‘I, Dolours’ – The Backstory

By Ed Moloney

The origins of this film on the life of the late Dolours Price – directed by Maurice Sweeney and produced by New Decade TV – lie in an interview that she gave to the Belfast daily, The Irish News in February 2010, in which she spoke, for the first time publicly, about her part in the saga of the IRA ‘disappeared’.

That interview set in motion a cascade of crises that culminated in an agreement between herself and myself in which she made a promise not to reveal any more about the ‘disappeared’. In return she would record her story on tape and video and it would not see daylight until she died. That way the truth could eventually be told without causing harm to herself.

The journey to that agreement was a long and complicated one, so for the purpose of brevity I will tell the story in bullet points:

  • For around three or four years I was the director of the Boston College Oral History Archive which was established in 2001 to collect and record interviews with participants in the Northern Ireland Troubles, primarily Republican and Loyalist activists;
  • I had been a journalist in Belfast until 2001, most recently for the Dublin-based Sunday Tribune. That year I moved to New York. In 2003, Penguin published my study of the IRA’s journey to the peace process, a book called ‘A Secret History of the IRA’;
  • Dolours Price was one of several former IRA members who I spoke to for the book. Amongst other things, she confirmed the existence and role of ‘the Unknowns’ and told me about the ‘disappeared’.
  • When the Boston archive was set up, Dolours Price agreed to give a series of interviews about her life and times in the Provisional IRA. Both myself and the researcher knew that she had been involved with ‘the Unknowns’, in taking people away to be ‘disappeared;
  • Before the interviews began Dolours was given the opportunity to exclude subjects she did not wish to speak about at all or fully in her interviews, matters that she did not want her family to know about. She chose ‘the disappeared’ as one of those subjects.
  • In 2009, I was asked to write a book based upon interviews given to the archive by Brendan Hughes, a former Belfast commander of the IRA, a hunger striker and a onetime close friend of Gerry Adams. RTE and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland also accepted a proposal to make a documentary based on the book
  • In late 2009 we approached Dolours Price in Belfast for an interview and she agreed. She and Brendan Hughes had been close comrades. Shortly afterwards I was contacted by a family member who told me that Dolours had been ill with PTSD. I was asked not to interview her and immediately agreed. There the matter would have ended but for events;
  • I have always believed that one event in particular pushed Dolours Price over the edge. In late 2009, the Belfast daily, The Irish News reported that the IRA had lied when it had admitted ’disappearing’ people during the Troubles. A list of victims prepared by the organisation, the paper reported, was incomplete. Missing was Joe Lynskey, the IRA’s chief of intelligence in Belfast and the first ‘disappeared’ victim to be driven across the Irish Border by Dolours Price;
  • Joe Lynskey was a friend of Dolours Price. He believed utterly in the IRA, believed he had been rightly sentenced to death and went willingly with Dolours across the Border. He could have escaped but didn’t. I think the reminder of all that disturbed her intensely and led to the next fateful step;
  • In February 2009, Dolours Price gave an interview about the ‘disappeared’ to The Irish News reporter who had broken the Lynskey story, but her family intervened with the editor to reduce the harm.
  • I visited her in hospital that day only to learn that she had scheduled another interview, this time with The Guardian. Her family didn’t seem to know about this. I knew the journalist; he was good at his job. Nothing, it seemed, was going to stop her from telling her story to the world;
  • It was clear that a major effort would have to be made to stop her from a course that would be disastrous for her and her family;
  • So, I made the proposal that has led to this film. She could sit down and tell her story on tape and video; it would then be stored away until her death. Only then would the world hear what she had to say about that period – and I told her that if she predeceased me, and I was able, I would ensure that her story was told. She agreed;
  • Although subsequently she gave interviews to CBS and The Sunday Telegraph, Dolours Price never revealed publicly the full, untold story of the ‘disappeared’ which is disclosed in this documentary. She kept her word. And I have now kept mine;
  • The result is this film, ‘I, Dolours’.

14 responses to “‘I, Dolours’ – The Backstory

  1. Good explanation, Ed.

    Let us know when you’re back.

