What Gerry Adams Should Have Said About A Troubles Amnesty For Security Forces

A political row is brewing over apparent British government plans to consider giving a blanket amnesty to British soldiers, UDR men and policemen accused of offences as serious as murder during the Troubles.

Suggestions that this change to the so-called Stormont House Agreement is in the air came after a meeting  today (Tuesday) between British prime minister Theresa May and outgoing Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams.

According to a BBC report, Mr Adams expressed ‘concern’ at the move:

“That is an act of bad faith, we weren’t told this, we understand the Irish government weren’t told this,” Mr Adams said.

“So how on earth can a British prime minister hope to persuade anybody that there’s a possibility of a new dispensation emerging when she takes up this position and her secretary of state takes up this position also?”

What if, instead, he had said something like this:

“Well if Mrs May wants to do something like that then we in Sinn Fein will support it if, and only if, everyone gets an amnesty. And we will press the Irish government to agree. Otherwise we will oppose it with every fibre in our bodies.”

With a full amnesty people could start to tell the truth about what really happened during the Troubles, who did what to whom and why, and who gave the orders.

Maybe he still will but a nagging thought in my head tells me that Mr Adams is one of those who would rather the truth stays behind closed lips?

And is Mrs May pushing this idea because she knows that full well?

 

The Tom Oliver Killing Revisited…….

About two years ago I decided that it was time to replace and update some of my computer equipment, particularly an external hard drive on which I had stored a lot of old material, emails and some sensitive stuff which I wanted to remove to free up memory or to keep out of the reach of undesirables. Amongst the data were articles I had written during my years at The Sunday Tribune.

You might remember the early external drives. The were large and clunky plastic boxes; shake them and they would rattle. The new versions were much smaller and more robust, and many are coated in rubber, which protects them in the event of a fall.

You can probably guess what happened next. As she was closing the blinds one sunny afternoon my wife nudged against the drive on my desk and it fell to the floor. I could not get it working again and although I sent it for repair to two separate sets of experts, the verdict was that the drive was dead and the material stored on it beyond recovery.

Included in the lost Sunday Tribune material was the article that I had written about my encounter in 1991 with the south Armagh IRA, against my will, concerning their killing of Tom Oliver, a Co Louth farmer who the Provos had accused of being a Garda informer.

I recently wrote about the experience here.

The article appeared in the Tribune a quarter of a century ago and when I came to write about the Tom Oliver killing for this blog, my memory of what had happened was predictably short on detail – and I could not consult my lost Sunday Tribune article.

Tom Oliver

Anyway, fast forward and the story has a happy ending. For other reasons I had begun a search of the house for missing computer files and a few days ago I discovered an old thumb drive. Lo and behold there were all my articles for the Trib, copied from a programme called Lotus to Word but legible nonetheless.

The story on Tom Oliver and my ‘abduction’ by the IRA was recovered and it soon became clear that I had omitted one important detail from my recent blog post.

The evidence against Tom Oliver was a tape recording of phone calls he allegedly had made to his Garda handler. But there was only one voice – belonging to Oliver, the IRA claimed – on the tape. Under questioning the two masked South Armagh IRA men presiding over this ‘press conference’ admitted they hadn’t tapped the phone line, just the phone box. In other words a tape recorder or transmitter had been hidden nearby and it had picked up just the voice of the caller. This was about as low tech as you could get.

I wasn’t the only journalist there. Another reporter, a freelance writer, had also been taken to the meeting. He had daily outlets whereas I was writing for a Sunday paper that would not appear for several days.

(I have debated with myself whether to name this individual but decided not to. That is partly because he was not alone in practicing this sort of ‘make it up as you go along’ sort of journalism during the Troubles; there were quite a few disciples of what you could call ‘the Frank Doherty school of journalism’. Never heard of the late Frank Doherty? You can read about him here.)

By the next day he had sold the story that the IRA now had the technical ability to bug Garda phones to newspapers on both sides of the Irish sea, a claim that was, to put it mildly, a wild exaggeration of the truth and an absurd inflation of the IRA’s technical prowess. The implication was that informers could now be traceable if they used phones to contact their handlers.

