written about the havoc wreaked by Whitey Bulger in Boston, what do you make of the chilling effect that remains in this case and so many decades after the fact?
Well, all I can tell you is the people that I interviewed who gave interviews said they would never in a million years have agreed to do it if they thought their stuff could come up before they died. They really — now, you know, we can go back and forth of whether BC was clear enough on this, whether the project director and the interviewers were clear enough on it to the people. But there’s no doubt in my mind talking to these people that they thought it was not going to come out until they were dead.
And so will it have a chilling effect? I would think it would have to. I would think any time you approach somebody and asked them to detail what is essentially the violation of laws or committing crimes, even if they would justify it as, you know, an act of war, an act of, you know, natural self determination, they would be — I would think they would be very cautious. They would point to this case. UI think it’s, you know, unmistakably true that this is a test case, that this has set a precedent. And I would say it set a very, very bad precedent. I think it’s bad for oral history. I think it’s bad for conflict resolution.
Because I remember, you know, there are guys on the Loyalist side I talked to, they really thought they were doing a public service. They thought they were helping people down the road. If people could see why they did what they did and also explain why they stopped when they stopped that lessons — valuable lessons about conflict and conflict resolution would be imparted. And now they feel that was all for naught. And as Plum Smith, one of the leading Loyalists puts it, he says, I don’t think anybody would ever sit down and give a candid account in a case like this again.
Well, Kevin, Northern Ireland’s peace process did not end with a Good Friday agreement or the 2006 amendment to it. Gerry Adams as part of a Sinn Fein delegation sat down with Prime Minister David Cameron last week. Where, in your — looking in your crystal ball, do you see the continued process going next?
Well, first of all, I don’t think it’s likely that we would go back to armed conflict. I mean, there are dissident groups on the ground, at least on the Republican side, who believe that they have the right to engage in armed struggle. That said, I think those days are really gone.
The other part of this is obviously that you can always reignite issues in Ireland with — if people are seen to be treated unfairly. And that’s why potential prosecutions that arise from this, I think, could have a dramatically detrimental effect on the peace process. But I think the other thing is, this issue of the past and dealing with it, I think it’s something that this society hasn’t really taken formal steps to handle with. The piecemeal nature of truth recollection or truth recovery I think has actually had a negative effect.
And unfortunately, you know, there is no Mandela in Northern Ireland. There is no archbishop Tutu. There is no person that you could point to as sort of being the arbiter of how we’re going to handle this. I mean, Richard Haass from the United States government is actually over there, and Megan O’Sullivan from Harvard. And they’ve been trying to help the Irish deal with their legacy issues. How do they deal with the past? How do Unionists celebrate their traditions without offending Nationalists and vice versa?
So I think this is something that’s going to go on. We’re in a post-conflict situation in Northern Ireland. And I think it’s that old truism. Sometimes it’s harder to keep the peace than to make the peace. And there are a lot of, a lot of struggles that this society has in front of it. And hopefully they will get through it.
And I’m afraid we’re just about out of time. Kevin Cullen is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a metro columnist for the Boston Globe, co-author of “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice.” Kevin, thank you for joining us.
Thank you, Kojo.
Zachary Schrag is a professor in the department of history and art history at George Mason University. His books include “Ethical Imperialism: Institutional Review Boards and the Social Sciences,” and “The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro.” Zachary Schrag, thank you for joining us.
BELFAST — Ricky O’Rawe picked up the package at his lawyer’s office downtown the first week of May.
It was a FedEx package, with a Chestnut Hill return address.
When he got back to his house on the Glen Road in West Belfast, O’Rawe opened the package and stared at its contents: transcripts, CDs, tapes. It was his story, the oral history he had given to Boston College, about his life in the Irish Republican Army.
The BC oral history project was envisioned as a treasure trove for historians to use in the future, as they seek to chronicle and comprehend the motivations of people who fought and killed and died here. But once hints about its controversial contents leaked out, it was police detectives, not academics, who began clamoring for the research.
O’Rawe was trying to figure out what to do with the returned materials when the police in Northern Ireland made the decision for him. On May 22, after the police announced they were seeking the entire Boston College archive, 60-year-old Ricky O’Rawe walked into his study, the walls lined with sepia-tinged photos of old comrades who died in the three decades of war that the Irish, with their propensity for understatement, call The Troubles.
