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I was very sad to hear this week of the passing of Fr. Des Wilson, a man who I greatly respected, even in more recent years when it became more difficult for he and I to speak with the honesty and forthrightness which had characterized our relationship in earlier, simpler years.
Notwithstanding that I will always be grateful to Fr. Des for agreeing to baptize our son, Ciaran, even though he knew that neither of his parents believed in the religion which had guided his own life and led him, through devotion to great political principle, into sometimes bitter conflict with his superiors.
Our difficulty was that the mother of Ciaran’s birth-mom, Joan, was planning a lengthy trip from New York to look after Ciaran following his birth and being a traditional Catholic from Co. Mayo would expect her grandson to be inducted into the faith of her fathers.
So what were a couple of atheists to do? Fr. Des was the answer. He was the next best thing to, if not an atheist priest, then at least a slightly agnostic one. And he readily agreed. The brief ceremony was held down in the Markets and after the necessaries, we all retired to Ireton Street for a fine lunch, some intoxicating liquor and good craic. And a happy and contented mother-in-law.
Many thanks, Des. Sleep well.
….of the day he wondered, over a coffee in the Beeb’s canteen, whether I’d be interested in working at Ormeau Ave. I liked Seamus, he was always a decent spud to me and a good journalist. So I let him down gently and made a polite excuse. The truth was that me and the BBC would get along like a fart in a crowded tent. I knew that but it was a tribute to the man’s generosity of spirit that he thought it might be otherwise.
Gareth Mulvenna is a writer and an observer of Loyalism whose work I have praised before on this site. In this piece for writingthetroublesweb he takes BBC Spotlight to task for failing to properly examine Loyalism in its recent ‘Secret History’ series. I think he has a point. The series was generally Provo heavy (leaving out the Officials and the INLA by and large) and aside from examining the role played by Loyalists in edging the IRA to a ceasefire, light on the early years and development of groups like the UDA and their relationship with mainstream Unionism. Anyway, here are his thoughts:
By Gareth Mulvenna–
secret historya version of historical events which differs from the official or commonly accepted record and purports to be the true version – Collins English Dictionary
This is not intended to be a comprehensive review of the recent Spotlight series. I don’t think it is possible to fairly appraise the full project in only 1500 words; however, it aims to provide a few comments on some issues which I noted over the seven episodes, analyse the dearth of new information on loyalism (my main area of interest) and appeal for a better understanding of what the aims of the programme actually were. I also hope it will generate a discussion among academics and others about the documentary itself and journalistic treatments of the ‘Troubles’ more widely 50 years on from 1969.
When it was announced that the Spotlight team were working on a ‘secret history’…
View original post 1,425 more words
So who told British intelligence about Bowyer Bell’s documentary film, ‘The Secret Army‘ and the incriminating scenes of a young Martin McGuinness helping to assemble a car bomb and handling a revolver and bullets?
Ever since the BBC Spotlight ‘Secret History‘ team reported that, according to Leo Gildin, the budget director for the film and executive producer, a section of British intelligence – whether MI5 or MI6 is not clear – had viewed the film, which then failed to make a single sale, guesswork has centred on Bowyer Bell, who is said to have had CIA associations.
Equally torrid has been the speculation that British intelligence then used the scenes to blackmail McGuinness into working for them, which if true would mean that the British had a spy at the very top of the IRA for much of the Troubles.
McGuinness was Chief of Staff between 1978 and 1982, and Northern Commander from the mid-1980’s to almost the end of the IRA’s campaign in the early 1990’s. If he was a spy, then he was in an ideal place to keep the British abreast of political and military developments inside the organisation.
But Bowyer Bell was not the only member of the production team who had links to the murky world of espionage and agent handling.
The film’s director and co-writer was an Israeli journalist who had been a member of an armed Jewish group in the years leading up to the establishment of the Israeli state which then formed the core of Mossad, Israel’s legendary spy agency.
Zwy Herbert Aldouby was also under FBI surveillance in the 1960’s when he was working in the United States, allegedly researching a documentary film on the so-called ‘St Louis’ incident in 1939, when 900 Jewish refugees were denied entry to the US. They were forced to return to Germany where most of them perished at the hands of the Nazis.
The FBI report, compiled in March 1961 and marked ‘Confidential’, was put together by agent Willard Wharton from the El Paso, Texas office who described the ‘character’ of the report as ‘Internal Security – Israel’.
The report, which was declassified in 2005 with the approval of the CIA, consists of an five-page long interview with an elderly Jewish lady who was herself interviewed by Aldouby about the ‘St Louis’ incident. Why the FBI would go to such trouble tracking an Israeli writer is not clear, unless they suspected this was a cover for more nefarious activity.
