First of all apologies for not having posted here for so long. I had surgery at the end of July which was more exhausting than I imagined it would be and it has taken time to restore enthusiasm and interest in much else.
Today’s post replicates three articles that were published in the Boston Globe earlier this month and today. The first was an editorial in the paper, a second, in effect an answer to that editorial by myself and fellow Boston College researcher Anthony McIntyre and the third by Kevin Cullen, the paper’s famed Irish-American columnist.
Kevin’s article was inspired by a further move by the PSNI and US Attorney’s office to invade Boston College’s archive of IRA interviews, an outrageous fishing expedition which daily looks more and more like a politically motivated effort to damage the IRA’s peace process architect Gerry Adams.
The second, by ourselves, was driven by an outrageous neocon-style editorial in the Globe urging Boston College to surrender the archive to the PSNI. I am told that it was written by a woman whose normal beat is pop culture. The ignorance and lack of understanding of Irish affairs evident in the editorial was strong evidence that the woman should really stick to pop music and the world it inhabits. In the absence of any response from Boston College itself, we asked for the right of reply.
BC should abide by subpoena, provide info in murder case
August 1, 2011
BOSTON COLLEGE is justifiably proud of its relationship with Ireland and its role in helping to shepherd the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Those close ties are one reason the college has been waging a court battle against a US government subpoena, requested by British authorities, which seeks testimony from a sealed oral history project about the war in Northern Ireland. Boston College’s concerns are valid, but the interests of justice and diplomacy outweigh any claim for special protection. The promise that was made to participants in the oral history project – that their testimony wouldn’t be released until they died – must be rescinded in light of a murder investigation.
The testimony in question comes from Dolours Price, a former paramilitary with Irish Republican Army. She was interviewed several years ago as part of the Belfast Project, a laudable effort to record views and stories from both sides of the Troubles, before the participants pass away. British authorities believe her testimony contains information about kidnappings and murders committed more than 30 years ago, including the death of a widowed mother of 10.
Boston College argues that releasing Price’s testimony could having a chilling effect on oral historians everywhere. But carving out a special legal exception for oral history isn’t consistent with judicial interpretations of the First Amendment. The courts have set high standards for issuing subpoenas to journalists – whose role is specifically protected by the First Amendment and who serve a watchdog function in our democracy – but even reporters must testify under certain conditions. The benefits of oral history are more diffuse. And if the US government refuses to honor this British request, it could reasonably expect Britain to put up similar roadblocks down the line – at a time when all forms of international cooperation on terrorism are matters of life and death.
Supporters of Boston College say the subpoena itself could be politically motivated, since Price’s testimony might contain information damaging to Northern Ireland nationalist leader Gerry Adams. And the college suggests that Price and her interviewer could be in danger of retribution for talking at all. If those dangers are real, the British government should offer reasonable security. But potential threats and conspiracy theories don’t change the fact that murders, no matter how old, are worth pursuing. If a university in Ireland had information that could help solve, say, a cold-case murder from civil rights-era Mississippi, American authorities would want access to those file – and would be justified in seeking them.
BOSTON COLLEGE is currently resisting efforts by the security forces in Northern Ireland to force it to hand over part of its oral history archive on the Irish Republican Army, and as well it should. This attempt to violate the college’s files could have disastrous consequences for oral historians and their close cousins in the media. It also could be immensely destructive to the peace process in Northern Ireland.
The subpoenas that have been served are based on an unproven assertion: that an interview given to the college by a former Irish Republican Army activist, Dolours Price, could shed light on a 40-year-old murder and should be surrendered.
The truth, however, is that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), on whose behalf US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz is acting, does not know what Dolours Price told Boston College’s interviewers. Neither does Ortiz.
They do not know because the legal basis for the subpoenas is deeply flawed, the result of either rank incompetence or sleight of hand. The authorities have justified the action by claiming that an interview with Price published in a Belfast newspaper in February 2010 about the murder was derived from her Boston College interview, when in fact it was based on a separate taped interview given directly to the newspaper. Price’s interviews have never been released by Boston College and never would be – because a guarantee of confidentiality was given to every interviewee.
What is happening is essentially an unwarranted fishing expedition into the college archives. It has been suggested that not to comply with the subpoenas could anger the British government, which might then raise obstacles in America’s fight against terrorism. Yet the subpoenas are not the work of the British government per se; its minister in Northern Ireland has expressed embarrassment at the move. Rather, they originate from a small number of PSNI detectives who can hardly be surprised if their motives are questioned. After all, the murder at the center of this case was largely ignored by the police for the best part of 40 years, and even when Price’s newspaper interview was published in 2010 they did nothing.