It was not what the south Armagh IRA men had said.

They had, it seemed, told the truth about why only one voice was on the tape recording; the freelance reporter was the one who had embellished the story, presumably because that made it more commercial.

I was reluctant to write the story at all, since it was clear that the whole affair was a propaganda exercise put together to justify the IRA killing a father of seven, something the newspaper should not endorse. But that caused an almighty row with the Tribune and I had to give way (a tale for another time).

So I decided to write about the encounter in the way I did, as you can see below, not just because it was the truth, but because I knew this would  disappoint those in the Provos who had lied and tricked me into going to south Armagh while countering the nonsense the other reporter had peddled to gullible newsrooms.

(Having said that I am sure that the Provos’ bosses were delighted with my companion’s coverage.)

We know a lot more now than we did then about the background to the killing of Tom Oliver. We know, for instance, that the IRA in North Louth/South Armagh did not want to kill him, had gone to a member of the IRA’s ruling Army Council to make their case for mercy but had been rebuffed. And so Tom Oliver died.

The name of that Army Council member was written down by a PSNI witness at the Smithwick Tribunal and given to the presiding judge at his request; I wouldn’t be surprised if one day I learned that the man whose name is inscribed on that piece of paper had also dreamed up the propaganda exercise which I was tricked into participating.

I have cleaned up the copy and here it is for you to read and enjoy. I don’t know what headline the Tribune subs put on it and the date on the log reads October 6th, 1991, but I can’t be sure how that relates to the actual date of publication.

From Ed Moloney in Belfast

For attention of news editor

The IRA’s efforts to counter penetration of its ranks by the security forces has been unwittingly aided by a number of recent newspaper reports which have erroneously suggested it has the capacity to tap telephone lines used by informers to contact Garda Special Branch detectives.

A propaganda exercise by the IRA has been wrongly exaggerated by some papers to give a false impression of the organisation’s phone-tapping capabilities. The effect may have been to discourage informers from contacting their Garda handlers.

The reports have inaccurately implied that the IRA tapped telephone lines along the Border to trap Tom Oliver, the Cooley, Co. Louth farmer shot dead in July by the IRA who claimed that he was anˇ’informer.

The reports, in Belfast, Dublin and London papers, wrongly implied as well that evidence shown to journalists suggested that the IRA now had a telephone tapping capacity in the South Armagh/Dundalk area which could enable it to collect evidence against informers.

The only evidence shown to journalists by the IRA was that the interior of one public telephone box – but not the line to it – had been bugged by some sort of microphone device. This had happened only after Mr Oliver fell under suspicion and was clearly not part of a permanent or widespread cross-Border phone-tapping operation.

This reporter and a freelance journalist based in the Dundalk area had been taken to a secret location allegedly somewhere in South Armagh and were played a tape purporting to be Mr Oliver talking to his Garda Special Branch handler, a man called Tom Fox.

But the only voice on the tape, which was of poor quality, was that of the man said to be Mr Oliver. The voice of his alleged Garda handler was not on the tape.

The IRA members who played the tape, two unidentified men who wore masks, admitted that only one voice was on the tape because neither the phone line nor the handset had been tapped. This, they said, was because direct interference with the line or handset might have been detected by the security forces.

Instead a bug – in effect a hidden microphone attached either to a small transmitter or a tape-recorder – had been placed somewhere inside what was clearly a payphone box. This sort of operation has been commonplace in the IRA for years and does not represent a technical breakthrough by the organisation.

While the IRA did not appear to attempt to distort the facts or mislead the two journalists over these matters – the two masked men did not try to avoid answering technical questions for instance – this has not prevented inaccurate or exaggerated reports being published.

Several newspapers repeated the wrong assertion that the IRA had claimed it had tapped Border phones. One newspaper mistakenly concluded: “It is quite probable that the IRA has fairly sophisticated bugging equipment”.

None of the reporters who wrote stories about the matter had contacted the Sunday Tribune. It is not known whether the IRA has the ability to tap phonelines but no evidence that the organisation has this expertise was shown to the two journalists.

