Where do I really start to tell the story of the Boston College tapes? I have largely avoided the issue, in part because it is a fast moving story, in part because other “real” news sources can do it better than I can…and in part because the people involved are heavyweight figures.
It can surprise few that there is an “archive” or indeed more than one archive of the Troubles. I have certainly written extensively about that period in my life. And I have had an eye to the Future. Important to me that my children and beyond should know stuff about me, how I thought at a crucial moment in their nations history.
An Archive…its been spoken about a lot…even respectable Conflict Resolutionists talk about Truth Commissions. It almost follows that those who collate archives have a certain “privilege”…like a solicitor, a medical practitioner or a journalist. Or a priest in a confessional. Even non-believers would understand that Society would be a worse place if priests were prosecuted for not breaking the confessional seal.
Which brings me to…Historians.
Do they too have a privilege or a responsibility in respect of Secrecy.
Can (in the long term) History be served by (in the short term) invoking Secrecy?
Is it not implied that when compiling an Archive, normal rules of civic responsibility are suspended?
Which brings me to Jean McConville.
The known facts in the public domain were/are that she was abducted from her home, murdered by the IRA and secretly buried. Although the IRA genuinely tried to establish her secret burial place, as part of the Peace Process, her remains lay in a beach in County Louth until their accidental discovery a few years ago.
The nature of the IRA in 1972 was that it was organised in Brigades, Battalions and Companies.
Thus the location of Jeans abduction from Divis Street points to the Belfast Brigade …the Second Battalion and D Company.
The collective responsibility might well fall on that precise local unit. In Republican folklore, names of personnel are known.
Forward then to “Voices from the Grave” a book published by Ed Moloney, a journalist. The specific voice from the grave is Brendan Hughes, a hero in West Belfast Republican circles. In the book, published after Hughes death from natural causes…Hughes admits his involvement and says that Gerry Adams, who carried Hughes coffin gave the orders.
OK. Some points. It was known that Brendan Hughes was critical of the Sinn Fein Peace Strategy but my recollection is that he was primarily a silent critic. Hughes admits to his IRA history. Gerry Adams has always denied membership.
IRA “rules” state that a member must never admit membership.
So….a denial can be a simple truth or simply following the rule book. Certainly members of IRA would not have had a problem with a hypothetical leader who routinely denies membership and indeed when the denial of a hypothetical member is in the face of seeming evidence to the contrary, then there is a certain admiration.
Adams has always denied membership of IRA, while of course leading Sinn Fein.
Back in the early days of the Troubles as (I think) Brian Feeney states in his book, Sinn Fein were no more than the non combatant parents and wives of active IRA people.
As the Hunger Strike ended it was apparent that Sinn Fein was now in the hands of men who had been ex-prisoners.
As the line between Sinn Fein and IRA was being blurred…”the ballot box and armalite” strategy, it suited Sinn Fein to emphasise that they were legitimate politicians. And frankly that also suited every other party to later peace negotiations.
The Creative Ambiguity of the Peace Process emphasised that the British and unionists were indeed talking to Sinn Fein. Paradoxically, real politik demanded that Sinn Fein could indeed “deliver” the IRA.
So it suited everyone to play up that Gerry Adams was indeed a politician.
And in the REAL WORLD, nobody who signed the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 seriously believed that no signatory would end up in jail for an offence committed in 1972.
So Gerry Adams could ride out the storm from “Voices From the Grave”. Sinn Fein criticism of Hughes was necessarily muted. He was simply too popular with the rank and file. Hughes was in part portrayed as bitter, ill and wounded by the Troubles. Blame fell on Ed Moloney, the journalist who had been a long standing critic of Sinn Fein.
Yet it has to be said that while unionists, journalists and academics wonder about Gerry Adams, it had no material effect on his popularity in West Belfast and indeed no obstacle to him being elected to An Dail (for the Louth Constituency) in 2011.
There is some debate over the ethics of the interview that another IRA hero gave. Dolours Price, a more outspoken critic of Adams accused him of ordering a lot of things, including the abduction of Jean McConville.
At this point…in my recollection, the Boston College archive moves centre stage. Ms Price, who died last year had been recorded by the researchers. And she indicates the extent of the project.
Again the Adams tactic is to dismiss the critic…not easy. Price had served a long prison sentence, been force-fed on hunger strike and clearly vulnerable. And clearly opposed to the Adams Strategy.
At this point, Adams needs to be careful. Balancing sympathy for Prices vulnerability and noting that she is a “dissident voice” who have an agenda.
