Monthly Archives: December 2011

Mr Dumb-Ass Whiteway of the British Embassy, Dublin

Now, this might come as startling news to Sinn Fein supporters but today’s Irish Times has the British embassy in Dublin labeling me as a Provo supporter. Admittedly that was back in 1981, during the hunger strikes and a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then and admittedly it is also clear from reading the report that the diplomat in the embassy who penned all this was a dumb-ass idiot.

This is what the Irish Times report said: “While Whiteway (the idiot diplomat) did not believe there were many IRA sympathisers within the national broadcaster (RTE), he did suggest that there were a ‘scattering of them in the newspapers and magazines’. Of these, he claimed the ‘best known’ were Ed Moloney and Seán Cronin in The Irish Times, Deasún Breathnach in the Irish Independent, Vincent Browne and Gene Kerrigan in Magill , Eamon McCann and Gerry Lawless in the Sunday World and Paddy Prendiville in the Sunday Tribune. That said, it was also made clear that ‘the presence of journalists sympathetic to the Provisionals does not seem to have affected the editorial line of the main newspapers and magazines with the exception of Magill’. Most newspapers remained ‘bitterly anti-IRA’.”

With one exception, and I’ll leave you to guess his identity, I am quite proud to be a member of that group, especially the likes of Vincent Browne, Gene Kerrigan and Eamon McCann. Difficult and frustrating as he can be, Browne is the best newspaperman and editor Ireland has ever had – incidentally I have skin in the game as he gave me my break in journalism – while Kerrigan and McCann are supremely gifted writers. It is a privilege to be included in their company.

A couple of things jumped out at me from today’s piece. The first is just how shallow and badly informed Mr Whiteway was and therefore how badly informed his government must have been. If this is what he had to say about me, I shudder to think what other misinformed garbage about Ireland he was peddling to his masters in Whitehall. It also suggests that either he wasn’t plugged into his intelligence people or they weren’t plugged into anything. No wonder the Troubles lasted for four decades.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not running scared from the ‘Provo fellow-traveller’ label. I was well aware at the time that this is what people said and thought but just accepted it as the price of taking an approach to covering the North rooted in the idea that a reporter just had to take the Provos seriously and report on them accordingly. The best way to avoid the label given to me was to run with the herd and either avoid the Provos altogether or join in the outrage and condemnation, to cover them only while holding your nose. Why be a journalist if that’s how you saw your job?

In this respect I very much took my cue from Vincent. He knew, as I did, that the Provos had deep roots in the North, that they were organically connected to their community and his coverage of them in Magill, in which I participated, very much reflected that approach. I carried on in that manner after I left Magill, first with Hibernia, then the Irish Times and finally the Sunday Tribune.

Vincent Browne, pictured around the time we first met

I like to think that I also learned to be cynical and distrustful from Vincent, that you should never allow the importance of the subject matter or the relevance of the source to distract you from an abiding duty: always look for the hidden motive, the reason to push you down a blind alley. While he certainly regarded the Provos as a subject to be reported seriously that didn’t mean he always believed them. In fact, because they knew that you thought they should be covered properly, his lesson was that you should therefore beware of them taking advantage of you, be on the lookout for trickery on their part and always double and if necessary triple check.

By the time of the 1981 hunger strikes I was well travelled along an increasingly jaundiced learning curve about the Provos and their West Belfast leadership and had learned a number of things, mostly the hard way: they had a very slick propaganda department with Danny Morrison at the core of it; you would be foolish to automatically believe everything he or his minions said; more often than not, they lied like troopers and they could be very vindictive if you crossed them.

This is where Mr Dumb-ass Whiteway got it so badly wrong. If he or the intelligence people who fed him had been up to their job they would have known that the story of me and the Provos during the first and second hunger strikes was one of constant conflict and friction, not the uncritical, fawning support he suggests. In fact I mark the hunger strikes as the start of a process in which I grew increasingly cynical but realistic about the IRA and its leadership; that process ended with me writing ‘A Secret History of the IRA’.

