Boston College Confidentiality – Public references to agreement

Because of the secrecy of the project during its collection, public comment on the project was limited, and did not surface until the publication of the Hughes and Ervine book, Voices from the Grave. Private assurances by Boston College were made throughout the life of the project. Here are samples of some of the public references to Boston College’s confidentiality agreement.

Jack Dunn, Boston College spokesperson

“There was information that was clearly granted on the condition of confidentiality, with the expectation that it would provide a benefit for posterity, a historical narrative of the Troubles. That was our sole role in getting involved in the project, continuing our effort at peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, being a repository for these tapes of great historical value.” – Jack Dunn, 25 May 2011

Trustees of Boston College

The assurances of confidentiality at the start and during the interview process were subsequently documented when the interviews were concluded. Each interviewee was given a form to donate his or her interview materials to the Burns Library at Boston College on the express condition that the materials would not be disclosed, absent the interviewee’s permission, until after his or her death. – MOTION OF TRUSTEES OF BOSTON COLLEGE TO QUASH SUBPOENAS

Robert O’Neill, Director of the John J. Burns Library

“6. Each person interviewed for the Belfast Project was offered a donation agreement directing that his or her interview materials be deposited in the Burns Library at Boston College. If the interviewee agreed to the donation, the donation form reassured the interviewee that no part of the interviews would be released without the interviewee’s approval or until theinterviewee died, whichever came first.

7. A uniform donation agreement for Belfast Project interview materials was offered to all interviewees. It was the same as the form signed by one of the interviewees, the late Brendan Hughes, that is annexed to this statement as O’Neill Attachment 2, except that the Hughes donation form has additional handwritten terms that he requested.

11. Given the sensitive nature of the information revealed by the interviewers, it was important from the start to assure the participants in the oral history project that every effort would be made to keep their participation confidential, and that no transcripts or tapes would be released before the deaths of the interviewees unless they gave formal permission to do so.” – Affidavit of Robert O’Neill, director of the John J. Burns Library, 2 June, 2011

Professor Thomas Hachey, Executive Director of the Center for Irish Programs

“9. No one is allowed to see any of the transcripts, or to listen to the recorded version, until the demise of a given contributor, or until such a person himself or herself provides permission for access to the document in writing. That was, and remains, the hard and fast conditions of the embargo that have been placed on access to these materials. – Affidavit of Professor Thomas Hachey, 2 June, 2011

“I want you to know and you can quote me on this, any one of you, because I don’t think the president (Fr Leahy) would mind me divulging this and he would certainly confirm it, but he said: ‘I want you to understand,’ he wasn’t talking to me specifically but to my two colleagues (Jack Dunn & Nora Fields), ‘I want you to understand that we are not going to allow interviewers or interviewees to be compromised in this.'” – Professor Thomas Hachey, May 16th 2011

“We aren’t letting anybody into (the archive) and they are not touching it. That’s going to be the bottom line”. – Professor Thomas Hachey, May 16th, 2011

“B.C. is firmly and unconditionally committed to respecting the letter and intent of what is a contractual agreement never to release any of the material to anyone unless given permission in writing (notarized) beforehand by the participant, or until the demise of a participant.” – Professor Thomas Hachey, 23 May, 2010

Preface to Voices from the Grave

“The transcripts of interviews with Irish Republican Army and Ulster Volunteer Force veterans, most of whom were operationally active, are housed at the University’s Burns Library and are subject to prescriptive limitations governing access. Boston College is contractually committed to sequestering the taped transcriptions unless otherwise given a full release, in writing, by the interviewees, or until the demise of the latter.”

“Boston College has had a long interest in Ireland and offered a welcoming and neutral venue in which participants felt a sense of security and confidentiality that made it possible for them to be candid and forthcoming.” – Professor Thomas Hachey and Robert O’Neill, director of the John J. Burns Library, Preface to Voices From the Grave.

Secret files opened for Troubles programme
Irish News
Diana Rusk
March 22, 2010

Boston College does not comment on the individuals involved but in a rare interview Professor Thomas Hachey, the executive director of the Center for Irish Programs, has spoken about its role in the project.
[…]  before the interviews could take place the paramilitaries had to be persuaded to divulge their darkest secrets.
“Some were comforted by the geographical distance of 3,000 miles away while others knew of Boston College and that we don’t have an agenda in Northern Ireland,” Professor Hachey said.
“They also needed to know that we would honour an agreement not to publish any of their testimony until death. The only caveat is that if they give their consent before their death in writing, that would clear us legally.”

