We mustn’t turn historians into informers

We mustn’t turn historians into informers
Ben Macintyre
Sunday Times
May 2 2014

The enforced handover of taped evidence by paramilitaries from the Troubles will have a chilling effect on research

Three years after the Good Friday agreement a group of historians and researchers affiliated to Boston College in Massachusetts set out to gather an oral history of the Troubles by interviewing paramilitaries on both sides of the conflict.

The rules were simple: IRA and loyalist veterans could speak freely on the strict understanding that the tapes would not be released until after their deaths.

Over the next five years the researchers, including a former IRA prisoner, gathered a remarkable trove of information about the last 40 years of violence in Northern Ireland. A total of 176 interviews were recorded with 46 people who, believing they were speaking to posterity, revealed secrets they would never have divulged otherwise. The tapes were securely locked away in the Burns Library at Boston College.

Brendan Hughes, the former IRA commander who was one of the key participants in the project, died in 2008. It subsequently emerged that Hughes’s taped interviews included the allegation that Gerry Adams had directly ordered the “disappearance” of Jean McConville, the widow and mother of ten, kidnapped and murdered by the IRA in 1972.

The IRA veteran Dolours Price, the Old Bailey bomber who died last year, claimed she had made similar allegations about Adams’s involvement in interviews for the “Belfast Project”.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland, scenting a breakthrough in the most chilling of “cold cases”, launched a legal bid in the US to obtain the tapes, citing the US-UK mutual legal assistance treaty.

After a protracted two-year legal battle that reached all the way to the US Supreme Court, Boston College was eventually forced to surrender portions of the relevant tapes. Adams, who has always denied any involvement in the murder of McConville, was arrested on Wednesday night.

At stake here are two different, but complementary principles of justice: a legal accounting set against the search for a wider historical truth; the protection of academic freedom versus the state’s duty to solve a heinous crime.

The murder of Jean McConville was savage in the extreme. There is no evidence to support IRA suspicions that she was an informer; her crime was to help an injured British soldier. She was torn from her family, executed with a shot to the head and buried on a remote beach. In a particularly vile twist, her children were told that she had abandoned them.

Anything that brings the killers to account should be applauded, but the way the taped evidence has been obtained in this case comes with a heavy cost. The Supreme Court was given the task of balancing the protection of historical research against the interests of the US government in upholding treaty obligations to Britain. It ruled that criminal investigation takes precedence over academic study.

The gathering of confidential oral history is central to any process of truth and reconciliation. As the South African experience shows, finding out what happened, based on the honest, unforced testimony of those involved, is as much a part of the healing process as punishment of the guilty.

Source protection is not just a central pillar of journalism, but vital to any sensitive historical inquiry. My own book research into intelligence and espionage history would be impossible without being able to make, and keep, a promise to my sources of permanent anonymity. The researchers on the Belfast Project set out, in good faith, to uncover history but have now been turned into police informers, arguably putting both interviewers and interviewees at risk.

The Belfast Project was intended as an important addition to the peace process, to obtain as full an account of what happened as possible. Diverting the project from the library to the courtroom has already had a chilling effect on historical research: others, including former members of the RUC, who were once prepared to come forward with their own accounts have backed off since the US court ruling.

Retrieving the memories of all sides in the conflict is vital to understanding, demystifying and ultimately defusing an explosive past. If the witnesses to grim events fear prosecution for telling the truth in confidence, then that history cannot move on.

There is no certainty that the Boston tapes will be admissible in court: the interviewees were not under oath and were not given any legal warning about self-incrimination. Neither Hughes nor Price can be cross-examined, since both are dead; Price’s testimony is particularly open to challenge since she was on day release from a psychiatric hospital when she was interviewed.

The archived interviews in Boston are believed to contain evidence relating to at least 16 more abductions and killings; they may also contain testimony about atrocities committed by loyalists. If the British courts demand an accounting from one side, will they also pursue the other?

British police have been hunting the killers of Jean McConville for 42 years without success. The breakthrough came not from dogged police work but by using the US courts to extract bona fide historical research obtained in good faith.

As one of the Belfast Project researchers put it: “Journalists, academics and historians need protection if they are to gain the necessary information which offers a valuable insight into the past.”

The McConville family deserves justice; but historians who seek to explore the past also have a right to uncover the truth.

Surveillance claims over Boston College tapes reported to Irish police

Surveillance claims over Boston College tapes reported to Irish police

Wife of ex-IRA prisoner involved in recordings has asked Garda to investigate phone and email spying allegations

Henry McDonald, Ireland Correspondent
The Guardian
Friday 23 May 2014

The wife of an ex-IRA prisoner who was the key researcher involved with the controversial Boston College archive tapes has complained to the Irish police that her phone and email communications are being spied on.

Carrie Twomey told the Guardian on Friday night she wants the Garda Síochána to investigate her claims that her family are being subjected to electronic surveillance.

Her husband Anthony McIntyre recorded and collated the recorded testimonies of dozens of former IRA activists, some of whom have claimed on tape that Gerry Adams ordered the death and secret disappearance of mother of ten Jean McConville in 1972.

The Sinn Féin president has always denied any involvement in the kidnapping, killing and covert burial of the widow, who the IRA accused of being a British Army informer.

Since Adams was arrested earlier this month and questioned for four days by detectives about the McConville murder, McIntyre and the founder of the Boston College-Belfast Project, Ed Moloney, have come under sustained verbal attacks. Sinn Féin councillors and their supporters have labelled them “Boston College Touts” – a euphemism for informers.

Twomey said she was certain that her phone calls and emails had been subject to “illegal privacy violations” in recent weeks.

The blogger and writer said a recent communication between herself and the US embassy in Dublin had been compromised and its contents leaked to a Sunday newspaper in Belfast.

“I haven’t a clue who precisely is carrying out the surveillance – it might be the NSA in the States, GCHQ in Britain or even the Provisional IRA’s spying department. But whoever is doing it this is an offence in Irish law and I want the Garda to take it seriously. ”

She added that the alleged surveillance was linked to the recent announcement that the Police Service of Northern Ireland wanted to seize all of the Boston College-Belfast Project tapes, even those not related to the McConville murder, which the police currently hold in Belfast.