Students of the hunger strikes will remember that the first one, led by Brendan Hughes, ended in controversial circumstances. At its core was a document presented by the British via a Redemptorist priest intermediary. I was working freelance shifts in the Irish Times’ Belfast office the night the hunger strike ended. Danny Morrison phoned the office and invited our reporters to come up and view the document that the British had presented, a document he said that spelled victory for the protesting IRA prisoners.

I didn’t drive up to Sevastapol Street but David McKittrick & Fionnuala O’Connor did. They reported back that there was nothing in the document that had not already been offered; in other words the hunger strike had not budged the British at all. I soon got hold of my own copy and was able to confirm that.

None of this stopped Danny Morrison and the rest of the West Belfast leadership from trumpeting the hunger strikers’ victory. But in the Provo grassroots there was doubt & confusion, a dangerous combination for Morrison and his crew for indiscipline and even rebellion grow from such seeds. A victory parade organised by the leadership had attracted just a few hundred, convincing evidence that few believed the official line. I learned that the Provo leadership was refusing to show copies of the document to its supporters. There was only one copy, they were told, and that had been sent to Dublin. When I heard this from a source I volunteered to drive up to Stormont Castle and get a copy for them, which we did. Anyway one way or another the Provo leadership heard that I was casting doubt on their lie and so I was banned from republican drinking clubs in West Belfast.

Mr Dumb-ass Whiteway and his intelligence people assumed that I was getting my stories during the hunger strikes from the Provos, i.e. from Morrison et al, when in fact the best ones were coming, to Danny’s great irritation, from unofficial sources who were acting either in defiance of the party whip or because of an old-fashioned affection for the truth.

Mr Dumb-Ass himself, photo courtesy of a link from Bill Grantham (see comments) - wouldn't you know he'd look something like this!

For instance in the run up to the March 1st start of the Bobby Sands protest I reported in the Irish Times that the hunger strike was going to be a staged affair, unlike the first hunger strike, with Sands leading by himself and then followed in ones and twos at regular intervals by other prisoners. This would avoid the weakness of the Brendan Hughes protest when the life of the weakest of their number was ultimately in the hands of all the other hunger strikers. It meant that deaths on this protest were more or less inevitable.

I didn’t get that story from Morrison & Co, needless to say. In fact they were furious. They had been planning a big stage-managed announcement with massive media coverage and I had pricked their balloon. As I say, Mr Dumb-ass Whiteway.

That’s how things stood when the second hunger strike began and the ban was removed. I could drink once more in the Felons, although the truth was that I really didn’t want to. But a truce of sorts was re-established. It wasn’t until death number three or four that things began to turn sour again. The election of Bobby Sands, his death and the rioting that followed, the deaths of Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara happened so fast and so closely together that it wasn’t until the lengthy gap between O’Hara’s death and that of Joe McDonnell that there was time to reflect on what was happening.

The memory I have of that time is of a growing conviction that the Provo leadership knew that the hunger strikes were a winner for them, that the whole of Ireland was being alienated from Mrs Thatcher’s government, that the ambition of entering electoral politics, something I knew West Belfast Provos had harboured for a long time, was much closer to realisation than ever and therefore it would be foolish, tactically, to end the protest.

The answer to all these questions from the likes of Danny Morrison was that the leadership was a prisoner of the hunger strikers. Those on the protest wanted to stay on it, so what could the leadership do? They couldn’t go against the wishes of the prisoners. Morrison’s line was credible because it was generally accepted that the first hunger strike had gone ahead against the wishes of the likes of Gerry Adams, who had calculated that it would probably end in failure. That seemed to give credence to the idea that the hunger strikers were in the driving seat.

Except common sense, and increasingly frequent grumbling from people I knew in the Provo grassroots, said otherwise. The IRA was a military organisation, the hunger strikers were volunteers in a command structure and if the IRA leadership ordered the protest over then it would be. Fr Denis Faul was saying this publicly, and what he said made sense, but also rank and file republicans, especially of the pre-1969 vintage, were saying something similar and expressing real anguish over a hunger strike that was being prolonged, with needless loss of life and suffering, simply for narrow political advantage, not for the benefit of those on the protest. I just didn’t believe Danny.