As it is, it appears the security forces’ ability to detect illicit tapping apparently deters the IRA from widespread monitoring of telephones. The irony of the affair is that the stories that have appeared could not have served the IRA’s interests better had the organisation misled the journalists.

The reports have probably strengthened the impression that the safety of other informers could be jeopardised by the IRA’s ability to monitor or sweep Border phone lines almost at will. Informers often need to contact their handlers speedily to warn them, for example, of a suddenly organised IRA operation or activity.

The safest and most reliable way to do that is by phone but if informers believe they might be monitored by the IRA – as the reports have suggested – they could be frightened into making contact in a riskier way, or even abandon their activities altogether.

The idea that the IRA is monitoring phones on a widespread basis was also undermined by the IRA men’s own admission, when questioned by The Sunday Tribune, that the phone box was bugged only after Mr Oliver came under specific suspicion.

One of the IRA men claimed that Mr Oliver was in a small ring of people suspected of passing information to the authorities about the movements of guns and explosives. He was said to have been fed false information about a bogus IRA operation and was then followed.

The man claimed he immediately went to a phone booth where he made a call, an action which heightened the IRA’s suspicions and led to them bugging the booth.

Although the IRA claimed other locations had been monitored, the tape played by the organisation – which lasted some 15 minutes and consisted of three separate conversations – provided evidence only that one phone box had been bugged.

The caller gave the other party the same number, evidently that of a public callbox, during each conversation in case he ran out of money. The heavy accent of the man speaking on the phone together with considerable extraneous noise made it difficult to understand much of the tape.

Nevertheless it was clear that the man was discussing movements of IRA cars and vans as well as IRA personnel – whom he called the boys – and explosives dumps. The IRA members claimed that they had uncovered evidence of MrOliver’s relationship with the Garda Special Branch two years ago.

They had not moved against him, the men claimed, but kept him undersurveillance in order to discover details about the priorities and modus operandi of the Garda Special Branch. No independent evidence was,ˇa’provided to support this contention.

The IRA men claimed that Mr Oliver confessed to being an informer -an allegation denied by the Gardai and his family – after being confronted with tapes of the phone conversations. They also claim that he had agreed to work for the Special Branch in 1985 after he was caught with no road tax on his car and had provided information on safe houses, IRA members and sympathisers and movements of explosives.

The killing of Mr Oliver provoked an outcry in the Republic and a protest rally against the IRA was organised in the Cooley area. It is probable that the organisation’s decision to release details of the phone box bugging episiode was influenced not just by a desire to discomfort other informers but to persuade people in what is one of the IRA’s most important bases that they shot the right man.

(ends)

Some Thoughts On Gerry Adams

Gerry Adams announces plans for his retirement at the SF ard-fheis in Dublin

It wasn’t supposed to end like this.

It was supposed to end with Gerry Adams in Aras an Uachtarain, the name Ireland gives these days to the one-time British vice-regal lodge in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, which now houses Ireland’s mostly ceremonial, powerless President. It is the nearest thing Ireland has to Buckingham Palace.

Adams ending his political life as President of Ireland was the secret bit in the peace process strategy; it was supposed to crown a series of political triumphs that would flow from the IRA ending its war against Britain, the centrepiece of which would be the sight of Sinn Fein rear ends seated around cabinet tables on both sides of the Border. Not Irish unity but a pretty good facsimile.

The current resident gives a clue about the qualities Ireland normally seeks in its Presidents. Galwegian, Michael D Higgins, a former leading figure in the Irish Labour party is an all-round, good guy about whom nobody has a bad word to say.

Gerry Adams’ qualification for the office was to be of a very different sort. His claim lay in the leadership role he played in ending the killing in Northern Ireland and winding up the Provisional IRA, lock, stock and all its decommissioned gun barrels. A grateful Irish electorate would reward him with the highest office in its gift.

That is now unlikely to happen. Adams has not only served notice that he has no intention of standing for his Dail seat, the Irish parliament, at the next election but he has already ruled out a run for the presidency, recognising that his race has almost been run.

