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The Boston College Photo by: Google Images

The Boston College IRA tapes controversy -- A reply to Niall O’Dowd

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The Boston College Photo by: Google Images

Editor’s Note: Niall O’Dowd’s Periscope column recently criticized the handling of the IRA interviews for the Boston College  archives which are now being sought by Northern Ireland authorities. Here, journalist Ed Moloney and academic and activiist Anthony McIntyre who conducted those interviews, give their side of the story.

There is clear evidence that Niall O’Dowd does not know ‘full well’ the background to Boston College’s Belfast Project. And on the basis of not knowing ‘full well’ he pumps out a piece riddled with errors. What evidence O’Dowd has found is as clear as the mud he seeks to sling.

This is somewhat unfortunate because for a while Niall O’Dowd strongly opposed the British government’s efforts to invade Boston College’s oral history archive. Now he has opted to say nothing about the British and instead seeks to exonerate Boston College and the American courts. All in the dubious service of blaming the researcher and project director.

Quoting from a ‘Boston College affidavit’, which was not in fact a Boston College affidavit, O’Dowd writes:

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“Prior to the commencement of the project, Robert K. O’Neill, the Burns librarian (where the tapes were to be housed) cautioned Moloney that although he had not spoken yet with Boston College’s counsel, the library could not guarantee the confidentiality of the interviews in the face of a court order.”

The striking aspect of this and other parts of his May 2000 fax to Ed Moloney - which O’Dowd fails to cite - is that it is clearly O’Neill’s preliminary judgement of the legal situation. For instance, he went on to say: “Nevertheless, the First Amendment to our Constitution is greatly cherished here, and I suspect the courts would look upon these interviews as privileged information.” Our need for firm guarantees was one reason why the project was not started in the summer of 2000 but was delayed a further eight months. We required very specific assurances and we waited until we got them. When Boston College finally came back with those assurances, which it later provided separately to the loyalist side of the project, the green light was given.

And what were the loyalists assured? We were not directly involved in their deliberations but some of their number had face-to-face meetings with senior college staff in Belfast and in their own words, these representatives of Boston College:

.....from day one, gave guarantees that were directly related to the interest this material would have from the PSNI. (BC staff)…gave these guarantees formally as official representatives of BC and did so putting on the line the integrity of this unrivalled Irish Studies collection in this illustrious academic institution. At every meeting subsequently, discussion centered around how the project was coming along and every time that discussion touched upon how none of this could have happened without the iron clad guarantees that predicated the whole thing.

O’Dowd then proceeds to cite Boston College spokesperson Jack Dunn’s assertion that ‘an agreement was signed between Boston College and Ed Moloney that stated that each interviewee is to be given a contract guaranteeing confidentiality to the extent that American law allows.’

While this is not in dispute, it seems to be a late in the day fallback position adopted by Boston College to shift the blame onto to other shoulders. Their position when the court case began last May was substantially different. As the Boston-based lawyer Ted Folkman points out at Letters Blogatory: ‘in its motion to quash the subpoena, Boston College did not suggest that the promise of confidentiality was a promise only to the extent permitted by American law’.

That aside, one would expect the contract drawn up by Boston College to have this health warning, if that indeed is what it was, written clearly and unambiguously into the confidentiality contract. So what exactly did this donor agreement say?

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