Ed Moloney has urged the US government to resist police demands that all of the remaining tapes detailing paramilitary testimonies be sent to Belfast.

Moloney said that to allow a raid on “an American college’s private archive will be to undermine a peace deal that was in no small way the product of careful American diplomacy and peace building. The United States has the power to invoke vital foreign policy interests in order to reject this PSNI action.”

The author of a critically acclaimed history of the IRA added: “I also called upon Boston College to vigorously resist this action and to rally the rest of American academia in the cause of research confidentiality.”

Participants in the Belfast Project, both former IRA members and ex loyalist paramilitaries, are currently involved in legal action to take back their tapes. Many of the loyalists want the material destroyed fearing future arrests over past Troubles-related crimes. All of those who took part agreed to do so on the condition that the tapes would not be released until they were dead.

If the PSNI seizes all of the Boston College archive material it could lead to dozens of veteran IRA and loyalist paramilitaries being arrested.

Twomey said: “These claims now circulating are a direct result of a phone conversation I had with the embassy on Wednesday 14 May, 2014 and subsequent email correspondence sent Thursday 15 May, 2014, in which I highlighted the heightened risk to our safety and the safety of the participants in the project as a result of Sinn Féin’s orchestration.

“That contents/aspects of our communication, however inaccurately spun, appeared days later in a Sunday tabloid is a matter of serious concern, not least because of the privacy violations and increased risk it indicates.

“I have requested from the [US] State Department a formal investigation into how information that I had raised our safety with the embassy last week ended up in the papers. Either our phone/email is compromised, or the embassy’s communications are, and/or there has been a serious breach of protocol and illegal privacy violations have occurred.”


Gerry Adams: Arrested by Northern Ireland’s past

Gerry Adams: Arrested by Northern Ireland’s past
Kevin Rooney
Spiked Online
2 May 2014

Northern Irish politicians have allowed the ghosts of war to rule the present.

It was 11 in December 1972 when Jean McConville was taken from her home down the road from where I lived in West Belfast. It was not until 1999 that the Provisional IRA admitted responsibility for her killing and informed the authorities where the body was buried.

You would hardly know it from the current media coverage of McConville’s killing, following the arrest of Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams in connection with it this week, but McConville’s disappearance was not the stand-out event of 1972. There was a lot going on in West Belfast. Just a few years before McConville disappeared, the British state had sent the Army into Northern Ireland to occupy our streets and quell the growing civil-rights uprising. In 1971, the British had introduced internment without trial for those same civil-rights activists who were defying bans on demonstrations. And in the same year as McConville’s disappearance, on Bloody Sunday, the Army shot dead 14 unarmed people who had taken to the streets with thousands of others to protest against internment. And there was more. About 500 people died on all sides in the Irish war in 1972 and, in the weeks running up to McConville’s disappearance, 11 people were shot dead by British paratroops in the streets around Ballymurphy where I lived. There were also numerous republicans and Catholic civilians assassinated by British soldiers acting on information from touts (informants). Indeed, the IRA killed McConville because they believed she was a tout.

I would apologise for the quick history lesson were it not for the fact that Adams’ arrest seems to have prompted a rather more selective retelling of that period, with journalists and commentators presenting this event as a uniquely brutal and heinous crime carried out by cold-blooded murderers. It was not; it was part of a war.

The reason you will not hear anyone else present this wider context is that in Northern Ireland today a social and political history of the Irish war has been replaced by a victims’ history of that war. We now rarely talk about the fundamental conflict at the heart of this long war – the struggle of Irish nationalists for a united Ireland against the British state determined to maintain the union with Britain. So fundamental was this political principle that people on both sides were willing to kill and be killed for it. Both the IRA and the British Army continued to fight for many years knowing full well that innocents would die, that normal peacetime values would be perverted, and that things never tolerated in peacetime would be justified by both sides. The IRA stated clearly that informers were legitimate targets; in 1981, the then UK prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, allowed 10 men to die on hunger strike rather than concede the principle that they were political prisoners.

But today, few are prepared to provide the context, or to explain the wartime backdrop against which the killings and the bombings took place. Instead, we talk about the legacy of pain and hurt left by individual deaths. We talk of the need for closure and catharsis, and of the rights of victims. Therapeutic politics has usurped politics proper, and anyone daring to suggest we should leave the past behind and ‘move on’ is lambasted by Northern Ireland’s victims’ commissioner. Our political news programmes, like Today and Newsnight, replace political actors with family members and the spokespeople for victims’ groups. And when politicians do appear, they talk about victims’ rights rather than politics.

But the victim culture embraced by all shades of political opinion presents problems for all. Sinn Féin has virtually transformed itself into the party of victims in recent years; it must often have felt that this approach had finally given nationalists the equality they failed to achieve through an armed struggle. After all, if all suffering is equal, then the nationalist community can certainly claim its fair share of grief.

However, as Gerry Adams languishes in a police cell, he should reflect on the way that he and his party have been hoist by their own petard. He was only too happy to turn the complex political struggles of the past into a tale of victims and victimisers when it benefited him; now this strategy appears to have bitten him.

The British and Irish governments clearly want to move on and are prepared to issue limited apologies and make symbolic gestures and compromises. But the constant dredging up of the past is preventing the progress they seek. The next 10 years in Northern Ireland look set to be dominated by backward-looking commemorations and investigations into past crimes that are likely to be bitter and divisive.

I am not interested in re-fighting the war in Ireland through the lens of the victims. No one listening to the children of Jean McConville telling their story can feel anything other than pity and sympathy. It was a terrible tragedy and it wrecked their lives. But it does not follow that those who suffered during this period of history should get to block progress and keep us in the past. Victim culture is essentially undemocratic. This was demonstrated recently when a campaign by one victim’s family resulted in two Sinn Féin politicians being barred from holding office because of their past IRA activity.

While it might be necessary to accept that we may not see a united Ireland in our lifetimes, we can at least ensure that we do not spend the next 10 years obsessing over each tragic act from a long, drawn-out conflict. Revelling in this mawkish and divisive raking over of the past will do no one in Ireland any good – least of all the victims. We should instead learn the lessons of the war and work together to create a progressive and less divided political future.

Kevin Rooney is a writer and based in London.

