The first thing that needs to be said about the Boston College fiasco is that the college made a serious error in giving the assignment to interview former IRA and Loyalist leaders to journalists Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre.
Both men had serious anti-Sinn Fein agendas, arising out of their opposition to the party’s strategy with regards to the peace process.
That made the Boston College exercise of conducting interviews from 2001 to 2006 a deeply partisan one, with many concluding that the aim was to get Gerry Adams and other former IRA leaders who went the peace process route.
That was certainly evident in the Voices from the Grave book by Moloney, which contained many allegations against Adams by former IRA commander Brendan Hughes with no counter argument or perspective given.
The fact that Hughes was a very ill man at the time of the interviews and had split with Adams over the peace process was important information.
The second major error by Boston College was allowing the interviewees to assume the assurances that their testimonies were guaranteed to be kept secret until they passed away were correct. This has proven to be a deeply flawed belief.
That was not so much the error of Moloney and McIntyre, who are not legal specialists, but of the college itself, which did not carry out the necessary legal investigation to see what the liabilities really were.
Fact is, as Judge Patricia Lynch pointed out in her statement upholding the release of the tapes, a previous Supreme Court judgment upholding the government’s case that they were entitled to access if the testimony contained possible evidence of a crime was utterly missed by the college.
Now we have a deeply troubling situation where secret evidence will be handed over, and a very damaging precedent for future oral history projects, whatever the topic.
It is very unlikely that there is any earth shattering evidence in the tapes. Most speculation surrounds the Dolours Price evidence on the Jean McConville killing, one of the most notorious of The Troubles, but she pretty much gave the same evidence, it is believed, in an interview with The Irish News with no subsequent actions.
Price and her sister Marion became deeply estranged from Sinn Fein over the peace process, so like Moloney and McIntyre, they have every reason to paint figures such as Adams in a negative light.
What we have overall is a botched oral history project that reflects very badly on Boston College, which apparently carried out very little due diligence into the researchers and their particular political agenda.
The only alternative to that scenario is that Boston College cooperated willingly with a deeply biased and skewed version of the peace process and how it came about, which is hard to believe.
Either way the damage has now been done and the British authorities, who willfully ignored so many murders over the years, now is suddenly agog at “new” evidence in the McConville case -- or so we are led to believe.
More than likely, this is yet another tired and disastrous attempt to damage Adams and the Sinn Fein leadership at a time of great progress by the party. This attempt to unhorse them looks to have ended in spectacular failure, like so many others.