I like to think that my coverage during the latter half of the second hunger strike reflected this. In fact I know others felt it did. Bernadette McAliskey stopped talking to me at around this time and hostility from leadership Provos was fairly open. In fact I remember virtually giving up on running stories past Morrison and his people on the grounds that I had been told too many lies.

Danny Morrison, outside Long Kesh during the height of the prison protest, at the peak of his lying days

But I was still getting stories from non-official Provos and from others, they were good stories and Morrison & Co were furious. Eventually he approached me, complaining that I hadn’t been checking stories with him. I explained why not and he promised never to tell me a lie again.

A few weeks later, in the last week of September 1981, I heard a rumour that the hunger strike would be called off the following Saturday. I rang Morrison. Was this true, I asked him. “Absolutely not, Ed’, he assured me. Like a fool I believed him. That Saturday, October 3rd, 1981, the second hunger strike was called off. I swore, never again. Never again.

Like I say, Mr Dumb-ass Whiteway.

Boston College Indicted For Betraying Interviewees

The following piece by Chris Bray, an historian and blogger based in Los Angeles, is required reading for all those following the saga of the Boston College subpoenas. I thoroughly recommend it. It charts a disgraceful and shameful chapter in the history of American academic life.

Ciaran Barnes, the Boston College Blackguard Outed as Internet Troll

Those of you who have been following the Boston College saga will be aware of a series of articles both on my own blog, the brokenelbow.com and thewildgeese.com dealing with the background to the PSNI/DoJ subpoenas against Boston College and my conviction that these arose because of a piece of deception and chicanery on the part of two Belfast journalists, Allison Morris of the Irish News and Ciaran Barnes of the Sunday Life.

Ciaran Barnes (left) getting a prize at last year's British regional press awards

My case was that they fraudulently cited Boston College’s oral history archive as the source for a lurid story on Dolours Price’s alleged involvement in a series of IRA disappearances in 1972 when in fact the source was a taped interview done by Morris with Dolours Price.

In a deal with the Price family to protect Dolours, who gave the interview while under psychiatric care, the Irish News agreed not to use it but Allison Morris betrayed the family and passed the tape on to Barnes. He wrote that he had heard Dolours Price on a tape and wrote his report up so that it appeared that the tape had come from Boston College.

This “access” by Barnes was cited by the US attorney in Massachusetts to justify the subpoenas against Boston College. Morris later won two journalistic prizes for her article on Dolours Price.

In other words the basis of the subpoenas was bogus and was the result of an atrocious piece of dishonesty by two journalists in Belfast.

Ciaran Barnes has all this while been anonymously posting on the slugger o’toole website in Belfast, using a pseudonym, urging that the BC tapes be handed over and prosecutions instituted against those allegedly involved. He has been using the name ‘maradona’, the same as the Argentine football cheat and cocaine addict. Behaviour like this – such people are known as ‘trolls’ on the web – is bad enough when it is done by joe citizen but unconscionably unethical when practised by a journalist.

Ciaran Barnes has been outed by another Belfast blogger, Mark McGregor whose piece can be accessed here.

There are links in Mark’s piece to both thebrokenelbow.como the wildgeese.com articles.

Boston College Decision

The Broken Elbow carries the following response from Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre to the decision by a US court to deny a motion to quash a subpoena compelling the handover of material from the College’s oral history archive. The court also ruled against a motion to intervene by both Moloney and McIntyre:

 

“We are naturally disappointed but we confidently expect BC to take up Judge Young’s implied invitation to lodge an appeal. One way or another this fight will go on. There are very important issues at stake – legal & political – that could adversely affect vital and essential US interests, both domestic & international. Not least among the latter is the Good Friday Agreement in which President Clinton, Senator Mitchell and virtually the entire American body politic invested so much energy, time, effort and not least their personal & national prestige to bring a seemingly intractable and bloody conflict to an end.