Source Protection Be Damned: Just Get a Scoop

Source Protection Be Damned: Just Get a Scoop
Anthony McIntyre
The Pensive Quill

The attempt by NBC News to plunder the Boston College oral history archive is nothing short of reprehensible journalistic pirating. I first learned of it when roused from my sleep around 4 am this morning by my wife who had been alerted by a friend to the story when Ed Moloney ran it as breaking news on his blog, The Broken Elbow. She and I were both outraged by it.

The “breaking news” on Ed Moloney’s site was a letter from NBC News asking U.S. Federal Judge William Young to turn over the Belfast Project transcripts to them. In its action, the network is attempting to make a flawed public interest claim in an attempt gain access to the confidential materials and sources at the heart of the Belfast Project.

After a prolonged battle in American courts buttressed by a legal fight in a British courtroom we might be forgiven for imagining that journalists and media outlets would be more sensitive than usual to the need for source protection in light of the sustained assault on the Boston College Archive by British political policing agencies.

There are two kinds of issues when it comes to the public interest. There is the public’s right to know what their government is doing in their name and there is the right of journalists to protect their confidential sources so that the public can be better informed. If there is not source protection, there will be no sources and important stories will evaporate. It is a balancing act that every reputable journalist respects and adheres to.

That a major news agency should step in and attempt to do what the British Police Service of Northern Ireland has done is an outrageous and egregious act. It is doubtful that NBC would take the same action if this involved a source protection case in the United States. They would be vilified by American journalists for such an action. Earlier today I told the BBC that “I am furious that a news agency is trying to expose sources. I am extremely hostile to this action.”

NBC’s legal action comes at a time when there is an organized Sinn Fein hate campaign underway against those it accuses of having been involved in the Boston College project. This campaign has threatened the safety of participants, the lead researchers and individuals that had no involvement whatsoever in the project.

It is a long standing tradition and obligation of all journalists to protect sources of confidential information from all harm that might accrue to them*. NBC is clearly unconcerned with the fate of the people involved in the Belfast Project. The Boston College Archive story has been going on for three years, and yet it is only now, in the wake of Gerry Adams’ arrest, that NBC has shown much interest in the case. Instead of spending time and resources on the story, they have simply gone to court to get at sources and material in an attempt to make headlines during Gerry Adam’s upcoming visit to the United States. At minimum, it is lazy journalism.

What is egregious is that they are attempting to set a very dangerous legal precedent. Their request has been submitted to Judge Young, the same judge that a U.S. Appellate Court slapped down when Judge Young tried to hand over parts of the Boston College archive that wasn’t even responsive to the subpoenas. If NBC is successful in their request, they may find down the road that they will bear responsibility for piercing a bigger hole in source protection laws which are already under assault by governments on both sides of the Atlantic.

NBC News is only concerned not with the protection of sources but with creating headlines that might accrue from getting ‘the dirt’ on Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams who is due to visit America next week. The network would love a great scoop while Adams is in the US. It hardly takes a great intellectual endeavour to decode the following: 

‘This case or any case involving incidents of terrorism committed by several and various parties … is a matter of great public interest. These parties may also at this time or in the past have had direct official contact with the government of the United States of America.’

If NBC News wants to investigate Sinn Fein leadership or anyone else it should send out its own journalists to do the hard work instead of jeopardizing journalistic standards and practices or risking the lives of sources they know nothing about.

Boston College tapes: US network NBC launches legal bid

Boston College tapes: US network NBC launches legal bid
Andy Martin
BBC Ireland Correspondent
BBC News

The American news network, NBC, has made a formal request to have transcripts from Boston College’s Belfast Project released.

Its news investigations team made the application to a US Judge, William Young, who is one of the few people to have read the entire archive.

Information from the recordings has led to a series of arrests, including that of Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams.

The project was designed as an oral history of the Troubles.

Dozens of former paramilitaries from the IRA and the Ulster Volunteer Force gave candid interviews to researchers employed by the university, on the understanding that their involvement would not be made public until after their deaths.

“I am furious that a news agency is trying to expose sources. I am extremely hostile to this action.”
Anthony McIntyre
Lead researcher, Boston College oral project

The course director, journalist Ed Moloney, published a book based on two of the accounts given to the project, after the interviewees had died.

However, the PSNI became aware of the existence of the tapes.

They used a treaty between Britain and the United States to obtain any material that could help their investigation into the murder of Jean McConville in 1972.

Mrs McConville is the best known of The Disappeared, a group of people abducted, murdered and secretly buried by republicans.

The researchers fought the release of the interviews through the US courts, maintaining that it would represent a breach of contract and trust, and violate the ethical code on the protection of sources.

Judge Young, who read the archive in order to determine which testimonies made reference to Mrs McConville, acceded to the PSNI request.

He did, however, describe the project as “a bone fide academic exercise of considerable merit”.


Dr Anthony McIntyre, who conducted the interviews with former IRA members, said he was shocked to learn that a news organisation had attempted to have the documents released.

Mr McIntyre has been made aware of threats to his life as a result of his involvement in the project.

He said he could not understand how a news organisation could be prepared to violate the code on the protection of sources.

“I am furious that a news agency is trying to expose sources,” he said. “I am extremely hostile to this action.”

Culture Shock: Belfast Project is a crisis in Irish academia

Culture Shock: Belfast Project is a crisis in Irish academia
Everyone involved – Boston College, the interviewers, the interviewees and those against whom allegations were made – has been left feeling enraged, betrayed and bewildered
Cock-up rather than conspiracy
Fintan O’Toole
Irish Times
Sat, May 17, 2014

Last week Boston College announced it would return interviews to the former Northern Ireland paramilitaries who recorded them for its now infamous Belfast Project oral history.

This week four of those paramilitaries, led by the former IRA prisoner Richard O’Rawe, declared their intention to sue Boston College for allegedly breaching its contracts with them by not advising them that their testimony could be released on foot of a court order. (The Police Service of Northern Ireland secured US court orders to release 11 recordings for its investigation into the murder of Jean McConville.) And the current and four previous chairs of the history department at Boston College itself issued a statement distancing themselves from the affair: “Successive department chairs had not been informed of the project, nor had they or the department been consulted on the merits of the effort or the appropriate procedures to be followed in carrying out such a fraught and potentially controversial venture.”