As the Sinn Fein faithful gathered in Dublin this weekend to bid farewell to Adams, one of the first motions they debated and approved allowed Sinn Fein to enter a coalition government as a minor partner, junior to one of the other major parties, Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.

This was actually another acknowledgement of failure, every bit as eloquent as Adams’ retirement.

When, in the early 2000’s, Sinn Fein first seriously sought elected office in the Republic of Ireland, the plan was simple and promising. On the back of delivering the peace process in the North, Sinn Fein would present itself as the new, bright, hopeful future for Ireland, a breath of fresh air in a political system that seemed moribund and essentially unchanged or challenged in decades.

If it went to plan, Sinn Fein would sweep all before them and enter government as the dominant party. Since the late 1970’s all governments in Dublin have been coalitions and politics have largely been about which party emerges as the boss.

Sinn Fein’s promise to its voters and grassroots activists was that it would not enter coalition playing second fiddle, would not compromise on enacting its programme. Others could join it in government, but Sinn Fein would call the shots.

Now, along with those lofty hopes for Adams’ elevation to the presidency, that promise has been cast to the wind.

The irony in all of this is that the person who made all this possible in the first place is most responsible for the disappointment and failure that now faces Sinn Fein.

There can be no doubt that there would have been no peace process, no decommissioning, no standing down of the IRA without Gerry Adams.

In the early 1970’s when he rose to become Belfast IRA commander, Adams was widely recognised, not least by his opponents, as a master military strategist who had, while commander of the second Belfast battalion, forced the British to introduce internment, an act that destabilised Northern Ireland almost entirely.

Internment boosted recruitment to the IRA, the British responded with Bloody Sunday and as Ireland rose as one in anger to protest, were then forced to impose direct rule. All had changed utterly.

When the IRA faced defeat in the mid-1970’s Adams charted a way out. The IRA was re-organised and by the late 1970’s was once again a military force to be reckoned with, as the deaths on the same day of Lord Mountbatten in Co Sligo and eighteen paratroopers in Warrenpoint bore bloody witness.

It was Adams who secretly nursed an ambition to run Sinn Fein in elections and grasped the chance to realise it during the H Block hunger strikes of 1981, by running Bobby Sands in Fermanagh-South Tyrone and other prisoners in seats south of the Border. He made electoral politics respectable in the Provos by associating it with military sacrifice.

Sinn Fein’s subsequent success in the Assembly election of 1982 terrified establishment politicians in Ireland but also created an unresolvable tension between the IRA and Sinn Fein: if one prospered the other had to languish.You couldn’t bomb factories one day and ask for votes the next from those who had lost their jobs.

That tension, that contradiction intensified with every election that followed.

It was at the end of the day a contradiction that defied resolution; one or the other had to prevail and the only question we cannot yet answer is whether Adams knew this at the time, or was just lucky.

The roots of the peace process, the rise of Sinn Fein and the fall of the IRA, lay in that conflict and while the full story of what happened has yet to be told, we know enough to recognise that without Adams’ caution and skill, not to mention deviousness, in handling the IRA, it could all have ended in a very different way.

During this lengthy, tortuous and often dangerous journey Adams made one serious error. He denied what everyone knew, that he had been a member of the IRA.

Now traditionally, Irish republicans never admit to being in the IRA (not least because that would bring a jail term), but neither have they believed it was acceptable to deny it, for to do so would be disown their comrades and their life’s meaning. Instead their response would be along the lines of ‘mind your own business’, although not always put so politely.

Adams’ decision to deny his past was at first regarded internally as a clever ploy which confused the IRA’s enemies. But as the peace process gathered speed and as Adams rubbed the shoulders of establishment politicians, more and more of his comrades came to regard his denial as a ploy to distance himself from some of the IRA’s worst excesses, to blame others for things he had ordered them to do.

It was this, I firmly believe, which persuaded one time close comrades like Brendan Hughes to go public on Adams’ alleged involvement in episodes like the 1972 disappearance of Jean McConville, the widowed mother of seven, killed because of her alleged role as a British Army informer.

