A new memo in the Boston College tapes controversy reveals a leading Boston College history professor stated he voiced his objections to “leading questions” by the interviewers in the oral Irish history tapes but his objections were not considered.
The content of the tapes of IRA members recollections were later seized by Northern Irish police and used in the arrest of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams who was later released without charge.
The interviewees believed the tapes would not be released until after their deaths but the courts ordered some of them released after Northern Irish police sought them
Professor Kevin O’Neill, a co-founder of the Boston College Irish Studies program, was originally supposed to have been included in the oversight committee of the interviews but his involvement was “informal and brief” the Boston Globe reports.
The Globe reports that O’Neill said he had immediate concerns after he read a transcript from the project that he line of questioning revealed a clear political perspective.
Critics have long claimed that the organisers of the project, Lord Paul Bew a leading academic in Northern Ireland, journalist Ed Moloney and dissident Republican Anthony McIntyre shared a major anti-Gerry Adams perspective.
“Such leading of subjects would be thrown out in a court,” O’Neill wrote in a memo to oral tapes overseer Professor Tom Hachey, a copy of which was provided to the Boston Globe. “They are equally damaging in the collection of oral history.” Kevin O’Neill said Hachey never responded to his concerns.
Moloney has claimed allegations that the interviews were one-sided are unfair, saying researchers spoke with everyone they could.
In a statement, Hachey said that the lack of oversight was a byproduct of the urgent need for secrecy.
“Given how the desire for confidentiality among the Belfast Project participants was so very strong from the outset, the prevailing wisdom at the time dictated keeping the details as secretive as possible,” he said.
“With the optic of hindsight, however, I do regret that we did not include a few colleague specialists from both Boston College and elsewhere in reviewing the project, despite the potential security risk in any wider exposure of the project,” he added.
Susan Michalczyk, assistant director of BC’s Arts and Sciences honors program and president of the university’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors told the Globe. “There should have been direct faculty oversight. Academic freedom can only be maintained when people adhere to the policies that preserve ethical practices.”
Other academics disagree saying police seizing tapes could never have been predicted. “I don’t fault Boston College at all,” said Thomas Groome, professor of theology and religious education at BC. “I don’t think anyone could have known this was going to happen.”
Groome said he blames the British government “Why would they insist on these tapes? They know they would never be credible enough to convict anyone,” Groome said. “They’ve ruined oral history and achieved nothing but returning us to the sectarian tensions of bygone years. It’s unfortunate, because there are so many stories that now will go to the grave.”