US-based archive on Ulster Troubles
Sam McBride
The Newsletter
22 March 2010

“THE man in charge of a vault containing candid testimonies from paramilitaries about their activities during the Troubles has spoken for the first time about its contents.
Historian Professor Thomas Hachey from Boston College told the News Letter that scores of interviews with loyalist and republican paramilitaries had been carried out for the university over the last nine years.
Each individual approached by Boston College agreed to speak frankly on the understanding that their account would not be released until after their death.
No one other than those involved in the interviews knows who spoke to the academics, with the exception of two men – senior IRA member Brendan ‘The Dark’ Hughes and David Ervine from the UVF, whose accounts are to be published next month in Voices From The Grave.
“We began this oral history on the understanding that the documents would be sequested and embargoed in the archives at the Burns Library here in Boston.
“That seemed to be very reassuring to a number of people.”

Hearing Voices
Sean Smith (Editor)
The Boston College Chronicle
3 March 2011 (page 5)

“The oral history project offers survivors, whatever their roles or affiliations, an opportunity to clear up mysteries, fill in missing details, and give first-hand perspectives of the Troubles, say Hachey and O’Neill – and in so doing, perhaps come to terms with what they experienced.
“This is still a sharply divided society,” says Hachey. “Until the story of the Troubles is told, and discussed, only then can there be a better understanding of the emotions and motivations of those involved. And that will enable people to move forward.”
Published last year in Ireland and the United Kingdom and recently issued in the United States, Voices from the Grave draws on interviews with Hughes, a major figure in the Irish Republican Army during the 1970s and ’80s, and Ervine, a Loyalist paramilitary who went on to serve in the new Northern Irish government. They, along with nearly three dozen other former combatants interviewed for the project, were guaranteed that no interview material would be used without their consent or until after their death. Ervine died in 2007, Hughes in 2008.”

Miscellaneous references

Sinn Féin ‘fears book by ex-IRA commander Brendan Hughes’
Henry McDonald
The Observer
1 November 2009

“The former Belfast IRA commander handed the interviews to Boston University on the understanding they could not be made public until he died. It is understood at least 20 other former IRA veterans have also left interviews in a Boston University archive, which will be published after their deaths.”

Tom Tracy’s legacy of truth and tolerance
Liam Clarke
The Newsletter
22 March 2010

“The archive which Tracy endowed is typical of his commitment to honesty. It consists of the testimony of over 80 republican and loyalist paramilitary leaders recorded on the basis that they would not be released before their deaths.”

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams denies McConville death claims
BBC News
29 March 2010

“The allegations against Mr Adams, and others, were made in a series of interviews Mr Hughes gave to a researcher for Boston College in 2001 and 2002. He spoke on condition that the material would not be published until after his death.”

Voices From the Grave
Neil Belton, Faber & Faber
The Thought Fox, Faber blog,
12 April 2010

“Boston College years ago decided to fund a major series of interviews with former paramilitary leaders before too many of them passed away. They were encouraged to be frank; and to encourage honesty they were promised that nothing they said would be published before they died. Ervine died in 2007, Hughes a year later.”

Men’s stories of Northern Ireland tell of enmity, loyalty, tenderness
Rachelle Linner
Catholic San Francisco
February 2nd, 2011

“The men, interviewed under the auspices of the Boston College Oral History Archive on the Troubles in Northern Ireland, were guaranteed that nothing they said would be used without their consent or until after their death. (Ervine died in 2007 and Hughes in 2008.)”

Boston College to house Northern Ireland decommissioning archive
Brian Fitzpatrick
Irish Emigrant

“The Burns Library also houses the Center for Irish Programs’ oral history archive of IRA and UVF volunteers, which are to remain sealed until their deaths.”

Full text of Irish News interview with Professor Thomas Hachey

Secret files opened for Troubles programme
Diana Rusk
Irish News
March 22, 2010

The secret memoirs of a former IRA hunger striker and a UVF bomb maker turned politician are to be broadcast in a television documentary.

Their accounts are two of those stored in a secret archive in Boston College.

A book based on interviews given by ex-IRA hunger striker Brendan ‘The Dark’ Hughes and UVF bomb maker turned politician David Ervine, both of whom have since died, is due to be published at the end of the month.

It has emerged that journalist Ed Moloney is also working on a documentary based on the verbal accounts held in the Burns Library in Boston College.

Professor Thomas Hachey of the college’s Center for Irish Programs said up to 80 paramilitaries had agreed to speak on condition that their stories would not be published until after their deaths.

Memoirs to reveal dark secrets of key players in conflict – Dozens of paramilitary figures have revealed their stories to a US college on one condition – that they remain unpublished until their deaths. Ahead of the release of two eagerly awaited accounts, Diana Rusk spoke to Professor Thomas Hachey, the keeper of some of Northern Ireland’s darkest secrets

They would only agree to share their macabre secrets if they were stored in archives thousands of miles away and kept under lock and key during their lifetimes.

Between 60 and 80 senior members of republican and loyalist paramilitary factions have their memoirs held as recordings and transcripts in the gothic-style Burns Library in Boston College.