Adams’ denial of IRA involvement thus focused attention on his record during the years of the worst IRA violence in a way which might not have happened had he been less mendacious about his past.

To Sinn Fein’s political enemies in the Dail this was a gift from the Gods. Hardly a year has passed since Adams took his seat in Leinster House that has not seen one or more extended scandals centred on claims about Adams’ alleged involvement in this or that murder or outrage.

He became politically radioactive and when Micheal Martin, the leader of Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein’s natural partner in coalition made it clear that he would never enter government alongside a Sinn Fein party that had Adams as its leader, the script for his retirement from politics was virtually written.

Adams and Sinn Fein had hoped that they would enter Dail politics and ultimately Government Buildings by putting the IRA behind them. Instead the IRA has haunted them, keeping Adams’ alleged role in violence to the fore of the public’s consciousness and preventing Sinn Fein from making the breakthrough into government and Adams from ever laying his head on a pillow in the master bedroom of Aras.

That is perhaps the greatest irony of the peace process.

(This piece was originally written for a British outlet but since it was not taken up, I have reproduced it here)

Caption Contest

As usual the best caption will get a free lifetime subscription to thebrokenelbow.com:

The Pursuit Of Anthony McIntyre Is An Act Of Vindictiveness

Malachi O’Doherty has an interesting piece in today’s Belfast Telegraph critical of the PSNI’s decision to pursue the Boston College paramilitary archive on the very sensible grounds that in a society trying to end a conflict while the need to address the past remains unresolved, it was probably the very worst course of action to take.

His argument, which is indisputable, is that the effect has been to discourage former paramilitaries of all stripes from talking candidly about their past, thus making much more vexed, if not impossible, the already difficult process of healing old wounds with the cooling balm of truth.

At the outset of the invasion of the Boston archive the authorities could argue that they were motivated by the search for justice for the orphaned family of Jean McConville, one of the first of those ‘disappeared’ by the IRA in the early 1970’s. And they probably had public opinion on their side.

But with the passage of time and as the McConville case has faded into the background, more base motives appear to be driving what remains of the investigation. That is especially apparent in the continuing pursuit of Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA activist and prisoner who was the lead researcher for the republican part of the archive.

Virtually every other interview given by republican and loyalist activists to Boston College was returned a long time ago or otherwise accounted for. Some did not ask for theirs back and others have died, but when he requested his interviews McIntyre was refused. Then when the PSNI came for them with a subpoena they were handed over. Why was that? Why were his interviews kept back?

The request for McIntyre’s interviews has by all accounts been a clumsy, poorly researched business and that has sharpened the suspicion that the PSNI/Prosecution Service investigation has been prompted by vindictiveness and anger at all the trouble he has caused.

First of all he took part in a project which was not under the control of either the British, Irish or Stormont governments and which had not been ratified by the leaderships of the paramilitary groups involved in the Troubles, particularly the Provisional IRA.

The project was not under the control of those who created and drove the peace process in other words and might therefore delve into and uncover secrets that the powers that be, especially in the IRA, preferred to keep hidden. It might actually do what it set out to do and unearth some truth.

Pursuing McIntyre can thus be seen as part punishment for breaking unwritten rules about how the past should be dealt with and part warning to others not to follow suit.

Add on to that his role as a very effective and at times cutting critic of all those involved in the investigation, not least Boston College itself, and it is not difficult to make a case that the pursuit of Anthony McIntyre is more a witch-hunt than a genuine criminal investigation.

The hounding of Anthony McIntyre is not the only example of the politicisation of the Boston College investigation.

On April 29th, 2014, a day before Gerry Adams was arrested for questioning about the disappearance of Jean McConville, Thomas P O’Neill III, a son of the famous speaker of the US House of Representatives, a Boston College trustee and a leader of the Irish-American community in Boston, published an op-ed in The Boston Globe which inter alia criticised the PSNI probe of the Boston archive on the grounds that it was sectarian, that it was focusing only on republicans and had left loyalists alone.

