The defence witness Kevin O’Neill, whose testimony was cited by the presiding judge at the Belfast trial of Ivor Bell as evidence of a lack of professionalism in the compiling of interviews for the Boston College oral history archive, based his opinion on his reading of just one interview conducted by Anthony McIntyre at the very start of the project.
The archive in total contained over 200 interviews in the republican section while about half that number was devoted to Loyalists. The Ivor Bell section of the archive alone contained over forty interviews which stretched back to the 1956-62 IRA campaign all the way through to Bell’s court martial in the mid-1980’s, following an unsuccessful putsch he had led against Gerry Adams by organising an IRA Convention intended to displace the Adams’ leadership.
He was found guilty of treason and was sentenced to death; the sentence was subsequently suspended although never removed.
A teacher in the history department, O’Neill was one of a number of Boston College academics who had been asked by senior staff to critique Anthony McIntyre’s interviewing technique not long after the project had begun.
This was McIntyre’s first foray into oral history, there were rough edges that needed to be smoothed out and the exercise was designed to help improve his performance.
In his testimony to Bell’s trial, conducted via video link from Boston, O’Neill claimed McIntyre’s interviews were ‘a model of how not to do oral history’, but he failed to make it clear that his exposure to the archive and to interviews by McIntyre was limited to a single interview conducted at the very start of the project when McIntyre was learning the ropes.
He had never read any of Bell’s interviews for instance and until the trial was completely unaware of what had been revealed and alleged by Bell. Meanwhile his antipathy to the Republican part of the project was so well known to other staff members at the college that this writer avoided his company when visiting Boston College.
In short, he was no expert witness.
Is there any chance the Bell tapes will ever be released?
Now, there’s a question!