It doesn’t seem too much of an exaggeration to say that this has turned into the worst debacle in the history of Irish academic research. Everyone involved – Boston College, the interviewers, the interviewees and those against whom allegations were made – has been left feeling enraged, betrayed and bewildered, often for entirely different reasons.

What has happened bears the hallmarks of a cock-up rather than of a conspiracy. There is a deliberate attempt to generate a literally dangerous hysteria around the project by questioning not just the motives of those involved but the validity of this kind of research. Sinn Féin has very publicly labelled those involved as touts – a term saturated with threat.

Gerry Adams made a great deal of the fact that the Belfast Project was “conceived by Paul Bew, university lecturer and a former advisor to former unionist leader David Trimble”. The implication is that Bew’s suggestion, in 2000, that Boston College should start an oral archive of the Troubles was a unionist plot. But Bew is hugely respected as a historian of modern Ireland: there is not a shred of evidence that his work has ever been to anything but the highest professional and ethical standards. Insidious suggestions that he was part of a political conspiracy are not just wrong in themselves but are an attack on academic and intellectual freedom.

Bew’s suggestion was a very good one. It is somewhat ironic that, even while the Belfast Project is imploding, the understanding of the Irish conflicts whose centenaries we are now marking has been revolutionised by the fruits of a similar project: the Bureau of Military History’s records of interviews with participants in those conflicts. Testimonies from people directly involved in violent acts are not unimpeachable: such people usually have personal or political agendas. But used collectively, by careful researchers, they are invaluable. They counterbalance the tendency to write history from the limited perspective of the official records.

In retrospect it is easy to see that the Belfast Project had serious design flaws. It seems extraordinary that Boston’s own historians were not consulted. There was no independent oversight committee. No one seems to have worked out answers to basic questions such as who would have access to the recordings and when. The IRA’s rules of omerta meant that participation was likely to be skewed towards those who were unhappy with the official line.

Most significantly, there seems to have been no coherent thought about the legal framework in which the project would operate. It is crucial to any oral history project, let alone one as sensitive as this, that the participants are fully informed about what will happen to their records. With the Belfast Project, those involved ended up (I believe in good faith) giving participants guarantees they could not stand over. Ed Moloney’s contract as project director, which he signed in January 2001, stated that each interviewee was in turn to be given a contract “guaranteeing to the extent American law allows the conditions of the interview and the conditions of its deposit” at Boston College. But the contracts actually given to interviewees did not contain this crucial qualification. Neither Moloney nor the principal interviewers, Anthony McIntyre and Wilson McArthur, knew what American law might mean for confidentiality.

These are bad mistakes, and they wound up destroying the project. But the biggest mistake was to believe that history could be recorded safely because the Troubles were over. They’re not over: they are in a weird new phase where what is being contested is control of the meaning of the past. The biggest critics of the project are themselves participants in this battle. They are hardly standard bearers for objective and independent research into what happened.

The one useful aspect of this debacle is that it has shown the need for that research to be backed by the only forces that can really underwrite it: the British, Irish and Northern Irish governments. An oral archive of the Troubles is still possible, but only as part of a wider process of truth and reconciliation. Capturing what happened in Ireland should never have been the responsibility of an American university.

PODCAST: The IRA, the Boston College Tapes and Who Tells the Past?

Right Click to download: Who Tells the Past?

The IRA, the Boston College Tapes and who tells the past?
Fin Dwyer
Irish History Podcast
12 May 2014

In the last two weeks the Boston College Belfast Project has been brought centre stage since the arrest of Gerry Adams. This has had huge implications for history, as much of the questioning of Adams appears to have based on the projects archive seized by the P.S.N.I. in Boston.

This podcast begins by looking at the events in Ireland in 1972 and how it has come to pass that 42 years later one of the Ireland’s most prominent politicians arrested. What was in this historical archive? What are the rights of historians to record history vs. the rights of families of victims who may want to read private archives looking of answers? What are the rights of people to their good name when allegations are made about them in historical interviews? Finally perhaps the most important question for historians – who has the right to record our history? This show takes you through these controversial questions and indeed the interviews conducted with former members of the IRA revealing what the allegations made were.


Fin Dwyer is a historian, blogger and author. You can read his site at www.irishhistorypodcast.ie

How the Adams arrest threatens academic freedom

How the Adams arrest threatens academic freedom
Brendan O’Neill, Editor
Free Speech Now! – Spiked
6 May 2014

The former IRA man whose research led to Gerry Adams’ arrest talks to spiked.

He might have been kept away from his family for four nights, and he might have found the prison food impossible to digest, but Gerry Adams isn’t actually the main victim of the British authorities’ latest raking-over of certain historical events of the Troubles. No, academic freedom is. It is the ability of academic researchers to gather information on testy, controversial issues, on matters of conflict and crime, that has been thrown into jeopardy by the British authorities’ rather zealous reopening of cases from Northern Ireland’s past.

To many observers, the arrest and questioning of Sinn Fein president Adams on suspicion of involvement in the murder of Jean McConville in 1972 is a simple case of the authorities discovering more information about that killing and deciding to act on it. Mrs McConville, a mother of 10, was killed by the IRA on suspicion of being an informer. Her body was not found until 2003. New facts, or rather claims, have come to light, news reports tell us, hence the questioning of Adams. But it’s the question of how these claims came to be public property, how they came to land in the hands of Northern Irish police, that should concern anyone who believes in the right to carry out independent thought and research free from state peering.

‘This could all have a serious, serious impact on academic freedom’, says Anthony McIntyre, the former IRA member turned political researcher and critic of Sinn Fein whose work for Boston College in America led to the arrest of Adams. In 2001, McIntyre, together with the journalist Ed Moloney, started work on The Belfast Project at Boston College. The aim was to create a new ‘oral history’ of the Troubles through carrying out extensive interviews with former members of the IRA – it was a ‘truth recovery process’, McIntyre tells me, before that truth was ‘gone forever’. Keen to get the most candid commentary possible from their interviewees, and conscious that the Troubles are very recent history, with many of the protagonists still alive, McIntyre and Moloney promised their subjects that their interviews would remain under seal until the time of their deaths. Those were ‘the conditions under which the archive would be maintained’, McIntyre says.