Not long afterwards the PSNI sent a subpoena to Boston College seeking interviews given by Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea, a former alleged figure in the Red Hand Commandos (RHC) as part of the archive on Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) activists.  The UVF and RHC were close allies.

A coincidence or a piece of blatant politicking by the PSNI? It was the first ever move by the PSNI against the Loyalist part of the archive and the timing was a disturbing indication that peace process or no peace process, the police in Northern Ireland were still not beyond allowing political considerations and/or pressure to dictate or influence their activity. Again, Rea’s interviews had been held back despite requests for their return by his lawyers.

Here is Malachi O’Doherty’s article. He is to be saluted for treading where most other journalists in Belfast will not go. Enjoy:

Malachi O’Doherty: Why our oral history isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if Boston College case succeeds

Anthony McIntyre’s partial victory against the PSNI is welcome, writes Malachi O’Doherty, but with Stormont in abeyance, a priceless historical resource is at grave risk

November 15 2017

It was probably inevitable that the police, once they learned that former paramilitaries had told their stories to Boston College researchers, would lust after the chance to read their scripts. The interviews, conducted by Dr Anthony McIntyre, an old Provo himself, promised to have priceless material in them.

With his insight into the paramilitary life, having lived it to the full, McIntyre was likely to reach the parts that other academics couldn’t.

When I first heard of the project, I thought it was wonderful. Here were the gunmen and bombers telling their stories – on the condition that they would not be made public until after they died.

Journalists and writers and interested groups, like victims and their families, the security services and plain historians, had a resource that would open up to them to potentially help to right the wrongs of propaganda and lies.

And there wasn’t much else happening to assure us of a legacy of information and attitude that would potentially counter the half-truths and ambiguities of peacemaking.

None of this was going to be good enough for the police, however. They weren’t going to be happy to have to wait for an old gunman to die before they could read his confession.

They would want him in the dock – even if they could only secure a two-year sentence for crimes committed before the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

And it wasn’t their job to ask what the rest of us might be losing when they went after the interviews; but what we were losing was massive.

When the first subpoenas against the material emerged, several of those who gave interviews asked for the recordings and transcripts to be returned to them. Those have all probably been destroyed now. Certainly, some of them have.

And a legacy of the fright that momentarily obliging paramilitaries got is that they clammed up for researchers, or, at least, became more guarded.

They are not going to concede information that might incriminate them.

This is a radical change. In the earlier periods of the peace process, some former paramilitaries had been remarkably frank with writers like Kevin Toolis and Ed Moloney and with the Press.

And, thankfully, research continues beyond the scare that the PSNI created, but always with the thought in mind that the police have a will to make arrests and get convictions, even for offences committed decades ago. And even that they are pushing for results that almost inevitably elude them.

The strongest signal of this intention was the arrest of Gerry Adams in May 2014. Republicans said at the time that this was politically-motivated action by “dark forces” in the PSNI. It was, in fact, no less than a determined attempt to put Adams in jail.

And while those of us who write the history of the Troubles might fulminate about Adams’s blithe refusal to ever concede he was an IRA leader, he knows that, if he did own up to it now, he would be arrested again. The effort to create a record of the past through oral history is now being inhibited by the police.

That would not be such a problem if the other mechanisms available to us for securing information about the past were functioning. But they aren’t.

The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) collated a huge amount of valuable information but distributed it widely to interested families, so there is no central record of its work available to us. And some of the reports that have come into the public domain have proven to be remarkably slight, repeating only what was known, including clips from newspapers and references to books.

In effect, they recycle what oral history we already had, rather than add to it.

The Fresh Start agreement developed plans for an oral history archive but without the Executive sitting to allocate resources to such a scheme, it is currently in abeyance.

There was a plan to create a peace centre at the Maze prison site but that was scrapped by Peter Robinson as First Minister, out of a fear that it would endorse the IRA.

During talks with the parties on the legacy of the past, Richard Haass proposed a museum of the Troubles, an idea I had myself aired previously in articles in this paper and others.