Aldouby also wrote or co-wrote two books dealing with Israeli intelligence operations. One told the story of Eli Cohen, the Syrian-born Mossad spy who infiltrated the higher echelons of the Syrian political establishment before a Soviet technical operation detected his radio signals. He was then publicly hanged in central Damascus by the Syrian regime and his body left on the scaffold in a public display for six hours.
Netflix recently screened a film drama of the Eli Cohen story called ‘The Spy‘, starring Sacha Baron Cohen as the doomed agent.
Aldouby’s other book, written along with two other authors, told the story of Mossad’s success in tracking down Adolf Eichmann to Argentina and bringing him back to Israel for trial and execution. Eichmann was the key architect of ‘The Final Solution‘ which saw six million Jews, gypsies and disabled people exterminated in death camps.
The book was first published by Viking Press in New York in 1960 and a press release issued by Viking had this to say about Aldouby and his co-author Ephraim Katz:
(They) are two Israeli journalists who have served as foreign correspondents throughout Europe. Aldouby speaks eight languages, Katz five. Both speak Arabic, which made their services invaluable during Israel’s struggle for independence, when they served in the underground, in the Palmach (commandos) and later in the Israel Defense Forces as officers.
The Palmach (which translates as ‘storm troops’) had a conflicting role in the birth of the Israeli state. In the early days of its existence it co-operated and fought alongside British forces in what was then Palestine against German attempts to destabilise the Middle East.
It was created by the Hagganah, the underground army of the Jewish community in Palestine but once the German threat receded and the Second World War ended, the Palmach soon joined other Jewish groups in militarily opposing the British Mandate in Palestine.
Military commanders of the Palmach during this time included future Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin and the legendary military leader, Moshe Dayan.
But the Palmach are better known for undertaking daring intelligence operations on behalf of the fledgling Israeli state. Known to have in its ranks Jews who had been born in Arab countries and who, like Zwy Aldouby, were fluent in Arabic, the Palmach sent a team to Beirut to spy for Israel not long after the creation of the Jewish state.
They were members of what was known as ‘the Arab Section’ which had been conceived and jointly created by British military intelligence and the Palmach in an effort to counter Nazi infiltration of Arab communities during the war. But once the war ended the ‘Arab Section’ became an arm of Palmach intelligence.
According to Matti Friedman in his recently published book ‘Spies of No Country – Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel‘:
…these men went undercover in Beirut, where they spent the next two years operating out of a newsstand, collecting intelligence and sending messages back to Israel via a radio whose antenna was disguised as a clothesline. Of the dozen spies in the Arab Section at the war’s outbreak, five were caught and executed. But in the end, the Arab Section would emerge as the nucleus of the Mossad, Israel’s vaunted intelligence agency.
So, Zwy Aldouby, short, swarthy and fluent in Arabic, was a member of a Jewish armed group which sent spies into Arab countries and which later formed the basis for the Mossad. We don’t know, however, whether he was in the Arab Section or if he worked secretly in Beirut. If he did, perhaps that is why FBI agent Willard Wharton was assigned to track his movements in the United States.
But what possible interest could Israeli intelligence have in the conflict in Northern Ireland?
The film, ‘A Secret Army’ was made in 1972 and that was the year, according to this unusually frank and detailed 2005 account published in the Sinn Fein paper, An Phoblacht-Republican News, when Joe Cahill and a senior IRA colleague first met Libyan leader, Col Muammar Gaddafi to negotiate the first of many arms shipments.
If Israeli intelligence had got wind of that meeting then the Mossad would certainly have been interested in helping the British undermine and recruit people like Martin McGuinness while frustrating Gaddafi’s ambitions in the region.
Whether Martin McGuinness was an agent is a different matter, however. He was Chief of Staff between February 1978 and July 1982, which were particularly violent years. And to keep him in place, their most prized agent in the IRA, British intelligence would have had to ignore warnings about certain operations for fear of blowing his cover.
There is no doubt that the British might well have allowed their own soldiers to be killed, even the eighteen paratroopers wiped out at Warrenpoint in August 1979, although that would be a terribly heavy blow to absorb. Imperial powers, though, have done worse to their own.
But what about the other deaths on that bloody day, off the Sligo coast when the Queen’s cousin, the heir to the throne’s uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten was, along with family members and friends, blown to eternity by an IRA then led by their secret agent? Would MI5 have allowed that to happen?