But then, in 2010, it was revealed by a newspaper that Dolours Price, a former IRA member imprisoned in the 1970s for detonating a car bomb outside the Old Bailey in London, had said she was the driver in the kidnap and killing of McConville in 1972 and that her IRA Officer Commanding at the time had been Adams. Adams denied this. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) believed Price had important information about the killing of McConville, and that she may have offered up that info in her interviews for The Belfast Project, and so it asked the US authorities to step in.

The US Department of Justice demanded that Boston College turn over its taped interviews. Initially, the college said no, saying ‘our position is that the premature release of the tapes could threaten the safety of the participants, the enterprise of oral history, and the ongoing peace and reconciliation process in Northern Ireland’. But when a federal judge in Boston subpoenaed the college, insisting it turn over the relevant interviews, it caved – it proved itself a bunch of ‘pushover professors’, says McIntyre, angrily. And so did the police in Northern Ireland gain access to ‘narratives’, as McIntyre calls them, that former IRA members had given in good faith, confidentially, for the purposes of oral history and academic research only, and on the basis that they would not be released in their lifetimes. It is this court-ordered information, these stories illiberally grabbed by the PSNI working with the American state, that led to the arrest and questioning of Adams.

McIntyre, who, together with Moloney, tried his best to build an international campaign to prevent Boston College from handing over the research materials, says this case could have a terrible impact on independent academic assessment of history. ‘Other projects that involve the disclosure of information in a confidential way [could now] be sabotaged’, he says. He says Boston College’s compliance with the authorities – its ‘total spinelessness’ – is ‘totally detrimental to independent research’. ‘This affair could have a serious chilling effect on academic freedom’, he tells me.

He points to other academic fields in which research would become all but impossible if the authorities could barge into an institution at any moment and demand the handing over of materials. ‘That would destroy many aspects of criminology, for example. How could criminologists begin to talk to people who have been involved in illegal activities, whether it’s drug-dealing, political violence or back-street abortions, if they feared that their materials [might be] subpoenaed? That kind of research could seriously be closed down.’

McIntyre says Boston College’s behaviour is indicative of a broader culture of cowardice in the modern academy, an unwillingness to allow, far less stand up for, potentially controversial research and investigative study. Too many universities are now driven by an ‘institutional instinct for self-preservation’, he says, meaning that if one of their researchers causes a storm or looks into something edgy or unpopular then ‘the institution will protect itself and abandon the research – and more importantly abandon the research participants’. Indeed, universities are awash with ethics committees these days, yet they seem incapable of preventing themselves from committing what, in the academy’s eyes, should surely be the worst ethical crime of all – failing to provide a space for potentially controversial research and protecting that research from the grasping and exploitation of officialdom. What Boston College did is only a more extreme example of today’s broader lack of regard for the freedom of thinkers and researchers to try to discover the truth without having the police or judges breathing down their necks.

Probably the most worrying impact of this case is that it undermines the right of individual researchers to try to arrive at an understanding of history that differs from officialdom’s. One of McIntyre’s aims with The Belfast Project was to collect together narratives from the Troubles that would counteract any single ‘victor’s story’ of that war. But now those narratives have been commandeered by the authorities and used to pursue political or legalistic ends. ‘Now what we’re going to get is a law-enforcement view of the past’, says McIntyre, ‘and that is a very limited, self-serving view’.

This case sets an extremely dangerous precedent. One of the alleged interviewees of The Boston Project, Ivor Bell, a rare Protestant member of the IRA in the past, has also been arrested and questioned. What participant in a recent political conflict will now agree to take part in an oral history project, if he thinks he runs the risk of arrest and potentially imprisonment for sharing his assessments of that conflict? What’s more, the academic’s, and the journalist’s, right to keep their sources secret, to carry out interviews without needing to tell the whole world who the interviewee was, has been called into question by the Boston College scandal. Historical research, academic investigation into conflict, independent analysis of recent wars and tensions – all of these have just been made potentially a whole lot difficult by the actions of the British and American states in relation to the Boston College tapes.

After the arrest of Adams, McIntyre finds himself worried for his safety. Grafitti in republican Belfast says: ‘Boston College touts.’ (A tout is an informer.) McIntyre is referred to by some Sinn Fein supporters as ‘Anthony McIntout’. There is a sense of menace in the air, he says. Here, a political researcher is accused of being an informer simply for carrying out in-depth interviews with former members of the IRA, and then watching with horror as those interviews were grabbed by the authorities. Ironically, Sinn Fein and the Northern Irish authorities share something in common – a hostility to independent academic analysis, with Sinn Fein treating it as tantamount to squealing, and the authorities viewing it as something they should have the right to access, read and use as they see fit.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked.

In-depth interview: Anthony McIntyre and the Boston Tapes

In-depth interview: Anthony McIntyre and the Boston Tapes
Peter Kearney
Uploaded: 7 May 2014

Anthony Mc Intyre and the Boston Tapes

International Politics interview with Anthony Mc Intyre over the fall out from the Boston tapes – Gerry Adams and Jean Mc Conville

Peter Kearney (PK) interviews Anthony McIntyre (AM) about the Boston College tapes.

PK: Much of this current scenario is to do with the fact that Boston had to let go of the tapes when previously they said that they wouldn’t have to let go of the tapes. And how much of it this current scenario to do with the fact that Gerry Adams won’t admit that he was in the IRA?

AM: Well, I’m not sure that Gerry Adams’ refusal to admit that he was in the IRA is a factor at all.

I think that had Gerry Adams admitted he was a member of the IRA he would be charged today. So I think Gerry Adams would be foolish to admit he is a member of the IRA.

It’s probably best for Mr. Adams just to have no comment on it.

The Boston College situation I think is diabolical in that the college did not put up the fight that it could have put up. It put up a minimal fight. It engaged in absolutely no political fight.

Its attitude from Day One of the subpoenas, as expressed by one of the professors on the phone, was that he was fearful because there was an attitude on campus amongst the staff, the senior staff, probably the trustees, that they’re all terrorists – why should we cover for them or why should we fight the case for them?

Boston College was quite prepared to fold from the outset.