There were no serious takers, although there is a Troubles archive at the Ulster Museum and a record of the art of the Troubles, compiled with the assistance of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

And there have been other fruitful projects, like the BBC’s series of victim stories, which were aired through one year in the late-1990s. Gathering stories of the past is part of the work of all media outlets.

Journalists, however, tend to focus on the story of the day and not to collate their work.

The exception to this was the remarkable Lost Lives archive, a record of all the killings of the Troubles period. But Lost Lives was not oral history; oral history is a record of the stories of individuals. It is memoir.

It is a flawed record in many ways, because people who were at the same location will remember differently what happened there. Sometimes they are demonstrably wrong.

The Boston College project was a brilliant effort to draw on the stories of the paramilitaries.

The police are continuing to seek to advance cases against some of those who told their stories, even though, as evidence, they appear not to be strong.

Dr McIntyre himself has legally challenged the police efforts to access his own story and has now scored a point in the court battle.

The police have been given two weeks to explain why a “defective process”, which brought McIntyre’s recording back to Belfast, should not be grounds for sending it back to Boston.

The case proceeds against Ivor Bell, allegedly one of McIntyre’s interviewees. The defence argues that he suffers from dementia and is not fit to be tried.

The Boston College project was potentially of immense value to historians and to future generations of traumatised families and it has been scuppered by the police, blundering in, to little benefit to themselves, trampling in size nines over the best prospect we have had of an historical corrective.

They are right to be getting on with their work while the politicians fail to develop an alternative. But there are costs beyond security concerns that no one is seriously yet taking into account.

Belfast Telegraph

 

Russia Breathes Sigh Of Relief As Ireland Exits World Cup

Russians from Moscow to St Petersburg flooded city streets last night in celebration when it became clear that the Republic of Ireland soccer team had been knocked out of next year’s World Cup.

A classy Denmark team humiliated the Irish in the second leg of a qualifying game in Dublin by five goals to one, including a hat-trick scored by Spurs attacker Christian Eriksen.

“We just can’ believe it’, said Yuri Chekninski, a bus driver in Moscow. “We were dreading them getting through. Imagine what it would have been like, three weeks, maybe more, of having to listen to ‘The Fields of Athenry’ every day and night! Now we are so happy!”

Chekninski said he and his friends were so upset at the prospect of thousands of Irish fans bellowing the song endlessly that they were planning to rent a holiday villa on the Black Sea during the tournament.

“Even that might not have been far away enough. One friend was even thinking of volunteering to fight in Ukraine. Anything but ‘The Fields of Athenry’.”

Older Men Chasing Young Girls – An Evangelical Thing

A fascinating piece in the Los Angeles Times by Kathryn Brightbill putting Roy Moore’s sexual dalliances with young girls in the context of American evangelical Christian culture, viz. it is considered quite normal in such circles for older evangelical men to seek out teenage girls for relationships and marriage.

In evangelical eyes Moore’s only sin may be his failure to secure the mothers’ permission to pursue their daughters. This culture gap in US society may help to explain why Republican leaders in Alabama and other states with large Christian electorates are not turning against Moore whilst others in Congress are.

Roy Moore’s alleged pursuit of a young girl is the symptom of a larger problem in evangelical circles

By Kathryn Brightbill

We need to talk about the segment of American culture that probably doesn’t think the allegations against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore are particularly damning, the segment that will blanch at only two accusations in the Washington Post expose: He pursued a 14-year-old-girl without first getting her parents’ permission, and he initiated sexual contact outside of marriage. That segment is evangelicalism. In that world, which Moore travels in and I grew up in, 14-year-old girls courting adult men isn’t uncommon.

I use the phrase “14-year-old girls courting adult men,” rather than “adult men courting 14-year-old girls,” for a reason: Evangelicals routinely frame these relationships in those terms. That’s how I was introduced to these relationships as a home-schooled teenager in the 1990s, and it’s the language that my friends and I would use to discuss girls we knew who were in parent-sanctioned relationships with older men.