He lit a fire and opened a bottle of Bordeaux. Then he threw his legacy, his story, his willingness to kill and be killed, onto the fire and watched it burn.
“It was a fine Bordeaux,” Ricky O’Rawe said. “It was a fine fire.”
If only it were as easy to get rid of the past in a country where some say there is no future, only history repeating, over and over again.
Here in Belfast, the BC archive, an academic exercise gone awry, has had the opposite of its intended, altruistic effect. An attempt to promote a kind of truth and reconciliation process in the North — a process never endorsed by or formalized by either government or civil society — the Boston College project has instead, at ground level in Belfast and beyond, engendered the sort of paranoia, furtive whispering, and fevered accusations that got people killed here for years.
It’s the new Troubles, a microcosm of the old, where individuals talk again of bloody conflict, this time over collective memories and the interpretation of what they all lived through. Some worry the personal disputes, and fear of potential prosecutions, that the BC interviews have given rise to could do serious damage to Northern Ireland’s hard-won, much-admired, but still-evolving and ever-fragile peace process.
. . .
Belfast is shiny now. New hotels on and off Great Victoria Street glisten with the sort of glass windows that would have been reckless folly back in the days when bomb blasts were a daily occurrence. The white noise of hovering British army helicopters has given way to a vibrant nightlife, fueled by Queens University students who spill into town from a South Belfast campus that used to be a citadel back in the bad old days.
But in the neighborhoods where those who fought the war reside, in the still-grim housing estates, in the less salubrious pubs where grudges and pints are nursed, progress is not measured by bigger pay packets. Debates about the point or the pointlessness of the war go on, sometimes heatedly.
For more than 30 years, as The Troubles raged, the weapons of choice here in the north of Ireland were bombs and bullets. Now they’re words, some spoken in confidence, others sprayed on gabled walls.
The words spoken in confidence were given by 46 former combatants to researchers hired by Boston College. The so-called Belfast Project aimed to compile an oral history of the men and some women who fought for the Catholic and nationalist IRA that wanted a united Ireland, and those men from the Protestant loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force, that wanted to maintain the union with the United Kingdom.
The former bombers and gunmen were promised that whatever they said would remain under lock and key, at BC’s Burns Library, until they gave their permission to release it, or until they died.
It was an inspired idea, hatched in the heady days immediately following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which effectively ended The Troubles, an idealistic time when, as the great poet and native son Seamus Heaney put it, hope and history rhymed.
But it turned out to be a promise BC either wouldn’t or couldn’t keep. When police here launched a legal effort to seize specific portions of the BC archive three years ago, and the college reluctantly complied, the IRA and UVF men who gave interviews wished they had listened to Heaney’s earlier admonition when, at the height of the murderous tumult, he wrote, “Whatever you say, say nothing.”
The words sprayed on walls, meanwhile, almost hiss the most provocative word in the local vocabulary: tout.
In Northern Ireland, tout is the local slang for someone who informs against his comrades to the authorities. It is a word loaded with venom and lethal history. In a country where there is conspicuous respect for the dead, touts were treated with the least dignity. They were dispatched unceremoniously with shots to the head, their heads hooded, their hands tied behind their backs, their bodies discarded in roadside ditches, like animals that had the misfortune of being hit by a car.
Two months ago, after disclosures from the oral history project led to the arrest and questioning of the Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams in the horrific 1972 abduction, murder, and secret burial of Jean McConville, a Belfast mother of 10, the words “Boston College Touts” were whitewashed on a half-dozen walls across West Belfast, long the IRA heartland.
It was not an idle, schoolyard insult. It never has been in a land where careless words routinely led to shallow graves.
As someone who has been publicly identified as one of those who gave interviews to BC, Tommy Gorman knows that word — tout — is aimed at him. It alternately infuriates and worries him. Gorman spent 13 years in prison for IRA activity. He escaped from prison twice, evincing a level of defiance and resistance that should have ensured him a place in Irish republican folklore. Instead, some of his former comrades level at him the worst accusation a republican can throw at another.
“I never said a word about other IRA volunteers,” he said, putting his coffee down in a pub in the Andersonstown section of West Belfast. “I gave Boston College a personal remembrance of a bloody time in our history. That’s it.”