    Carl

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Setting aside for now the wisdom or otherwise of the failure to secure the Boston Tapes from seizure by anti-Republican forces I have never understood the nature of the limited guarantee given to those willing to commit their memoirs to tape. While a guarantee to maintain the secrecy of the content of the tapes during the lifetime of the participants in the exercise was made to protect each of them from prosecution, it did nothing to protect anyone that they might have named as having been involved, along with them, in potentially actionable activity. This omission effectively turned those who named such people in the tapes into posthumous felon-setters. And, although I am aware that both Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes were quite ill towards the end of their lives and nurturing deep grievances against former comrades, I somehow find it hard to believe that they would have wittingly participated in an exercise that left such a gaping hole in its defences as to turn them into “touts” after their deaths.
    Were you not aware of this deficiency in the guarantee ? Did you not make your interviewees, in particular Price and Hughes, aware of such possibility ? If they were made aware, did then then willingly consent to their memoirs be used in any attempt to convict former comrades after their own deaths ?
    This is even more troubling to me than the weakness in protecting the tapes from seizure as that failure, while eventually disastrous, at least had no element of malice attached.

    • These were BC’s terms not mine, i would have preferred a 20 or 30 year rule. Nonetheless each participant was fully aware of the terms and agreed by signing a contract. It is not an abnormal arrangement in these matters…..

  3. Thank you for your swift reply which would seem to indicate that Price and Hughes both understood the strong possibility of material provided by their testimony being used, after their deaths, to bring charges against former comrades.
    Did not you or your collaborator, Anthony McIntyre, himself a former IRA Volunteer, not at least discuss with each the effect such a selfishly unthinking decision might have upon their own posthumous reputations as Republicans ?

    • Your knowledge of the criminal law is sadly, indeed embarrassingly lacking. Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price could incriminate themselves but not anyone else. That was why interviews could not be published while the interviewee were still alive. It was to protect the interviewees. What they had to say about others might be interesting or even scandalous but it is classified in law as hearsay and cannot be used as evidence against anyone. Legally it is just gossip. You really should pause and think before you make assertions like the one above; you just make yourself look foolish.

  4. ‘The Disappeared’ has to rank amongst one of the most evil collection deeds ever carried out during the period of the conflict. To put it bluntly, if you have killed someone it is safe to say you have made your point. Hiding bodies and forcing families to endure years of torment is simply beyond words. While interviews with the likes of Dolours Price offer up insights into activities which otherwise very few were privy to and as such are invaluable. However, I can only wish that the last few years of torment Price endured prior to her death gave her some idea what the families of her victims had to go through for all those years.

    • At least she told her part and disclosed the truth. Being disappeared also means that the truth is never told about a person’s death. And there are many victims like that, many of whose killers, I suspect, you might politically sympathise with on the pro-British side of the conflict. What do you say about those victims?

      • Some ill applied logic there and a bit of whataboutery added to the mix as well. What is this, TalkBack or something? You some how deduce that because I criticise the actions of the IRA that makes me some card carrying pro state reactionary? You couldn’t be more wrong it you tried. The fact of the matter is that I hold equal contempt for the actions of Price as I do for the alphabet soup of groups which Downing St used as murder gangs during the conflict i.e MRF, FRU, 14th Int etc etc.

        I expected more from a respected journalist.

      • You haven’t seen the film nor heard anything she has said, yet you make a judgement. That was my criticism of you, that you reacted in the absence of evidence…..

  5. I made no assertions. I simply asked questions of you. If you felt rankled by the questions I can hardly be blamed for your sensitivities.

    I had already argued elsewhere (at the time of the arrest of Gerry Adams (following disclolures made by Dolours Price) and during all the brouhaha over the seizure of the Boston Tapes, that any disclosures therein could not be used as evidence against a named third party. However, the arrest of Adams indicated that, at least, the PSNI thought otherwise, or at least that the disclosures gave them enough to make arrests and seek further corroboration under questioning.

    • The Adams’ arrest was a public relations exercise and everyone, not least the PSNI, knew that. There was never any chance of charging Adams on the basis of anything in the tapes. But there was an opportunity to embarrass him, which they took……i am not in the least rankled by you or your comments (not questions); I was merely pointing out a gross error on your part ref the possibility of a 3rd party being charged on the basis of one person’s account of his or her life.

  6. I see the family have now dismissed the story about Hastings Street, but have accepted other elements of her story. Did they ever respond to your call to join them in submitting the FOI request for the war diaries?

      • That is a shame. A genuine chance to resolve the issue, and they ignore it.

        I suppose you can’t blame them for maybe not wanting to explore any possibility of her being an informer but, ever since Nuala O’Loan debunked their tale of her helping a wounded soldier (which is rarely commented on these days), they’ve never been able to offer up a compelling tale as to why their mother was killed and buried in such a fashion.

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