On last night’s Late Late Show on RTE, Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Fein trotted out the hoary canard that the Boston College oral history archive had a political agenda when choosing who to interview or not interview for the project.
Long before I left Ireland to live in America, Sinn Fein was employing the same tactic against myself, accusing me of political bias in my coverage of the peace process and in particular claiming that I was prejudiced against and even obsessed with Gerry Adams. It was clear to me then as now what the real purpose of this slur was.
This is an old public relations trick designed to intimidate other members of the media by demonstrating what could happen to them if they followed my example and probed too deeply into the opaque depths of the Provisionals’ internal politics. Unfortunately such tactics all too often work and their result is always to the benefit of the initiators, in this case less scrutiny of their business.
In relation to the Boston project, Mary Lou cites two interviewees to justify this accusation. One was Brendan Hughes, the other Dolours Price. Is she really saying that when it comes to compiling a history of the IRA and the Troubles, the woman who led the first IRA bombing team to London and the man who was Gerry Adams’ closest buddy and whose IRA career is the stuff of which legends are made should be excluded because they and Sinn Fein had fallen out?
So who then, Mary Lou should be allowed to speak for the history books for Sinn Fein and the IRA? Only those who parrot the party line of who was or was not in the IRA? Really? What sort of history would that produce?
No, the truth about the Boston project in this regard is disappointingly prosaic. The biggest problem we had was persuading anyone to be interviewed at all and we accepted what we could get in many instances. Inevitably some people will be more motivated than others for reasons to do with their experiences with the IRA but that is the nature of the beast and their stories are as valid as anyone’s.
We also attempted to spread the interviews among different organisations so that this would not be a project dominated by Provisionals.
Mary Lou makes her allegation in complete ignorance of the truth. She does not know who we interviewed. She only knows about two of them out of nearly thirty and from that small sample she draws huge and in this case erroneous conclusions.
In the circumstances I am more than ready to forgive her; after all she joined this organisation when the war which so scarred the lives of Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes – and many others – was thankfully over. She has no personal, first-hand experience of these issues and has to rely on others in her party for her information. I can therefore understand why she has got the story so badly wrong.