And then they engaged in an enormous amount of disassembling which was so easily demonstrated to be as such because of the emails and the paper trails that they left.

PK: Okay, so if is the case I mean if they’re going to wash their hands of you so quickly – as you said they were saying that these guys were only terrorists – why would they involve themselves with it in the first place?

AM: Well, actually they felt that it was a valuable academic resource to have…a string to their bow in their very prestigious library.

It was they were prepared to take the goods but not pay the price. And the price at the time when the subpoena came through was standing up and fighting.

They were scathingly dismissed by Harvey Silverglate of the American Civil Liberties Union for refusing to put in the effort that they could have put in. I think he feels that they could have gone as far as to simply move the archives or to destroy it rather than hand it over.

His point was very firm that if you’re going to take this sort of stuff onto your campus and you have research participants involved and your researchers why at least you’d better be prepared to stand over it and to fight the fight.

And Boston College weren’t.

PK: Now in these tapes there’s a lot more to them than just Gerry Adams and the killing of Jean McConville. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?

AM: It’s an exercise for the purpose of enhancing public understanding and to use the buzzword of today “truth recovery”.

I mean I spoke to many people for the archive and I just didn’t speak to people who were in the IRA. I spoke to people who had a knowledge of Republicanism and could bring something to the academic domain about Republicanism which we felt was previously not there.

It was sort of also a moral reflection and people were asked their views of other people, their views of strategy, they were trying to find how strategy developed, what discussions took place about strategy, the attitude to a wide range of issues.

Even when Judge William Young read it (of the Boston court) and he proved to be no friend of ourselves, the researchers, he made the point that it was a bona fide academic exercise of considerable intellectual merit.

PK: Okay. So in many ways it was a reflection on what Republicans had engaged in.

Now I know Loyalists were also interviewed in the process as well. But it was a reflection on the conflict as in: Was this the right thing to do? Could it have been done a different way? Along those lines for a type of oral history to see well what was it all about?

AM: It’s very much that that would have informed it. I guess that’s enough for me to say that – that that was the type area or line of inquiry that we were exploring.

Because if you look at the IRA campaign it virtually was…it was defeated by the British.

And now Sinn Féin and the Provisional Movement are basically doing everything that they criticised everybody else for doing. And saying that, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is another matter, I’m not really sympathetic to it by any stretch of the imagination. But there are people who support it.

But it is very beneficial for people to look at the origins, examine the trajectory and see where it, I’d say diverted rather than deviated, where it became diverted from what the original plans and goals were. Because in some ways there’s a complete and utter refashioning, revisionism, revising of the history of the Provisional Republican Movement. And we see today arguments being made that the struggle was ideologically about getting a united Ireland or sorry, the struggle was ideologically about getting some sort of equality agenda.

It had nothing to do with the equality agenda.

We had argued while we were in the Provisional IRA many years ago: God made the Catholics and the Armalite made them equal.

So we already believed we did have an equality. We wanted a united Ireland. This is what it was about.

Now, there were different dynamics that drove people into joining the IRA, different motivations, and I think that in any study of this type it’s important for the historian to concentrate on motivations, to certainly focus on motivations and to tease out the different strands to find out if people joined, and I did this in my PhD also, if people joined movements, social protest movements, because of a particular event or because they were predisposed to war because of an ideological background. Had they been steeped in ideology? What their understanding of politics? How Marxist were they or how opposed to Marxism were they? A great deal of moral reflection on all these matters.

PK: Is that not acceptable though that people would get involved in it for the purposes of a united Ireland as opposed to equality?

AM: It’s not the question whether it’s acceptable or not acceptable. It’s trying to tease out why they did it.

I think that if you look back on the conflict – the justification for killing – that the Provisional IRA leadership and the Sinn Féin leadership stipulated or tried to legitimise the killing campaign on – was that you had this British involvement in the country and therefore they had to be expelled and the only way to expel them was by military force.

So we had a situation whereby all the police officers and all the Army soldiers, the British military, and the Ulster Defence Regiment, which later became the Royal Irish Regiment, those people then were killed for ideological reasons as well as the reasons that people were opposed to the repression. But the ideological sort of reason based on the Republican philosophy was that they were defending the consent principle.

Now we have that turned on its head. And Sinn Féin is defending the consent principle. So the point that I would make is: they were killed to get a united Ireland to try and coerce Britain out.

They were not killed for an equality agenda.

Now I don’t feel that the struggle, the armed struggle, could ever be justified on trying to get an equality agenda.

I think had we had have argued back in 1974 that all we want is a power sharing executive up at Stormont similar to what the SDLP got – we actually brought this power sharing executive down – well we wanted it brought down – the Unionists brought it down. But had we been able militarily to bring it down we would have done it.

PK: Okay, so it was about a united Ireland and not about inequality and effectively what the Good Friday Agreement has landed is equality exactly, well not exactly, but what they weren’t fighting for is the point you make.

AM: I think you’re right there, Peter, but I’ve also said that if you look at the IRA as some sort of structural phenomenon rather than merely an ideological one you’d come to the conclusion pretty rapidly that the insurrectionary energy that threw up the IRA, the Provisional IRA, sort of was it came from an unhappiness with the way the British behaved while in Ireland.

It did not come from the fact that the British were in Ireland.

Now that energy was manipulated or molded and directed toward a certain ideological project and there was a certain lack of symmetry between that energy and the goals that the Provisional IRA leadership set when they were trying to articulate that energy into their struggle.

But I do think that the outcome of the Good Friday Agreement is an outcome which is consistent in a sense with that energy, that insurrectionary energy, which basically amounted to opposition to how the British behaved. The Good Friday Agreement modified that behaviour. It didn’t put the British out. And people by and large supported it as a majority in the country.

So my point would be that there was some sort of structural outcome rather than any ideological outcome.

But the Provisional IRA leadership drove this struggle on on ideological grounds and always insisted on the British getting out.

And I think it could have been brought to a conclusion much earlier had the Provisional IRA leadership said: well, our goals are much more limited than a united Ireland.

Which was basically, given the strength and given the balance of forces, an impossibilist of demands that the British were never going to meet therefore there was no negotiating to be done.

