The reality of the disaster that is the Boston College oral history project about The Troubles struck home with a vengeance this past week.
Ivor Bell, the ex-IRA commander who is now 77 years old, was arrested and charged with aiding and abetting the murder of mother of 10 Jean McConville in 1972 based on his testimony given to the Boston College project, which began in 2001.
Bell clearly believed the assurances given that the interview he gave would not be made public until after his death. Without that assurance, likely none of the former IRA and Loyalist paramilitaries would have given their interviews.
Journalist and author Ed Moloney, who oversaw the project, stated as much and was quoted in the Boston Globe saying the project “would have never gotten off the ground,” without that false assurance.
Amazingly, Boston College itself seemed to carry out no review of the legal position of such an assurance, an incredible oversight.
Further attention was drawn to the project when Moloney’s book "Voices From the Grave," based on the recollections of two deceased participants, was published.
Allegations against living people contained in that book were a red flag to British authorities that there was some potentially explosive material in the oral history tapes.
Given the lack of legal oversight and the reckless promise that all interviews were confidential until the person died, the Boston College project was a disaster waiting to happen. Sloppily conceived, with poor oversight, the potential for trouble was evident.
Thus, when the British authorities came calling demanding all the tapes, Boston College had no legal alternative other than to fold like a cheap suit and hand them over.
This has now led to the Bell arrest and perhaps to many other lines of inquiry.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams is not alone in thinking the whole enterprise was, from the beginning, an effort to get him. Moloney and his researcher Anthony McIntyre are glaringly anti-Adams and have been scathing about the peace process.
How Boston College never picked up that bias is another indictment of low standards in high places, but one can see an unholy alliance in action here where the ultimate game is to somehow drag Adams down.
Adams has said as much. “It is clear that the so-called Boston oral history project is an entirely bogus, shoddy and self-serving effort by those involved,” he said on Monday.
“The idea for this project originated with Paul Bew, an advisor to David Trimble and was taken up by Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre who conducted the interviews. Both are vitriolic critics and opponents of the Sinn Fein peace strategy, of me in particular and of Sinn Fein and its leadership.”
The irony is that Moloney, McIntyre, Boston College, et al have tripped themselves up totally in the process and endangered every oral history project at major universities in the United States.
More seriously, they have compromised unknown numbers of people who gave their oral histories in good faith, believing the assurance that all would be kept confidential until after their demise.
As Ivor Bell can now testify, such assurances were not worth a tinker’s damn when the British came calling. Such is the outcome of this disastrous project.