When they are released from the Massachusets university, they will provide a postscript to the Troubles by those who perpetrated the violence.

Boston College does not comment on the individuals involved but in a rare interview Professor Thomas Hachey, the executive director of the Center for Irish Programs, has spoken about its role in the project.

It involves the facilitation of the renowned college, the generosity of an Irish American millionaire, the work of two former paramilitary prisoners and the agreement of bombmakers and killers themselves.

Prof Hachey said Boston College’s Center for Irish Programs took part in the project “to help build an archive that might help inform other societies afflicted by sectarian or ideological differences”.

“What it will do will help illuminate the mindset of people who are engaged at the operational level, people who implemented the campaign, what their attitude was then and what their thinking is looking back on it retrospectively,” he said.

“In some instances there was change, in others, no change.”

The funds for the project – running into several hundred thousand dollars – came from donors, the largest of which was the late California-based multi-millionaire Tom Tracy, an Irish American whose family had made their money in car manufacturing.

“He was typical of a lot of Irish Americans who were of nationalist extraction,” Prof Hachey said.

“He went over (to Northern Ireland) thinking this would be a simple case of unionist or loyalist exploitation of Catholics and came back enlightened by his exposure.

“In 2001 he came to us and said: ‘Why don’t we try to get some of the people on both sides together?’

“He had talked at that time to two different parties in the north who were willing to step forward – they were former militants themselves who now were totally committed to peace and reconciliation.”

Two people were tasked with carrying out the interviews. One was from the loyalist side and the other from the republican side – former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre, a critic of the Good Friday Agreement.

They were paid an “abundantly modest” sum for their work but Professor Hachey said most of the money went to buying recording equipment and paying professional typists to transcribe the accounts.

The interviewees received no money.

“Both researchers had the advantage of having been arrested and interned and spent time in Long Kesh (the Maze prison),” he said.

“They went out and interviewed people who didn’t necessarily agree with them because some people being interviewed remained militants.

“But they were people who trusted them all the same because these were people not only who had fought the same fight but who had ‘paid time’ as it were.

“It’s like if you spend time in Long Kesh, you earned respect – even if it’s a grudging respect – from your sectarian group.”

Others who offered help were journalist Ed Moloney and academic and former advisor to David Trimble, Lord Bew, who encouraged the project.

Professor Hachey said there were between “60 and 80” people interviewed between 2001/02 until 2006/07 when, “at that juncture we had compiled as much as we could reasonably expect to”.

The list includes former IRA figures such as former Old Bailey bomber Dolours Price.

“These were not the leaders and they were not the gophers who didn’t know who they were functioning for. These were all people at the operational level.”

The accounts of two of the key players are soon to be published in a book by Mr Moloney entitled Voices from the Grave, with a provisional date for publication of March 30.

An RTE documentary is also planned to be broadcast in the summer.

Much speculation has surrounded the story of Brendan ‘The Dark’ Hughes, a Belfast IRA leader, because of his relationship with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and his likely insight into the IRA practice of ‘disappearing’ people in the early 1970s.

The second person is David Ervine, a UVF bombmaker turned politician, whose account could shed light on the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings that killed 33 people.

However, before the interviews could take place the paramilitaries had to be persuaded to divulge their darkest secrets.

“Some were comforted by the geographical distance of 3,000 miles away while others knew of Boston College and that we don’t have an agenda in Northern Ireland,” Professor Hachey said.

“They also needed to know that we would honour an agreement not to publish any of their testimony until death. The only caveat is that if they give their consent before their death in writing, that would clear us legally.”

Some people proved hard to persuade and one person who was at first reluctant to get involved, later agreed to be interviewed and then withdrew his testimony so he could publish his account independently.

Richard O’Rawe, an IRA prisoner on the same wing as Bobby Sands, went on to write The Blanketmen, which has caused controversy in republican circles over his account of efforts to end the 1981 Hunger Strike.

After publishing his story he wrote to Prof Hachey saying: “Thank you for making this possible, Tom”, even though the pair had never met.

Boston College has not decided exactly how to publish future accounts after other participants die or agree in writing for their accounts to be released.

“Ed Moloney is a gifted writer and a good journalist and we had no hesitation whatsoever in his involvement. He was active from the very beginning when he helped us identify people as we went along,” Prof Hachey said.

“That does not mean this is the way we will publish other accounts. Being a historian I would like to see as much made publicly available as possible and we could put it entirely, digitally, online in the future or with other scholars.”

Prof Hachey is conscious not to speculate on the impact the upcoming book and any future accounts on figures like Gerry Adams, who has denied he was an IRA member.

“Overall the project is very important. The history of the Troubles has almost become a cottage industry with about a book a month being published,” he said.

“I don’t think this will eclipse them all but it is a unique approach from all ends of the political spectrum and it’s going to be more informative than other studies have been.”