And if the British didn’t use the incriminating scenes to blackmail Martin McGuinness what on earth did they use the information for?
As promised, here is the email exchange between myself and Irish Times‘ editor, Paul O’Neill following his decision to spike a commissioned article from myself dealing with the outcome of the recent Ivor Bell trial. The e-mails are mostly self explanatory:
From: Ed Moloney
Sent: 24 October 2019 19:39
To: Paul O’Neill
Subject: replyDear Paul
As you may remember, a few days ago I rang your office asking for a right to reply to the various articles that had appeared in the times about the boston tapes trial.
I did so because the main writer Gerry Moriarty had never once reached out to talk to me for my viewpoint and the only contact I had with your staff was a late night call from a reporter who seemed to know very little about what is a complex case.
The response to my call to you was a message saying that I should write a piece and liaise with John McManus. This i did and we discussed the piece I planned to write which was based partly on the contrast between the Boston federal judge who had read the entire 201 interviews in the archive and was full of praise for it, and the belfast judge who had read a few paragraphs in two interviews and made a sweeping negative judgement.
John seemed to have no problem with this but now he tells me that the article has been spiked because it too closely resembled a piece which was in the Sunday Business Post. I attach both articles for you below and you can see they are as different as chalk and cheese. (see below)
So why has my piece really been spiked?
I ask you to reverse this decision. I am a former Northern Editor of this paper and I do have, I believe, residual rights to a certain level of courtesy.
best regardsEd Moloney
On Oct 25, 2019, at 08:02, Paul O’Neill wrote:
Ed,We seem to be at cross purposes.Gerry Moriarty – in his role as Northern Editor – reported accurately, fairly and fully on the Ivor Bell case. As you may have seen, the account published on irishtimes.com on October 17th ran to many thousands of words in order to reflect proceedings that had spanned two weeks. Gerry was present throughout and, to my knowledge, you have no issue with the content of his reporting. Your grievance is with the conclusions of the trial judge. Your position in that regard was reflected on the front page of The Irish Times (and on irishtimes.com) on October 18th as follows:
“Mr Moloney said he ‘refutes absolutely’ any bias on the part of the project and that it would in time be regarded as “a very important body of work”.“I’m sorry, but these people have not read the entire archive,” he said.
“The judges haven’t – they’ve read one or two interviews from a vast hoard of what Ivor Bell did and made these sweeping generalisations. It’s absurd, it’s nonsense, they can’t do that.”As you know, The Irish Times covers thousands of court cases. Interested parties often disagree with the presiding judge. There is no “right of reply” in such cases – and certainly not an automatic or guaranteed one. Court proceedings stand on their merits and our duty is to report them accurately irrespective of their outcome.
Conscious of the public interest in this case, however, you were invited to liaise with John McManus as Opinion Editor. As I understand it, when you contacted my office you were unaware that you had been quoted on page 1. There was no commitment to publish anything from you. Nor would there be in advance of assessing the content of an article. You did not mention that you were writing an opinion piece for the Sunday Business Post.
So notwithstanding the fact that we had carried remarks by you on the front page last Friday and on irishtimes.com, and that you had expanded on those remarks in the Business Post, John McManus was happy to engage with you earlier this week.
The article you submitted to John overlaps with what we already reported you as saying and with the content of your article in the Business Post. That’s inevitable. The more significant issue from my perspective is that the Business Post piece was simply better. By pitching it at a high level, dealing with the limitations and merits of an oral history project and the potential value in helping to address legacy issues in Northern Ireland, you set out your position in a manner that was easily readable (particularly for an audience not familiar with the Boston tapes).
In contrast, much of the article submitted to us is consumed by detail of your dissatisfaction with named figures in Boston College and your recollections of your exchanges with them. I have no idea how either of the individuals would respond and, as I understand it, one of them would be unable to do so because of ill-health. On top of that, such detail is likely to be lost on all readers other than those with knowledge of the Boston Tapes.
So in essence, my position is this: although we had no obligation to provide you with a forum to respond to the outcome of the Bell proceedings, we were open to doing so on the basis of your distinct perspective and interest. But unfortunately – and I’m sure unintentionally on your part – the Business Post ended up with a more pertinent, clearly argued and reader-friendly piece (in my opinion).
So what now? I think the moment has passed from an OpEd perspective, all the more so when you have pursued that avenue with the Business Post. If you want to submit a letter for publication, I’m very happy to consider it but I would encourage you to deal with the bigger picture (and the word count would be limited to a max of about 400). For the record, I have no issue with you criticising the conclusions of the trial judge. But the minutiae of your arrangements with Boston College and your exchanges with individuals there is best avoided.