Gorman, 69, believes his real crime was to break with the IRA and Sinn Féin leadership over the direction of the peace process. He says Adams and the rest of the leadership compromised too much for too little. He has said loudly and clearly that settling for a seat in a local government that upholds the partition of Ireland, and a system squarely fixed against the interests of the working class, rendered The Troubles, and the death and sacrifice accompanying it, an appalling waste.
“We were willing to kill people,” Gorman said. “We were willing to die. What has transpired is not worth a drop of anyone’s blood, whether it was a British soldier, an IRA volunteer, or an innocent civilian. I fought against the Brits. I’m going to fight against them [Sinn Féin], too. When you step out of line, they call you a tout.”
I asked Tommy Gorman if he is worried about getting arrested.
“No,” he replied flatly, “I’m worried about getting shot. Not by my erstwhile enemies but by my erstwhile comrades. They’d get away with it, too, because they’re in the pockets of the Brits.”
After he was released without charge following four days of questioning, Gerry Adams rubbished the Boston College project as a well-intentioned but naive effort that has been hijacked and exploited by the very people who liked it better when Northern Ireland was at war.
He said BC’s decision to entrust the project to journalist Ed Moloney, who wrote a book that was hostile to Adams, and Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA prisoner turned BC researcher who has also been openly critical of Adams, was flawed and guaranteed to produce an oral history that was disproportionately biased against Adams and the Sinn Féin and IRA leadership.
“Everyone has the right to record their history,” Adams said in a statement, “but not at the expense of the lives of others.”
Adams has led Sinn Féin, the political wing of the IRA, since 1983, but he has always denied being a member of the IRA, a denial that infuriates some of his former comrades. He was widely credited with persuading the IRA to put aside its violent campaign, to disarm and disband, and to commit itself to a united Ireland achieved through peaceful means. He and many others see the police interest in him and the McConville case as politically motivated, and he and others have warned that politically motivated policing could seriously undermine the peace process.
But if the police wanted to hurt Adams and Sinn Féin, his arrest in May seemed to have the opposite effect. Sinn Féin did better in the local and European elections, north and south, than expected.
In early May, Adams praised BC’s offer to return the oral histories to those who gave them, “before the securocrats who cannot live with the peace seek to seize the rest of the archive and do mischief.”
A few weeks later, police here did just that, announcing a legal bid to seize the whole archive. That move came after police were widely criticized for being interested only in allegations against Adams, while ignoring potential crimes by loyalists or British government agents, who routinely helped loyalists target nationalists for assassination throughout The Troubles.
While the police are steadfastly pursuing BC’s files, they are less enthusiastic about turning over their own for scrutiny. The Police Service of Northern Ireland has refused to turn over files sought by the police ombudsman’s office about cases in which either police or the British military were accused of engaging or being complicit in some 60 extrajudicial killings.
. . .
Boston College, through its spokesman, Jack Dunn, agrees with Adams’ assessment about the lack of diversity of opinion in the oral history. Kevin O’Neill, a professor of history at BC who read a transcript of one of the interviews, said the line of McIntyre’s questioning suggested a clear perspective rather than an objective approach.
Sitting at his kitchen table in Drogheda, a town in the Irish Republic situated between Dublin and Belfast, McIntyre, who spent 18 years in prison for IRA activity before getting his PhD in Irish history at Queens, scoffs at that criticism. First, he says, those criticizing the diversity of opinion don’t know who was interviewed. Only a handful have been identified, all of them openly critical of Adams, some convinced he ordered Jean McConville’s murder.
But, even if most of those or even all of those interviewed disagreed with the peace strategy Adams pursued, McIntyre’s American-born wife, Carrie Twomey, asks, “So what?”
“It would still be a valuable history,” she said. “It’s a perspective you won’t get in the official history.”
Tommy Gorman, an IRA veteran, agrees.
“The Shinners’ view of history is the established view,” he says, using the nickname for members and supporters of Sinn Féin. “Ours is the challenging view.”