“As anyone familiar with the background to this case can attest, the enforcement of these subpoenas has the real potential to create an immensely destabilising political crisis in Northern Ireland. It comes at a time when the British government is refusing to properly investigate allegations of murder connived at by its own security and intelligence services. The double standards involved in all this will send a clear and unmistakable message to everyone in Northern Ireland, a message that reverberates down through the sad, tragic and bloody history of Ireland’s relationship with Britain.

“It would be an event of extraordinary irony that a decision of a court in a country which expended so much political capital to secure peace in Ireland could threaten all that was achieved over so many long and difficult years. Given Boston College’s long record of nurturing a resolution to the conflict as well as the solemn assurances to protect confidentiality given to those involved in this oral history project, we therefore look forward to an early announcement of the college’s intention to appeal.”

Tangled Webs……..

Yet Clare’s sharp questions must I shun

Must separate Constance from the nun

Oh! what a tangled web we weave

When first we practice to deceive!

- Sir Walter Scott, Marmion

My apologies first to regular followers of this blog for the recent inactivity which I soon hope to correct. I was on a trip to Ireland – for work purposes but it was also my first substantial solo journey, and therefore road test, since my broken elbow thankfully began to heal (take a bow Hospital for Special Surgery!) – and that along with the busy aftermath back in New York has kept me away from the WordPress keyboard.

I have therefore had no opportunity to respond to Irish News’ editor, Noel Doran’s reply to my most recent broadside dealing with the disgraceful role his correspondent Rebekah…..sorry, Allison Morris played in the events which led to the US government slapping subpoenas on Boston College (BC) on behalf of the PSNI in Belfast. Just to remind readers it is my – our – unshakable belief that this affair of the BC subpoenas began when Morris passed on a tape recorded interview she had with former IRA activist Dolours Price in February 2010 to a character called Ciaran Barnes, a reporter on the Belfast Sunday Life tabloid who used the material from the interview for a lurid article about Dolours Price’s alleged role in ‘disappearing’ IRA victims in the early 1970‘s.

Noel Doran, Editor of the Irish News

Barnes wrote the story in such a way as to make it appear he had been given access to BC archive and that the information in his article had come from interviews she gave the college and not from Morris’ tape. Only one copy of each BC interview exists and they are held under conditions of great security in Boston and no-one, aside from myself, the researcher and a small group of people at the college know what she said in those interviews.

Fast forward some fourteen months and Barnes’ false, misleading claim allowed the PSNI to pursue BC and to con the US Department of Justice into seeking Dolours Price’s interviews and doing the work they themselves should have done back in Belfast more than a year earlier, i.e. get their hands on Morris’ tape.

The US authorities in turn cited Barnes’ “access” to the BC archive (see page 4) to justify the subpoenas, a claim that has no merit whatsoever because Barnes got nowhere near the archive and never would have. I mean just think about it. Boston College, one of the most prestigious & respected colleges in North America, has this super sensitive and costly archive of interviews with IRA veterans and suddenly, out of the blue gets the head staggers and allows Ciaran Barnes, a little known reporter in a small circulation paper better known for its garish exposes of Thai prostitutes peddling their trade in Belfast, entree to its secret inner sanctums? Is that really credible?

His article on Dolours Price was, we firmly believe, based on Allison Morris’ interview and the fiction of him having access to the archive in Boston was contrived by Barnes to hide his real source: Allison Morris’ tape. All this was used by the PSNI/US Department of Justice in a self-serving but fundamentally bogus way to vindicate their legal action. But the PSNI and DoJ could not have done this had Morris & Barnes not made it possible.

In other words a legal action that could have incalculable consequences was, we maintain, brought about by a piece of shameful journalistic chicanery that is, as I have said before, on a par with the Murdoch hacking scandal in the way that in both instances the journalists involved treated their sources with contempt, betraying their trust in the pursuit of lurid headlines and the dubious glory that comes with them.

