Boston College will be hanging its head after Sunday’s “60 Minutes” expose that showed the damage the Boston College Oral History Project did to the participants and indirectly the Irish peace process.
Boston College has never accepted full responsibility for its disastrous handling of the entire episode which caused a massive crisis in the peace process not to mention many participants fearing for their lives.
As was clear from “60 Minutes” the college misled those who took part in the interviews that their words would remain confidential and out of police hands.
Belfast lawyer Peter Corrigan, defending Ivor Bell a former IRA commander arrested on the basis of the Boston College tapes, stated:
"Boston College carried out no safeguards in relation to obtaining the interviews...It's our case that the Boston College project was a complete sham."
A sham indeed, as “60 Minutes” presenter Scott Pelley noted in his profile of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.
The terrible crimes on both sides had not been used as a stumbling block as part of the greater good to make the process work.
Then Boston College commenced interviews with former IRA and Loyalist members who believed they were talking with no possibility of their tapes being handed over to police.
They were dead wrong.
They were misled.
The accusation by former Adams colleague Brendan Hughes, that Adams had ordered the disappearance of mother of 10 Jean McConville, became public after Ed Moloney, organizer of the Boston College project, published it in his book “Voices From the Grave.”
The entire Boston College project was used by Moloney and his fellow collaborator, dissident Republican Anthony McIntyre, to undermine Adams – who they hold in deep contempt for daring to carry out the peace process.
The most compelling part of the “60 Minutes” segment was the interview with Richard O’Rawe – no friend of Adams – who said he submitted to 20 hours of Boston College interviews on the basis that they would never be released to police in his lifetime.
He said he was badly misled by Boston College on this matter and now felt under constant death threat because he had been named as a tout, or informer, in his native Belfast.
O’Rawe said a panicked Boston College returned his tapes to him and he had burned them, giving him some satisfaction.
Adams himself made clear that the Boston College project had caused a huge crisis and that he had informed the Northern Ireland police force, the PSNI, that he was willing to be interviewed about the McConville case. They held him for four days and freed him without charge
What people fail to realize is that if Adams were to now admit that he was a member of the IRA – whether that is true or not – the entire “get Adams” apparatus, which is operating on a 24-hour basis these days, would use it relentlessly to try and remove the Sinn Fein leader and likely scuttle the peace.
His opponents are a motley crew of anti-peace process forces, some Irish politicians in the Republic who fear the rise of Sinn Fein, and well placed members of the media who have never forgiven Adams for ending their fantasy that the IRA could be defeated.
The “60 Minutes” piece was notable for its balance, making clear that without Adams, the dreadful death toll in the North would be much worse.
There is no question that the issue of unsolved murders from The Troubles, from all sides, must be dealt with.
It is high time that Irish America pushes back on this issue and makes clear that there are enough terrible crimes in Northern Ireland’s history on every side to keep every police force in Europe busy for the next decade.
What we have in Northern Ireland is an imperfect peace. “60 Minutes” made that clear, but it is certainly better than a perfect war.
We are 17 years on from the Good Friday Agreement and there is a continued if uneasy peace that marks Adams as one of the most important figures in the history of the island for his huge role in securing it against all the odds.
The McConville family deserves justice. So does every other family who lost a loved one during The Troubles.
During his “60 Minutes” interview Adams was only stating the reality that war is hell and that families are destroyed in all conflicts, wherever in the world they are.
The former American envoy Richard Haass had put forward proposals for an international commission to deal with the unsolved murders of the past in the North on a cross-community agreed basis.
What Boston College did was disgraceful and will forever blight the proud record of an institution that purports to represent the best of the Irish in America.
But despite this dreadful error, the peace process can proceed if all sides pay as much attention to the future as to the past.
That would certainly seem to be where Gerry Adams is looking given Sinn Fein’s political rise. ”60 Minutes” will not have damaged that ambition.