Adams vehemently denies any involvement in McConville’s murder and says the allegations against him are from former comrades turned enemies. He emerged from his four-day detention saying that his police interrogators based their queries on what was contained in the BC archive. He said he was interviewed 33 times during his 92 hours in custody. “For all I know, I can still face charges,” he said upon his release. “One presumes they would have made a charge against me. But they offered no evidence against me whatsoever.”
Moloney and McIntyre dismiss Adams’ complaints, even as they remain indignant that BC capitulated so quickly to demands from the US Justice Department for portions of the archive, at the request of their British law enforcement counterparts.
Carrie Twomey, meanwhile, worries about the safety of her husband, not to mention herself and their son and daughter.
“When you call someone a tout in Ireland,” she says, “it has consequences.”
Indeed, it has. In 2005, after it emerged that Denis Donaldson, the former chief of staff for Sinn Féin in the local assembly, was an informant for British intelligence, his name and “tout” went up on the walls. He was shot to death in a cottage in Donegal where he had gone to live in disgrace.
An even more sobering story was that of Gerry “Whitey” Bradley, an IRA veteran from North Belfast. Five years ago, he wrote a book about his life in the IRA. But he refused to submit the manuscript to the leadership of the republican movement, as is expected, because he didn’t want it censored. Bradley said it was his story, not others’, to tell. He said he went out of his way not to implicate or name people who went on IRA operations with him.
As Bradley envisioned it, his story was almost a mini-version of the BC project, one man’s story. He thought it portrayed the IRA in a good light.
“The last thing I wanted to do was hurt people,” he told the Irish Republican News in 2009.
“As far as my story is concerned, it’s my story, what I went through, and what hundreds and thousands of people my age went through. It talks about the unsung heroes and their identities are kept to the minimum. . . . It explains to the outside world why we did this, why we dedicated our lives. I stepped out of the ranks to get this book out. I stepped out of line to do this. I don’t believe in censorship. I believe everybody has a right to their opinion.”
But not everybody believed Whitey Bradley had a right to his. Soon after the book was published, Bradley’s name and the word tout were whitewashed on walls in his Ardoyne neighborhood. He was shunned. He soon left Ardoyne.
“He was humiliated,” says Gerard “Hodgie” Hodgins, a former IRA prisoner who spent 20 days on hunger strike in 1981 before the IRA called it off. “He was a soldier. Not a politician.”
Overwhelmed by his ostracization and in poor health, Whitey Bradley drove to Carrickfergus Castle, a medieval edifice once controlled by English colonizers, and killed himself.
On the loyalist side of the divide here, there is also consternation, and deep worry, about what the police might do with the oral histories provided by former UVF gunmen. William “Plum” Smith, a former loyalist paramilitary, now works to reintegrate loyalist prisoners into the community. He gave BC an interview, hoping his experience would help others embroiled in conflict find a way toward reconciliation. He is appalled it is having the opposite effect.
Smith thinks the police seeking, and BC giving up, the tapes has ruined the possibility of any thoughtful effort to draw lessons and heal wounds from such a sustained period of violence and conflict. Smith doesn’t think anyone engaged in armed conflict will risk arrest, or worse, to help the “recovered truth” process.
Plum Smith and another leading loyalist, Winston “Winkie” Rea, called on BC to destroy the archive, but BC chose to offer to return the interviews to those who gave them.
While worried speculation and some angry finger-pointing is taking place in loyalist communities, the fallout in republican circles is far more poisonous and far more ominous.
That could be because the armed struggle of the IRA has morphed into an arm-twisting struggle over who gets to claim the republican mantle, however tattered it may be. It is a fresh manifestation of that repeating pattern, the past forever muscling into the present. Irish history is replete with examples of revolutionary movements putting aside their weapons to take up the reins of democratic power. In each instance, a rump of republican resistance refused to do so, remaining outside the mainstream and the establishment, fighting on. Eamon de Valera, for example, led the rebels who refused to go along with the compromise with the British that created the Irish Free State in 1922; when de Valera came in from the cold and took power in the fledgling Irish Republic, he turned out to be harsher against the IRA rump he once led than the British were.
None of those identified as taking part in the Boston College project support the armed dissident groups, such as the Real IRA, who continue to use violence to seek their holy grail: a united socialist republic encompassing the entire island of Ireland.