I’m sure also that we’ll be likely to come back to the Boston Tapes at some stage.
I should also mention for the record that The Irish Times was among the media organisations which repeatedly challenged the reporting restrictions imposed in the Bell case.
From: Ed Moloney
Sent: 25 October 2019 13:45
To: Paul O’Neill
Subject: Re: replyPaul
So, if I have understood you correctly, what you say can be boiled down to this: other people can say critical and damaging things about my work, both inside and outside the courtroom, but I cannot respond in anything resembling the same detail. As you say, Gerry Moriarty wrote several thousand words on this court case. My quote in your paper amounted to seventy words. And that’s okay? That’s fair?
As for Bob O’Neill not being able to respond to the allegations concerning his part in this affair, the fact is he did, before his medical state deteriorated. He admitted to the respected US magazine ‘The Chronicle of Higher Education’ in 2014 that he had not submitted the crucial donor contract to the college attorney for approval, as he told me he would and had. He admitted this openly and in print. We in Ireland were hoodwinked by someone we believed we could trust and the seeds were sown for the court case that happened two weeks ago. Yet you could not find space to tell your readers this crucial detail.
Nor can you find space to tell your readers that the key witness upon whose views the judge heavily relied had read only one interview out of the 201 archived interviews and had been barred by me from reading any more. He admitted in his testimony that he had been ‘frozen out’ after that episode but did not say why. I ‘froze’ him out because I feared his hostility to the project could cost my interviewer his life. But you cannot find space for this?
The difference between this material and what I wrote for the Sunday Business Post are evident to any dispassionate reader. I believe that you are hiding behind the SBP piece and using it as an excuse to avoid publishing my response to the coverage of the Ivor Bell trial.
From: Paul O’Neill
Date: October 25, 2019 at 10:08:30 EDT
To: ‘Ed Moloney’
Subject: RE: reply
The Irish Times is not responsible for anything said by others about you. Our only responsibility was to report on the Bell proceedings fairly and comprehensively. I am satisfied that we did so.
I have set out my position. I understand that you are angry about the outcome of the case but it is not our role to re-litigate or to provide a platform for one side in any dispute. I note you saw no need to reference named individuals when you wrote in the Business Post.
You continue to have the opportunity to set out for readers of The Irish Times the short-comings you see in the Bell prosecution and the importance of the project you were involved in. I will leave the offer of a letter with you.
From: MeRe: replyTo: Paul O’NeillOct 25, 2019 at 10:41Paul,I have never suggested that your paper is or was responsible for what was said about me by others. That would be an absurd thing to say. But you do have a responsibility to fully inform your readers of all the available facts associated with a story, especially when they conflict with the existing narrative. By censoring my article – and that is what you have done – I believe you have failed in that rersponsibility.best regardsEd Moloney
Last week, I phoned the editor’s office at The Irish Times to complain about their coverage of the Boston Tapes court case.
The paper had featured a ‘Long Piece’ written by their long serving Northern Editor, Gerry Moriarty detailing the evidence given at the two-week long trial – which was held in camera in accordance with a judicial gagging order.
He also penned several additional pieces including one that chronicled the judge’s criticism of the way the Boston project had worked. His articles amounted to several thousand words altogether.
As the former Director of the Boston College project, I expected to be contacted and asked to comment in some detail.
I did get a call – from a junior reporter, I gathered – but it didn’t come until 9 p.m. Irish time and it had all the appearances of an afterthought rather than something that had been planned.n
The article in the Times that followed included a grand total of seventy-two of my words.
So I decided to phone The Irish Times and ask the editor, Paul O’Neill for the right of reply. He was not in the office, or at least did not come to the phone, but an assistant told me that I would be allowed to reply and to liaise with the Opinion editor, John McManus.
The following is the article that I wrote and submitted to The Irish Times. The editor Paul O’Neill has refused to publish it, despite having commissioned it, offering me instead ‘a letter to the editor’ spot strictly limited to 400 words.
As a former Northern Editor of the paper I had expected that the editor would offer me sufficient space to put my side of the story, both as a courtesy and in recognition of past service.
But as they say in Ireland, eaten bread is soon forgotten. What he offered me is an insult and a disgrace.
Tomorrow I shall publish our email correspondence. In the meantime here is the article that has been banned by The Irish Times:
From Ed Moloney
FAO John McManus
Just over a week ago, a Belfast court heard swingeing criticism of the Boston College oral history project when the trial of Ivor Bell on charges connected to the disappearance of Jean McConville collapsed.