I first went public with all this in an interview on TheWildGeese.com website, Noel Doran responded and then I answered. His reply to my reply can be read here and there are links to other pieces on this site which readers can follow up if they have the requisite interest and energy.

In his final reply Noel Doran seems besotted with my failure to ring him up to ask for his version of the story, that this was somehow a journalistic failure on my part. In an earlier reply to this complaint I tried to explain why this was not an appropriate course of action by making a comparison with one of Herman Cain’s more lurid recent sex scandals. A woman comes forward to complain of an inappropriate advance by Cain made in the past. She clearly knows that whereof she speaks but according to Doran she really should have checked with Cain before going public. But she doesn’t because she knows the truth and she is not going to demean herself or cast doubt on her own credibility by doing anything but go public.

I knew, we knew, immediately we got our hands on the US Attorney’s plea to the Massachusetts court back last May and June that our suspicions about Allison Morris and Ciaran Barnes were well-founded, that Barnes’ article was based on Morris’ tape recording not the BC archive. We already knew this because it could not have been otherwise but the US Attorney’s document was incontrovertible confirmation.

The woman propositioned by Herman Cain knew that when he pulled her head down to his crotch it was not to admire his new leather belt just as we knew that Barnes and Morris had contrived the Boston College fiction to cover the real source of the article, to wit Morris’ tape. Just as the woman in the Herman Cain story knew there was no point, no reason for double checking with Cain we knew, I knew, there was no point, no reason to ring Noel Doran. Would Herman Cain admit he was looking a blow job? Would Noel Doran admit his reporter had conspired with Ciaran Barnes to deceive and mislead?

Doran also said that I had given a “ludicrously flawed” account of telephone calls he had made to Dolours Price’s sister Marian. Well, as Noel Doran knows, Marian Price cannot adjudicate on this as she is being held on remand in Maghaberry jail and I would be content to leave this as it stands until she is able to give her side of the story.

But Doran missed the point I was making. I was not talking just about conversations between him and Marion Price but those that took place earlier, between members of the Price family, Allison Morris and, indirectly, Noel Doran on the day that Dolours was interviewed in her Dublin home. During these exchanges Morris was asked to leave Dolours Price’s home on the grounds that she was in no mental state to give a coherent interview (she was being treated at a Dublin psychiatric institution at the time) but Morris refused. Noel Doran has not dealt with these conversations or why it was or on whose instructions Morris refused to leave, and since I have a very good reason to know what was actually said and what happened that day, I can well understand why he has kept mum. We may return to this at a later date.

Doran complains that I split hairs over whether or not the Allison Morris piece that did appear in the Irish News in February 2010 – the article that was negotiated in those phone calls between Marian Price and Noel Doran in a deal that Morris subsequently betrayed – was an interview or not. I called it an interview, Doran said it was not, that it was “a factual report on important new developments”. So we did a bit more research and discovered that Doran’s own newspaper had described Morris’ article as “an interview”. This is important because the information in Morris’ article was clearly based on an interview with Dolours and the fact that there had actually been an interview was important to establish. Once we found evidence that the Irish News itself regarded the Allison Morris-Dolours Price conversation as “an interview” then that task had been accomplished. All that remained was to determine how that interview had been conducted.

It is one of the oldest tricks in the journalist playbook that when you have a story that you can't use yourself, perhaps because you've made a deal with, or given a promise to a source, then one way of getting it out is to pass it on to a friend in another outlet. If the subsequent story makes your own coverage look good so much the better. In the months after her and Ciaran Barnes' articles on Dolours Price appeared in their respective newspapers, Allison Morris applied for two journalistic prizes and won them both. She submitted a three article portfolio for each and her Dolours Price interview featured both times. Here she is pictured just after receiving the NUJ's Regional Journalist of the Year award in June 2010. The other prize, a month earlier, was from the Society of British Regional Editors which also awarded the Irish News the prize of regional newspaper of the year. The photograph of Noel Doran further up this page was taken as he accepted that award. Is it stretching credibility to think that by handing over her tape of Dolours Price to Ciaran Barnes, Allison Morris made all these prizes possible?