Ricky O’Rawe is one who believes violence is futile now. In hindsight, he believes it was futile all along. O’Rawe’s falling out with Adams and the rest of the republican leadership can be traced to the 1981 hunger strikes, when Bobby Sands became the first of 10 men to starve themselves to death while demanding they be treated as political prisoners.
O’Rawe, who was in prison at the time and served as the hunger strikers’ spokesman, was one of the so-called IRA blanket men, who refused to wear prison uniforms and instead wrapped themselves in blankets. In 2005, he wrote an explosive book that accused Adams and IRA leaders of letting six of the 10 hunger strikers die, rather than accept a compromise with the British government. Adams and other republican leaders insisted O’Rawe was bitter and delusional. Many others believe O’Rawe, noting that the prospect of IRA men being seen as martyrs willing to die for principle gave the republican movement its biggest propaganda coup during a long and dirty war.
“What you’re seeing today, in the recrimination over the Boston College project, is really just a wider example of the whole intolerance for dissent within the republican movement,” O’Rawe said. “The irony is, I agree with the peace. I just disagree with the party. I think the war was an act of folly. It couldn’t be won. It took someone like Adams — Machiavellian, devious, determined, able to talk out of both sides of his mouth — to end this act of folly. I give him full credit for that. I’m glad he gave up the guns. I just disagree with the Stalinism, the idea that you can’t disagree with the leadership.”
. . .
At one level, the fallout from the BC project demonstrates that Northern Ireland is no longer the place it was. Disputes that used to get settled with a gun have, so far, been confined to bitter words and to people retaining lawyers.
O’Rawe has sued Boston College for breach of contract, contending he was misled into believing his account would not be used against him in a court of law. O’Rawe doesn’t understand why BC turned over his tapes because he said he knew nothing about the McConville case. He was in a different IRA unit than the one that abducted McConville.
“I knew [nothing at] all about Jean McConville,” he said. “It was D Company, in the Lower Falls, that did that. I was in Ballymurphy,” farther up and off the Falls in West Belfast.
One of the great, sad ironies in this whole debacle is that Boston in general and Boston College in particular had been regarded fondly in many parts of Northern Ireland as having played a largely positive role in the peace process. Boston was always seen as the moderate base of Irish-America, less in thrall to extremists, more focused on finding middle ground, even as it welcomed former revolutionaries from both sides of the divide who said they were determined to use peaceful means to achieve political ends.
BC, meanwhile, did more than any American university to engage both the political and civil society on both sides of the Irish border. BC has hosted hundreds of politicians, journalists, civil servants, and peacemakers from Northern Ireland over the years. But, in all this bitter recrimination, the Boston brand has suffered in Ireland.
Last week, Anthony McIntyre was listening to the radio when the song “More Than a Feeling,” by Boston, came on.
“It used to be one of my favorite songs,” he said. “But when it came on the other day, I was, like, ‘Screw it. I hate it now.’ I don’t like anything that has Boston in it now.”
Vortex of violence ensnared innocents such as Irish priest
By James F. Burns
Special to The Sun The Gainesville Sun
7 June 2014
“Father! Come quickly — a terrible road accident and a lad needs last rites.” A knock on the door had summoned the Rev. Eugene McCoy to a sacred task. The Irish priest left in such haste with the men at his door that he forgot his rosary beads.
McCoy became suspicious when the car ferrying him to the accident scene suddenly swerved off the main road and pulled up in front of a ramshackle mobile home in a remote location. Taken inside, he was led to a back bedroom when he found a distraught young man bound hand and foot on the bed.
The priest had been tricked — but for a holy purpose — into being part of a paramilitary execution. He begged for Eamon Molloy’s life but to no avail. Death sentences are seldom commuted by the Irish Republican Army.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams is a master magician. At least, that was Ed Moloney’s allegation in his 2002 book “A Secret History of the IRA.” Adams could make people disappear. He also excelled as a tightrope walker, gingerly treading the line linking politics with paramilitary activity. He would even carry coffins at IRA funerals and said he supported the IRA — but was never a member, mind you, another Houdini-like escape.