A whole year passed before action was taken. When the police service did move, it was within weeks of Sinn Fein’s remarkable electoral comeback in the general election in the Republic of Ireland. In that election, Gerry Adams was elected to the Dublin parliament and is well-placed to lead his party into government next time. Only then did the PSNI crank into action. Was that just a coincidence?
Irredentist elements opposed to the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland have long seen this case as an opportunity to bring down Adams for his alleged role in the 40-year-old murder – and, perhaps, to bring down aspects of the peace process they abhor. The stability of the power-sharing government in Belfast could conceivably be threatened by this case. The United States played a huge role in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland; wouldn’t it be ironic if now it played a part in undoing it?
The police and the British authorities in Northern Ireland do not come to this case with clean hands. Their track record in covering up official involvement in some of the most shocking murders of the Irish Troubles is well known, and they cannot be allowed to present themselves in America as an unblemished force attempting to get to the bottom of an awful killing.
Since this case could affect the stability of the peace process in Ireland, it is worth reflecting on recent remarks made in the wake of these subpoenas by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, a body set up at the suggestion of the Clinton White House to facilitate the disarming of the IRA: Peacemaking, the commission said, “means that however reprehensible some acts are that were committed in the past, at some point a line needs to be drawn under them – never to forget, but to be able to move on.’’
Ed Moloney was the director of the Belfast Project at Boston College. Anthony McIntyre was the project’s lead researcher on the IRA.
When last we left the saga of efforts by the US attorney’s office to wrest confidential oral histories about the Troubles in Northern Ireland from Boston College, prosecutors wanted the recollections of just two people: former IRA volunteers Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price.
But give an overreaching, overzealous government an inch and they’ll take a mile.
Some new court filings show the feds, acting on behalf of some law enforcement entity in Northern Ireland that dares not speak its name, now want the whole enchilada: They want anything and everything in the BC secret archive related to the 1972 disappearance and murder of a Belfast mother of 10 named Jean McConville, who was abducted and executed by the Irish Republican Army as a suspected informer. Her body was recovered in 2003.
At least we now know what this fishing expedition is all about. It’s about using the US government as a pawn in a blatantly political act, an attempt by police in Northern Ireland to certainly embarrass and possibly prosecute the Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams over McConville’s disappearance and murder.
Hughes and Price fell out with Adams over his getting the IRA to disband without achieving Irish republican goals. They publicly accused him of being the IRA commander who ordered McConville’s disappearance and murder. Adams has repeatedly denied this.
In the nearly 40 years since McConville was disappeared by the IRA, police in Northern Ireland showed little interest in her murder. They did nothing after Price gave an interview to a Belfast newspaper in 2010, alleging that Adams gave the order to abduct, kill, and secretly bury McConville. But earlier this year, shortly after Adams was elected to the Republic of Ireland’s Parliament, the demand for BC’s archive was made. Coincidence? I think not.
BC promised Irish republican and British loyalist former combatants that their oral histories would not be released until their deaths. The feds say BC had no authority to promise that confidentiality. John McNeil, the Boston-based prosecutor who disputed the notion that menace still lurks over who says what in Northern Ireland, is a fine fellow, but I’m guessing he hasn’t spent much time in West Belfast, where hard men nurse fresh pints and old grudges.
After BC lawyers complained that the first set of subpoenas was too vague, the feds issued a second set demanding “any and all interviews containing information about the abduction and death of Mrs. Jean McConville.’’
The feds, as proxies for British law enforcement, said they want only the 26 interviews of former IRA members. There is no interest in whatever crimes were discussed by loyalist paramilitaries who took part in the project.
Not only does this show a selective, politically motivated prosecution taking place, it underscores the seriousness of the threat to the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, which is the cornerstone of the peace process. Given the hundreds of unsolved murders that took place during the Troubles, the idea that the only one of interest in those BC files happens to implicate the leader of the party that represents the majority of Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland shows what this is all about. This isn’t about justice. It’s about revenge. And if this is followed through to its logical conclusion, the power-sharing government will collapse in a sea of recrimination.
The US government spent many years and millions of dollars stewarding the peace process in Northern Ireland. Now it is unwittingly doing the bidding of others who want to wreck it.