One popular courtship story that was told and retold in home-school circles during the 1990s was that of Matthew and Maranatha Chapman, who turned their history into a successful career promoting young marriage. Most audiences, however, didn’t realize just how young the Chapmans had in mind until the site Homeschoolers Anonymous and the blogger Libby Anne revealed that Matthew was 27 and Maranatha was 15 when they married. Libby Anne also drew mainstream attention to Matthew Chapman’s writings, in which he argued that parents should consider marriage for their daughters in their “middle-teens.” At that point the Chapmans stopped receiving quite so many speaking invitations.

The evangelical world is overdue for a reckoning.

Child marriage advocate Vaughn Ohlman followed more or less the same arc. He made a career out of speaking at home-school conventions until the wider world heard tell — again thanks to Homeschoolers Anonymous — of his planned retreat for families to arrange child marriages.

“Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson advocated for adult men to marry 15- and 16-year-old girls and deemed age 20 too old because “you wait until they get to be 20 years old, the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket.” Home-school leader Kevin Swanson, whose 2015 convention was attended by several Republican presidential candidates, defended Robertson on his radio show after the story broke. Advocating for child marriage hasn’t slowed down Robertson’s career. He just got a new show on the conservative digital network CRTV.

As a teenager, I attended a lecture on courtship by a home-school speaker who was popular at the time. He praised the idea of “early courtship” so the girl could be molded into the best possible helpmeet for her future husband. The girl’s father was expected to direct her education after the courtship began so she could help her future husband in his work.

In retrospect, I understand what the speaker was really describing: Adult men selecting and grooming girls who were too young to have life experience. Another word for that is “predation.”

Much of the sexual abuse that takes place in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, or IFB, churches involves adult men targeting 14- to 16-year-old girls. If caught, the teenage victim may be forced to repent the “sin” of having seduced an adult man. Former IFB megachurch pastor Jack Schaap argued that he should be released from prison after being convicted of molesting a 16-year-old girl, asserting that the “aggressiveness” of his victim “inhibited [his] impulse control.” In the wake of the Schaap case, numerous other stories emerged of sexual abuse cover-ups involving teenage girls at IFB churches. In another high-profile case, pregnant 15-year-old Tina Anderson, who was raped by a church deacon twice her age, was forced to confess her “sin” to the congregation.

Prominent conservative Reformed theologian Doug Wilson has a documented history of mishandling sexual abuse cases within his congregation. Nevertheless, he continues to be promoted by evangelical leaders such as John Piper, whose Desiring God site still publishes Wilson’s work. When a 13-year-old girl in Wilson’s congregation was sexually abused, Wilson argued that she and her abuser were in a parent-sanctioned courtship, and that this was a mitigating factor.

There’s no shortage of such stories. A Presbyterian Church in America, or PCA, pastor attempted to discipline a woman who warned home-school parents of the convicted sex offender in his congregation. (The sex offender had gone online to solicit a 14-year-old girl for sex.) Another PCA church allowed that same convicted sex offender to give the invocation at a home-school graduation ceremony. He wasn’t perceived as an attempted child rapist, and he was “repentant.”

Growing up, I witnessed an influential religious right leader flirting with some of my teenage friends and receiving neck and shoulder massages from one of them. I’ve been expecting a scandal to break with him for years, but in the meantime, this man has put significant time into campaigning for anti-trans bathroom bills while deeming trans people “predators.”

The allegations against Roy Moore are merely a symptom of a larger problem. It’s not a Southern problem or an Alabama problem. It’s a Christian fundamentalist problem. Billy Graham’s grandson, Boz Tchividjian, who leads the organization GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment), believes that the sexual abuse problem in Protestant communities is on par with that in the Catholic Church.

The evangelical world is overdue for a reckoning. Women raised in evangelicalism and fundamentalism have for years discussed the normalization of child sexual abuse. We’ve told our stories on social media and on our blogs and various online platforms, but until the Roy Moore story broke, mainstream American society barely paid attention. Everyone assumed this was an isolated, fringe issue. It isn’t.

Kathryn Brightbill is legislative policy analyst at the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, a nonprofit advocating for the interests of home-schooled children.