And like every good magician, Adams didn’t like secrets leaking out. Snitches were snuffed. And then made to disappear. Someone high up in the IRA command structure — Adams’ republican critics have nicknamed him “Itwasntme” — suggested that dumping bodies in the street had lost its deterrent effect and could even be embarrassing. Presto, Jean McConville, mother of 10, disappeared — for 31 years. Likewise, no one seemed to know where Eamon Molloy was — for 24 years. And so on.
And then the story moves to County Louth, Ireland’s littlest county and one right smack on the border created by the 1920 partition of Ireland into the six-county British province of Northern Ireland and the 26-county Irish Republic. The IRA was waging a war to erase that border; IRA math said that 26 + 6 = 1, i.e., a united Ireland. Their primarily-Protestant opponents did a different math, pointing out that “6 into 26 won’t go,” emphasis on “won’t” and with their own loyalist paramilitaries as enforcers.
Inevitably, the vortex of violence spilled over the border, ensnaring innocents such as McCoy, a County Louth parish priest. Louth was an ideal location for launching IRA attacks, secretly burying bodies, safe houses and field-testing bombs.
The 1998 Northern Ireland peace agreement turned terrorism to truce for the most of the combatants but left a lot of legacy issues unresolved, such as unsolved murders and parade route and flag issues. But life went on, and efforts evolved to understand the three decades of chaos and killing.
One post-peace project was Boston College’s collection of oral histories — confessions, if you will — by both IRA and loyalist terrorists, a valuable resource for future research. The 46 participants were supposedly given an iron-clad guarantee that their taped testimony would remain sealed until after their deaths.
But U.S. law was “treaty-trumped” in court by a bilateral agreement with the U.K., allowing release of some tapes for criminal investigation of Jean McConville’s murder. And the deaths of two terrorists had already allowed Ed Moloney to convert their tapes into another book laden with more accusations against Gerry “Itwasntme” Adams.
Sorrow knows no border, grief no religion, pain no politics — which is to say that all families, all friends, who have had their loved ones murdered during the Troubles deserve sympathy and support. The recent 40th anniversary of the dastardly loyalist bombings of Dublin and Monaghan that claimed 33 lives, including a mother and her two infant daughters, bears witness to the heartbreak on both sides of the border, both sides of the sectarian divide.
And who could not feel compassion for poor Father McCoy, caught up in a killing he could not stop. And there’s the final Irish irony of this sad tale. Resolved to administering last rites to Eamon Molloy, he realized that he had indeed forgotten his rosary beads in the hasty departure from home.
In a mix of the sacred with the sordid, one of the IRA men reached into his pocket and handed the priest his own rosary beads. Was it the same hand that then pulled the trigger?
James F. Burns, a retired University of Florida professor, formerly taught at Boston College and also stayed in County Louth with his family while on sabbatical in the British Isles.
When Gerry Adams was arrested for the murder in 1972 of mother-of- ten Jean McConville Sinn Féin claimed it was “political policing. The arrest of a high profile political leader during an election could hardly be anything else. That the intention to question him was notified by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to the highest levels of government in advance and that this government tells us it is keeping Washington informed is simply confirmation.
Yet when it comes to explaining what this political policing amounts to, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness claims lamely that the arrest is due to a “small cabal” of police officers, “an embittered rump of the old RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary)”. McGuinness claims that other police sources have described these people as the “dark side”.
So it’s not really political policing but a “rump” that presumably can be dealt with.
Yet Sinn Féin hasn’t asked for this but just a vague wish that the episode is “resolved in a satisfactory way”. Meanwhile the party will continue to “support the reformers who have made a massive contribution to policing” while saying that if it “does not work out the way that it should” the party will review the situation “in the context of continuing with a positive and constructive role in a vitally important peace process”.
However the press conference at which all this was said was really about a threat to reverse its previous political support for the PSNI, an event that would precipitate yet another crisis in the never-ending peace process.
But how can Sinn Féin complain of political policing when it supports this policing? How can it issue vague hopes that everything turns out ok when it also claims that policing is accountable? Why is it threatening to withdraw support (in a very vague and indirect way) when it can hold the police to account for its actions? Why doesn’t it just do that?
Graffiti has gone up in West Belfast attacking “Boston College Touts” (informers), i.e. those who gave their accounts of their own and Adams’ involvement in the IRA and its abduction of Jean McConville to the American institution , the acquisition of which may be the basis of his arrest.