What we did not yet know for certain was whether the interview had been tape-recorded. We were pretty sure it had but we needed confirmation and I will discuss below the significance of that.

When I wrote on the TheWildGeese.com I said this about the Allison Morris tape: “Whether the PSNI have ever tried to obtain the Irish News tape is a mystery, which no one seems able to solve”. That was pretty much a shot in the dark. I didn’t know with absolute certainty that there was a tape. Members of the Price family had told us there was but we lacked independent or authoritative confirmation and, like the woman pestered by Herman Cain, there was no way that we could trust anyone in the Irish News to tell the truth, no reason to phone Noel Doran, in fact a reason not to.

Now, courtesy of Noel Doran’s latest piece on TheWildGeese and his eagerness to score a point against me, we have that proof. He writes: “As I have pointed out, Moloney himself could have solved this ‘mystery’ through one simple telephone call. We would have been happy to tell him that PSNI detectives did attempt to obtain the Irish News tape (my emphasis) but were informed that we were no longer in possession of any such material.”

Thanks Noel. Now we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was a tape, that Allison Morris tape-recorded her interview with Dolours Price. And why is this important? It is in fact a crucial piece of evidence because in his article in the Sunday Life, Ciaran Barnes wrote that he had heard a tape of Dolours Price confessing her part in the “disappearances” of 1972. We know for absolute certainty and can prove it, that Barnes did not have access to any of BC’s tapes and we also know that he did not interview Dolours Price himself. So if he listened to a tape it can only have been Allison Morris’ tape. There was no other tape. Remember as well that the Sunday Life report appeared just three days after Morris’s article appeared in the Irish News and that the two are long-time buddies. Conclusion: Allison Morris handed her tape to Barnes who concealed this by blaming BC. The subpoenas against BC are thus essentially spurious.

On the other hand if there really hadn’t been an Irish News tape or if we couldn’t prove it, then we would have been back to square one and the case against Allison Morris, Ciaran Barnes and the Irish News/Sunday Life would have been fatally undermined. But that concern has evaporated like snow on a ditch in May. As I say, thanks a bundle Noel!

(Incidentally Noel Doran neglected to mention that when the PSNI came to the Irish News looking for Allison Morris’ tape it was in June 2011, some fifteen months after the Irish News and Sunday Life articles had appeared. The PSNI visit to Noel Doran’s office came only after BC’s lawyers had highlighted, in a submission to the Massachusetts court, their failure to probe those two newspapers. All this highlights a fundamental flaw in the treaty that permits such cross-border, transnational subpoenas that should be of concern to American jurists, politicians and citizens, especially those with any concern for the Fourth Amendment: the US courts are being asked to do the work the PSNI were either too lazy or incompetent to do themselves.)

In my final TheWIldGeese.com article I pointed out that since Ciaran Barnes had had no contact with anyone associated with BC and the paramilitary oral history project before he wrote his piece on Dolours Price (or since), he could not have known from us that she had given an interview to the college. After all this was highly secret information which evidently Dolours had passed on to Allison Morris. Morris’ intense interest in the BC archive in 2010 is a matter of record (not least in her reportage in the Irish News during the weeks before Voices From The Grave was published) and it would have been astonishing if she had not asked Dolours Price if she had taken part in the project.

It was evident from what Barnes wrote that someone had told him – but it was definitely not us nor Dolours since she had not spoken to him either. I went on to say that the only possible source for this information was Allison Morris. Yet both her failure and that of Noel Doran to deny this was truly damning. Had they not told Barnes, the suggestion that they had would have jumped out at them and they would have indignantly & loudly shouted out their innocence, denying any part in this part of the story. But they didn’t. And like the dog that didn’t bark their silence was damning.

That’s the problem with cover ups. They get so convoluted, intricate and tangled that you forget what you should say and what you shouldn’t say, what you have said and what you haven’t said and invariably you screw up. That’s twice now that Noel Doran has done just that. As far as this story is concerned he might be better from now on keeping the lid of his computer firmly closed.