PK: The point has been made that what was offered in Sunningdale was pretty much eventually what they ended up with and other people have made the point, Ruarí Ó Brádaigh made the point as well himself over the years, listen, why didn’t they just go with The Officials back in the day? I mean what was it all about if they were going to settle for a Good Friday Agreement?

If somebody was in that position where either they felt that they were unequally treated but more importantly they felt that they wanted the united Ireland then surely wasn’t an armed struggle the only way they could go about it because there was no negotiation on the issue. There was no talking to Catholics or Irish Republicans about it. It was like: That’s it. You’re in the six county state and it’s a Protestant state and that’s it.

So there was no other real outlet for them.

AM: The absence of an outlet and an effective means of addressing a grievance I don’t think are the same thing.

When you were saying that if they wanted a united Ireland wasn’t armed struggle the only way to go?

Well, the armed struggle wasn’t the only way to go because in achieving a united Ireland it was totally ineffective. I took part in it and so I’m not in any position to throw stones at other people…glass houses.

It’s more an ideological traditional, Republican sort of – and I don’t want to be dismissive but – old school Republican ideological argument and one that favours Ruarí Ó Brádaigh, who I always found to be the most honourable of individuals, one that he favoured and would have articulated…not that he was some sort of blood thirsty high priest as Kevin Toolis once described him.

But Ó Brádaigh was a very sensitive guy, probably too sensitive and compassionate in a way that the great peace man, the peace leader Gerry Adams wasn’t.

Gerry Adams was much more ruthless than Ruarí Ó Brádaigh ever was. Ruarí Ó Brádaigh just had principles and he believed in them and he didn’t want to compromise.

PK: Now can’t a lot of that be seen, that the armed struggle wasn’t the way to go, a lot of that can be seen in hindsight yet at that time it may very well have been seen as the only way to go.

AM: I think that this was case but I don’t think we don’t give it adequate examination.

I think that the Sinn Féin leadership knew that we were never going to get a united Ireland and signaled to the British as far back as 1986 that they were prepared to settle up for a helluva lot less than a united Ireland. Yet they kept that armed struggle going, kept people coming in.

And Gerry Adams said in November, 1986 that if Sinn Féin ever disowns armed struggle it won’t have me as a member.

Now that was a clarion call to arms – carry on the war, boys! And what did the boys carry on the war for? In my view to fuel Mr. Adams’ political career. I can’t see what great deal more came out of it.

PK: Now Sinn Féin have described the tapes, the exercise itself…Mary Lou described it as being “maliciously compiled”. I think you’ve probably already addressed that in what you’ve already said but how would you respond to that specific comment?

AM: Well, Mary Lou McDonald, despite being a very capable performer in The Dáil and having a measure of charisma, makes an absolute fool out of herself every time she gets on and says that she believes Gerry Adams when he tells her he wasn’t in the IRA.

Mary Lou McDonald is a creature of the party who is going to articulate the party line, never mind how inaccurate that line is, on the given issue of the day.

So when Gerry Adams gets up and lies about his IRA membership Mary Lou, despite nobody in the country believing him, is prepared to say: yeah well, I believe Gerry. Now the problem for Sinn Féin there is, Sinn Féin at times can make a very useful critique of the state and the austerity parties.

But one of their accusations is that there’s an awful lot of dishonesty about the southern society yet here they come along with an equally dishonest discourse.

Gerry Adams is one of two things: he’s either the most lied about man in Irish society or he’s the greatest liar in Irish society. And I happen to take the view that he is the latter.

PK: Right. Okay. In line with that aren’t his denials an insult to people?

Not just to people who were killed or people who fought in the conflict – the thirty year conflict from effectively from ’69 right up until ’97 – and people who fought in conflicts before that as well as in the War of Independence – Is it not insult to Republicanism, Irish Republicanism, as well as to the people who would have died in it, that somebody would deny have being in the organisation?

AM: I find it very insulting not only to Republicanism but to any sort of intellectual strand that one would have in their minds – any sort of common sense – for Gerry Adams to deny this. And indeed it is.

Because in the Republican terms – because what it does do – this places onto everybody else responsibility for the conflict, for the terrible things did…

Gerry Adams was a senior IRA leader and refuses, and I don’t expect him to admit in these circumstances, but Gerry Adams was in the IRA, was a former IRA senior, senior military leader in the IRA who has denied any role in the direction of that war.

And that’s in my view a complete abdication of his responsibility and a denial of his role for the Northern conflict whether he had a right to do it or not. But his denials only cause problems.

Now Mr. Adams would claim, or people like Danny Morrison would claim on behalf of Gerry Adams, that he can’t really admit to the truth because of the problems that it would cause him. And that’s correct.

He doesn’t have to deny it. But also what we’ve seen from Mr. Adams’ evidence in the trial of his brother for the rape of a four year old child – I mean truth recovery’s very, very complicated.

It was very, very hard for the barrister, Eilis McDermott, to extract truth from Gerry Adams. And she accused him of that on more occasions, and the evidence is out there in the public domain, of being a liar who was more concerned with protecting his political career than telling the truth about what happened to an abused child.

PK: And just one more final one item we’ll mention before we let you go: we’ve quite literally have seen the writing on the wall about this – but how have things been for yourself through all of this?

AM: Fortunately, I live in Drogheda and not in Belfast. But it’s been difficult because I feel, regardless of what Boston College do, that I have a responsibility for the way the thing ended up.

If the subpoenas could have been issued I should have known. I didn’t know and I have to take the hit on that. So I feel a big responsibility towards the people who have suffered as a result of it and I do regret also that anybody would be arrested, including Mr. Adams.

But it has been very, very stressful – stressful on my wife. And she has taken up the cudgel anyway on my behalf and on behalf of the project by traveling to the United States lobbying – she’s been out there four times lobbying Senators, Congressmen, media and she even went on the Vincent Browne show over here, a popular television show, last week to make the case. She’s run the Boston College Subpoena News site.

But she’s stressed out with it. She would like us to have a normal family life instead of having to deal with this. And she feels particularly shafted by Boston College and their continuous disassembling and the promotion of their own self-interest and their willingness to throw everybody under the bus.