Yet how can these people be touts when Sinn Féin supports the PSNI and has called for everyone to give the police whatever information they have on the actions of republicans (i.e. the dissidents)? The hypocrisy involved is as staggering as it is completely unselfconscious.
McGuinness claims that “Sinn Féin’s negotiations strategy succeeded in achieving new policing arrangements, but we always knew that there remained within the PSNI an embittered rump of the old RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary).” Yet it never made any qualification when it announced its original support for the PSNI.
Does this mean it only supports part of the PSNI or only partly support the PSNI? Which part? How is everyone else supposed to know which part to support? How would it and everyone else partly support the PSNI?
How can such a situation exist when Sinn Fein is in government? How could the brilliant negotiators of Sinn Fein agree to a deal to support the police without getting a guarantee its leader would not be lifted for allegations made years ago?
Why is Sinn Féin making such an issue of Adams’ arrest when it never threatened to withdraw support from the PSNI when the PSNI spent months allowing loyalist crowds, led by the UVF, to disrupt everyone else trying to get home during the flags protests?
Why did it not threaten to withdraw support when these illegal parades were allowed by the PSNI, in fact the PSNI met with organisers to arrange them, and not do so when these parades attacked the small Catholic area of the Short Strand? Only this week a judge found the PSNI (all of it, its leadership included and not just some “rump”) guilty of failing to enforce the law when it came to illegal loyalist parades.
Again these last few weeks drunken loyalist paramilitary mobs have taken down legal election posters and put up their own flags on main roads in Belfast, right in front of police stations, while the PSNI has told local residents on no account to take them down. Is it only Sinn Féin’s leaders who must be protected from the “dark side”?
And why indeed should Adams be protected? He denies any responsibility for Jean McConville’s killing but then he also denies ever being in the IRA. Other former IRA members, with unimpeachable republican credentials, have admitted their involvement and claimed Adams was in on it.
As the recently deceased IRA member Dolours Price put it “I wanted very much to put Gerry Adams where he belonged and where he had been. We had worked so closely with him, on many occasions and taken orders from him on many occasions and then to deny us, particularly after we had been through such a harrowing experience in prison … we were offended that he chose to deny us as much as he chose to deny his belonging to the IRA. To deny it is to offend those of us who partook in what we partook in.”
The message on the hill overlooking Belfast calls for the truth about the British Army murders of 11 people in Ballymurphy in August 1971, an enquiry into which has just been rejected by the British Government, but the same demand can apply to Adams.
But bad as these questions are for Sinn Féin none of them get anywhere near the biggest problem it has. And this problem is that Adams would not have been arrested if the British Government had not given it the ok. The political policing of which Sinn Féin speaks is not the actions of a “small rump” but the actions of a state.
That Sinn Féin should peddle the line of ‘sources’ within the PSNI that what is involved are the actions of “dark forces” against the reformers, “the many progressive and open-minded elements” of the PSNI that McGuinness hallucinates, is to swallow the old good-cop bad-cop tactic that old IRA men must have been warned about if caught or arrested. That this is now the line of Sinn Féin shows how far it has travelled and so low it has sunk.
Swallowing and parroting this means buying into the designs of the British state just as much as swallowing the good cop line gives you the bad cop result. What this means has been signalled by the British Government.
Recent speeches by Teresa Villiers, the NI Secretary of State, have glossed over the refusal of the Unionists to accept the deal offered by US diplomat Richard Haas, and supported by the British state itself, and have conciliated their intransigent line, which itself is a play to extreme loyalism. So the crimes of the state, never investigated with any seriousness it has been revealed, are even more to be airbrushed out of existence and instead it is the crimes of the “terrorists” which must be centre stage. The role of state forces in sponsoring these terrorist gangs will of course also be occluded.
So the past will more and more become the one imagined by unionism. Parades? Well the Parades Commission has given every evidence that its restrictions on loyal orders can be ignored with impunity. Getting a form of words that ends with the same result might not be difficult given even a minimal willingness of loyalism to engage with Catholic residents whose neighbourhoods they parade in. Flegs? Well we have noted the PSNI’s preference to let drunken loyalist mobs put up whatever symbols of intimidation they want.
That about completes the Haas agenda but even these do not signal the end game and this too is coming more into focus in a statement of Villiers.