After hearing testimony from a Boston College history teacher, Kevin O’Neill, the Belfast judge, John O’Hara criticised the project researcher, Anthony McIntyre saying he was not “in any way a professional or neutral interviewer” and that he was “out to get Gerry Adams”.
He also took aim at myself, saying the taped Bell admission was unreliable as “a direct result of the circumstances in which it was improperly and dishonestly induced by Mr McIntyre working under the auspices of project director Mr Moloney”.
John O’Hara is not the only judge to have pronounced on the quality of the Boston tapes. Seven years ago in Boston, US Federal judge William Young agreed that the tapes relevant to the McConville case in the archive should be handed over to the PSNI, but added:
“This was a bona fide academic exercise of considerable intellectual merit…..[These materials] are of interest – valid academic interests. They’re of interest to the historian, sociologist, the student of religion, the student of youth movements, academics who are interested in insurgency and counter-insurgency, in terrorism and counter-terrorism. They’re of interest to those who study the history of religions.”
So how could two men, both learned in the law, come to such wildly differing judgements about the same body of work?
Well one answer may be that the judge in Belfast read only fragments of two interviews by Ivor Bell, whereas Judge Young read every single one of the 201 interviews, given by 26 interviewees, that make up the republican part of the archive.
When, in late 2012, Boston College officials could not identify interviews relevant to the PSNI subpoenas, Judge Young had taken the entire archive home and read the interviews from cover to cover over the Christmas vacation.
As for Kevin O’Neill, I had barred him at the very outset from any further access to the tapes when, in my hearing, he repeated criticism of myself, whose recently published book, ‘A Secret History of the IRA’ had provoked Sinn Fein outrage.
My principal concern was for the safety of Anthony McIntyre, whose life would be in danger had his work become known in Belfast. I do not think Kevin would have said or done anything to harm McIntyre, but an incautious word in the wrong place could have had bad consequences.
Until the trial, Kevin had read only one very early interview which I had asked Boston College to review so as to assess McIntyre’s interviewing skills. By definition it fell below required standard.
As for anti-Adams’ bias let me say this. The Sinn Fein leader had by then been denying for many years that he had ever been in the IRA. I knew from my own interactions with him that this was not true but I am a journalist not an activist. It was important to discover from former comrades what their view was.
Even so, of the twenty-six Republicans interviewed, whose number included Official IRA and INLA veterans, only three spoke in depth about Gerry Adams and they had all been very close to him, especially in the Troubles’ early years. They were Brendan Hughes, Dolours Price and Ivor Bell, all admirers of Adams’, his close friend, and fans of his tactical skills before they turned against him.
Common sense demanded that they be interviewed about their former friend. There was no obsession with Gerry Adams, merely good practice.
On the issue of confidentiality, it took many years before we discovered what had happened. It had been clear for some time following the serving of subpoenas that the guarantee was deficient, but how was this possible?
Our point of contact had always been Bob O’Neill, the college librarian who was in charge of a multi-million dollar budget and had amassed an impressive collection of Irish art, photos, diaries and memoirs.
To myself and McIntyre he said that the library would refuse to take in interviews if there were any ‘legal repercussions’ for the participants. To the UVF/Red Hand Commando interviewer, Wilson McArthur he gave ‘an ironclad’ guarantee of legal protection for the interviews. (O’Neill now suffers from memory loss and could not give evidence at the Bell trial)
To be sure, my own contract gave protection ‘to the extent that American law allows’ but O’Neill, who was, it should be remembered, speaking on behalf of one of America’s leading universities, kept assuring us that in the land of the First Amendment and a Bill of Rights the interviews would, under American law, be safe.
Hindsight, they say, is twenty-twenty vision and I should have checked out his assurances but at the time I can honestly say that none of us could have imagined or foretold what then happened.
The truth of what really happened was ferreted out by the US magazine The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) in late 2014.
The test would come when the individual donor contracts were prepared. These would set out the conditions of the interview for the participants, that the tapes and transcripts would remain the property of the interviewees but would stay at the college until death, when ownership reverted to BC.
I showed the CHE the email I had sent O’Neill, which asked him to submit the draft to the university’s legal counsel for approval. That would be the real acid test. If there was a limit to the guarantee the counsel would insist it be inserted.
He emailed back: ‘I am working on the contract to be signed by the interviewee and I’ll run this by…..university counsel’.
He later told me that the lawyer had given the thumbs up and we were in business.
But, years later, he admitted to The Chronicle of Higher Education, that he had never gone near the college lawyer.
We had embarked on the project on the basis of a lie.