CBC Radio: As It Happens – Boston College Project: former IRA fighter

Boston College Project: former IRA fighter
As It Happens
CBC Radio
8 May 2014

A researcher behind the oral history project at Boston College responds to the charge by Sinn Fein that the entire purpose of the program was to bring down its leader, Gerry Adams.

Programme host Carol Off (CO) interviews Anthony McIntyre(AM) via telephone from Drogheda, Co. Louth about the Boston College tapes.

(begins time stamp 26:00)

Announcer: It’s a project he wishes he’d never been a part of.

The Boston College Belfast Project was supposed to be about truth and ultimately reconciliation. So when former IRA fighter Anthony McIntyre decided to contribute by recording interviews with twenty-six other fighters from both sides of The Troubles he had high hopes.

Not any more.

Some of those recordings were reportedly used last week by police in Northern Ireland during their four day detention of Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams.

And yesterday on As It Happens Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald told Carol that the Boston College project was a sham, out to get Gerry Adams and out to destroy the peace process. She was particularly critical of the people behind the project including Anthony McIntyre.

We reached Mr. McIntyre at his home in Drogheda, Ireland.

CO: Mr. McIntyre, were you out to get Gerry Adams?

AM: No, I wasn’t out to get Gerry Adams.

That’s a myth perpetuated by people like Mary Lou McDonald, Vice-President of Sinn Féin. It’s a Sinn Féin party line trying to defend themselves against anything that the party considers adverse to its project.

CO: In doing this project they say that you set out to destroy the peace process.

AM: How would an academic project destroy the peace process?

Is the peace process not resilient enough to criticism or people who might have a different view of it?

Sinn Féin persistently claim that all of its critics are out to destroy the peace process.

CO: What was the point of The Belfast Project that you took part in?

AM: The Belfast Project was an attempt to build up an archive and to retrieve as much knowledge as possible before people who participated in the conflict or knew about the conflict, who had knowledge before they passed away and that knowledge would be lost forever.

CO: But no matter what the intention was it seems that the archive has led to the arrest of Gerry Adams and it has led to a threatening of the peace process. So are you saying these are unintended consequences?

AM: They’re very much unintended consequences because the project was never designed, either by Boston College or ourselves, to bring about the arrest of anyone. It was to increase the amount of knowledge pertaining to Republicanism.

The threat to the peace process, if there is a threat, has come from the British Police Service of Northern Ireland which attempted to raid the archive and successfully managed to plunder some of the tapes and the recordings and transcripts.

When the same Police Service of Northern Ireland are not pursuing evidence from elsewhere which would lead to prosecutions against British soldiers and members of the police that were responsible for the murder of Nationalist civilians. This is the type of thing that the PSNI is engaged in.

So when people want to make accusations about what is destroying the peace process or posing a threat to the peace process they need to look at the police rather than look at an academic project.

CO: You say: the PSNI – the Police Service of Northern Ireland. And I heard from – we interviewed Ed Moloney just after Gerry Adams was arrested. He was the man who worked with you on this project in Boston College.

He said that the issue here was that what they’re pursuing from the archive didn’t really exist in it. That there was nothing that could be used as evidence in the archive to prosecute anyone. Is that your opinion?

AM: Given the fact that Mr. Adams has been released without charge and the evidence that the police would have from the archive is simply hearsay – there is no evidential basis to the arrest of Mr. Adams or any attempt to prosecute him. So that’s correct.

Some people have given accounts that Mr. Adams would not like to see the light of day.

But this is what happens in history and it happens in journalism. This sort of intellectual process should not be suppress by politicians who do not want their political careers or their particular political project caused any sort of harm whatsoever or viewed in a different light.

CO: Well again, going back to Mary Lou McDonald, the deputy head of Sinn Féin, she said that you and the others who took part in this project, and you were formerly with the IRA, that you didn’t want to see the peace process happen. That you and the others who were part of this and those who gave you the interviews were against Gerry Adams and considered them to be sellouts when they engaged in the peace process.

Is there any truth to that at all?

AM: Oh, there’s truth in the claim that I have been opposed to Sinn Féin’s political project. I have not been opposed to the peace.

In fact, when I was opposing the Sinn Féin/IRA killing of a man called Joe O’Connor in West Belfast in 2000 I was actually opposed to their murder project. And Sinn Féin picketed my house, surrounded it with a mob, intimidated my pregnant wife and then sent the IRA leadership into my house to try and intimidate me.

So they cannot really say my actions have been against the peace.

But that’s the sort of thing that the peace process produces. It produces the suppression of intellectual activity and a suppression of other narratives and on occasion it has led to the murder of people opposed to it.

The majority of the people that I would have talked to were not sympathetic to Mr. Adams’ political career or his political project. But people like that have to have someone that they trust when they want to talk about their experiences. And if I had have been a die hard Sinn Féin supporter it’s highly unlikely that the people who did talk to me, the majority of the people who talked to me, would have felt safe to talk to me.

CO: But doesn’t it indicate – what you’re saying – is that you were not a disinterested player in this – you had a very strong point of view – and that when you say it was an academic exercise to reveal the truth how can they, Gerry Adams or Sinn Féin, trust that you were actually operating from an objective point of view?

AM: I’m not asking Gerry Adams or Sinn Féin to trust that I was operating from an objective point of view. That doesn’t concern me.

I’m not here to try and win Gerry Adams’ trust. I’m mean for years have not trusted Gerry Adams’ narrative.

CO: Do you believe that Gerry Adams was a member of the IRA and that he played a role in the murder of Jean McConville?

AM: I am not prepared to say whether he played a role in the killing of Jean McConville.

But I am prepared to say that he was very much a member of the IRA. And his deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, has been critisised in the press quite recently by one of the leading Irish commentators who said she is putting her reputation on the line by continuously coming out in public and saying that she believes that Gerry Adams was never a member of the IRA on the basis of Gerry Adams having stated precisely that.

Now that’s an absolute intellectual nonsense to believe that Gerry Adams was never a member of the IRA.

And Mary Lou is speaking as the party politician. It’s party political talk. It’s not intellectual rigour. It’s not intellectual anything for Mary Lou to maintain that position.

CO: Alright, we’re going to leave it there, Mr. McIntyre. Appreciate you speaking with us tonight.

AM: Thank you very much, Carol.

(ends time stamp 34:00)