In a speech widely reported, but the reporting of which missed its most significant element, Villiers anticipated the rewriting of the political deal on which Sinn Féin can claim success. She foresees the “evolution” of the power-sharing institutions towards them having an opposition.
The whole point however of these institutions is that no one is in opposition, in particular nationalists are not put into opposition by unionists who have not demonstrated any capacity to act in other than a sectarian fashion.
It’s put in the usual honeyed words:
“The third way in which politics could be moved forward here is through the evolution of the devolved institutions.
Let me be clear, power sharing and inclusivity are enshrined in the Belfast Agreement and the government is not going to undermine any of those principles.
. . . Yet at the same time nobody can plausibly argue that the institutions must be set in stone for all time.
Political institutions the world over adapt and change.
As the founding father of modern Conservatism – the Irishman Edmund Burke – once put it:
‘A state without the means of change is without means of preservation.’
And there are inherent weaknesses in a system in which it is very difficult to remove one’s rulers by voting and to choose a viable alternative.
That’s why this government is clear that we would welcome moves that facilitate a more normal system at Stormont that allows for formal opposition, so long as a way can be found to do this which is consistent with power sharing and inclusivity.
But we also believe that if or how this happens really has to be primarily for parties in the Assembly to take forward, not least because it is so firmly within the Assembly’s competence to deal with those matters that might characterise an opposition, such as speaking rights, financial assistance and committee chairmanships.”
So at the moment the British Government would be quite happy for the Stormont regime to have parties outside Government if this was accepted by these parties, if it was voluntary. No longer is this anathema, no longer is such a suggestion the antithesis of what the new arrangements are about. Now this is both a viable and even preferred destination.
But of course it has to be voluntary. Since having the nationalists in opposition is the primary objective of unionism such a policy stance is not so much a disinterested, absent-minded meandering on possible future directions as an incentive for unionism to get nationalists, or at least Sinn Féin, out of Government, “voluntarily”.
This is not actually the preferred British solution but it is testimony to how far it will go to keep unionism inside the existing deal that it floats ideas that while mollifying unionism actually increase instability.
That it only undermines the deal more and more by emboldening unionism and feeding its triumphalist agenda demonstrates only the continuing contradictions within the imperialist settlement – continuation of a sectarian state and sectarian political arrangements while hoping that this sectarianism can be made innocuous or at least reduced to an acceptable level, just as there used to be an “acceptable level of violence.”
So the incentive for unionism is to continue not to work the existing institutions while seeming to maintain a modicum of good faith, obstruct and provoke Sinn Féin as much as it can without damaging itself and hope that the sheer impossibility of Sinn Féin putting up with its obvious powerlessness gets the right reaction.
Unfortunately for them it is perfectly obvious that Sinn Féin will cling to the Stormont regime like grim death with no humiliation too embarrassing and no rebuke too severe for it to walk away. Sinn Féin will hold on to the appearance of power even when this appearance has gone.
But if clinging to the trappings of office becomes the main objective the point of actually having it – making changes – grows ever less important. Being in office in the North is important for Sinn Féin getting into office in the South and it believes that it being in office in both Irish states on the centenary of 1916 will be a powerful symbol.
Indeed it will. It will symbolise that the party has realised its strategy but that this strategy is ultimately a failure. A Sinn Féin in government in both partitioned states will still leave both partitioned states in place. Sinn Féin will simply sit over both. Should it stay in office the sight of it doing so will prove no more remarkable than the sight of Sinn Féin toasting the Queen of Great Britain.
How quickly can illusions be shattered. Fresh from congratulating themselves and being congratulated by the chattering classes for its wearing of white tails and standing for “God save the Queen” the acceptance of the privileges of the British monarchy is rammed home by her state exercising its powers as it sees fit.
Why toasting the symbol of oppression should lessen this oppression or limit its exercise can nowhere be explained by Sinn Féin. When one swallows the toast there can be little complaint when one has to swallow a whole lot more.
Whatever the outcome of Adams’ arrest the whole exercise is a brutal demonstration of Sinn Féin failure and it will cost it in the long run. The grounds for creation of an alternative are clearer but unfortunately there is no sign yet that any such alternative is arising or has some progressive working class content.