Why the Boston College Irish oral history project should be discontinued


They are not made promises that the archivists cannot keep and they are clearly told that the archive is not above the prevailing law. The archive is subject to the law.

Similarly one of the core principles of Healing Through Remembering, a politically diverse organisation looking at how we should deal with the past, is drawn from the tradition of medical ethics and includes four components: the disclosure to participants of all information about the risks and benefits of the process, the competency of the participants to evaluate this information, the understanding by participants of the information, and the voluntary acceptance by participants of the risks and benefits.

But when we come to Boston College we have a distorted project. I do not believe that the central aim of those involved is to have Adams arrested and prosecuted but only to punish him through embarrassment and calumny, because the evidential worth of the archive is only hearsay against Adams.

However, where other participants’ contributions involve incriminating confessions about acts for which they have never been prosecuted (and Dolours Price’s putative interviews about kidnappings and cross-border executions is a case in point) then questions have to be asked of Anthony McIntyre, Ed Moloney and Thomas Hachey and the Boston College with whom the buck ultimately stops.

I think the case of total irresponsibility and interview bias against McIntyre and Moloney has been well made and needs no rehearsing. But what of Boston College? On what precedents is it relying to defend not handing over the tapes? It cannot rely on the fact that it promised the participants confidentiality because that was never within its gift and it should have warned the participants of the risk.

The college cannot claim journalistic privilege about sources because the tapes themselves, proffered to the college, identify the sources (they are not shorthand scribbles or anonymous IRA interviews in which the voices are unidentified which McIntyre can refuse to identify).

The College can reasonably claim that the successful seizure of the tapes will deter anyone else, anywhere else in the world from participating in a similar project. But, again, in allowing Moloney to precipitously publish the book upon the death of Brendan Hughes for short-term gain (the embarrassment of Adams) the college exposed its bias and major short-comings. Not too many were thinking of the value of the project – or the imperilment of the project - when the first reviews appeared, were they?

Once the book was published, once Dolours Price said what she said, the families of the victims were bound to kick up a storm and elements of the British security establishment were either bound to exploit the opportunity or were compelled by families to take some action.

Apparently, no one is responsible for this debacle! Ask McIntyre or Moloney who is to blame and they blame everybody but themselves. Meanwhile, Hachey is scrambling for a good defence.

Would Thomas Hachey consider as a defence the innocent people who will be incriminated? That is, those of us who have been named as involved in this or that but to whom the allegations were never put for rebuttal by Moloney or McIntyre but simply lodged in Boston College as a time bomb? As one of those slandered by Brendan Hughes and, more recently, scandalously linked to a 1975 sectarian killing by McIntyre, possibly inadvertently quoting one of those he interviewed and thus breaching the supposed sacrosanct embargo, I believe we have some rights.
But such a motion would involve an admission that the whole process was flawed from beginning to end.

To thwart the PSNI and the subpoenas, I suggest that the participants withdraw the tapes – unless Moloney and McIntyre never gave them that option? Back in Belfast, having been briefed about ‘informed consent’ the participants could then release the tapes if they wish or publish books, knowing, of course, that they are in the same boat as those they implicate.

History could then judge them and their claims.
What could be simpler?

Danny Morrison is a writer who lives in West Belfast. He  was the national director of publicity for Sinn Fein and has served time as an IRA prisoner.