But what exactly are the Police Service for Norn Iron supposed to do?
They are now presented with a prima facie case that there is an archive of tapes in Boston College. There is no official “amnesty” and there IS an agreement between Britain and Inited States on dealing with “Terrorism”.
What would the presentation be at a high level meeting at Police Headquarters?
Well I think there are three points to be made.
1…the Police Hierarchy would really prefer if it hadnt happened. They will know that nearly two hundred IRA “On The Runs” hold letters which are de facto letters of amnesty. Nobody is going to be prosecuted because the Good Friday Agreement is paramount.
2…the old RUC types in the new PSNI would undoubtedly have seized on it as a chance to “get Gerry Adams”
3…real PSNI people would have argued that a decent police service has to uphold the law and follow the evidence. They should at least go to the United States to get the tapes.
Which is what they do.
So the Americans go to Boston on behalf of the PSNI.
And Boston College caves in (or abides by the American law).
And seemingly Boston College LIBRARY is more involved than their own Department of History.
But where does this leave Ed Moloney and Researcher, Anthony McIntyre.
I declare an interest here. I went back to University in my 50s and am singularly impressed by people who know more than I do. Especially of the Troubles period 1969-1998. I have encountered many such people. And I am singularly unimpressed by people who are younger than my children and point to their PhD as some kinda evidence that they know more than me about that period. Ive encountered a few.
So Anthony McIntyre is a PhD. He completed the PhD at Queens University Belfast. Was it under the supervision of Professor Paul Bew?
Clearly that PhD carries weight in academic circles. He doesnt really need it to impress me. He is after all a West Belfast man of my vintage. And he spent eighteen years in prison as a convicted IRA murderer…so I reckon thats a bigger tribute to his expertise in some areas than the actual PhD.
“Mackers PhD”…to be honest always strikes me as a blow-hard, playing up the whole authentic West Belfast man for the Educational and Journalistic Establishment. Which is actually what Danny Morrison his fiercest critic is.
An odd symmetry.
The irony is that Mackers PhD…”journalist” is an unreconstructed critic of Sinn Feins Peace Strategy. He has even written a book “Good Friday:Death of irish Republicanism”.
And Morrison…a former internee, who was wrongly imprisoned for some years, former (still?) organiser of the West Belfast Festival …”journalist”. Blowhard.
Actually Mackers, Danny and myself have a lot in common. West Belfast blowhards, bloggers, who impress people who should know better.
Anyway Mackers is the Researcher and Dissident.
Does he have an agenda as his critics like Morrison claim?
Or is a fearless academic under verbal attack and even threat of physical harm from the Sinn Fein Machine? There are even calls for the United States to give him asylum.
You pays your money and makes your choice. Internal Republican disputes are an ugly thing. Words like “tout”, “traitor” and (in Adams case) “visionary” are bandied about.
The revelation that McIntyre (and his partner) were paid for the research….seemingly by Boston is potentially damaging.
But with at least one former leading Belfast Republican, Ivor Bell (77) facing charges in relation to the death of Jean McConville…then the stakes are certainly high. It is stated that the Boston tapes contain numerous (and maybe even disproportionate) references to that single murder.
It is alleged that there are elements in PSNI who are out to “get Gerry Adams”. Can the same be said of Moloney and Mackers PhD?
And Gerry Adams? Well three weeks ago, he kept an appointment at Antrim PSNI station and was promptly arrested and questioned for four days.
Adams and Sinn Fein claim it was “political policing” by unreconstructed elements in PSNI and designed to disrupt Sinn Feins election campaign in the North and (especially) in Republic of Ireland.
Is that true.
Political Policing? Yes. The decision to question Adams is political and so was the years of NOT questioning Adams.
And the Election Campaign? No….I dont buy that. Gerry lives in County Louth. He went to Antrim PSNI, by appointment. I am sure if he had told PSNI “look guys I have an election campaign…can this wait four weeks”, there would have been no problem.
Yet I suspect Sinn Fein over-reacted and over-played their hand during Adams time in custody. THAT “spontaneous” Mural at Divis Street in which Gerry was lauded as “Leader…Peacemaker…Visionary” would have been hyperbole even if it was not just a matter of metres from the spot where Jean McConville was abducted. Tacky. Tacky. Tacky.
And the sudden re-appearance of West Belfast republicans…men with a whiff of cordite about them…on the streets was ominous. For once overshadowing the new, fresh faced Sinn Fein youngsters.
Boston College does not come thru this well. Not only does their Department of History seem to have fallen out with its own Library…Moloney and McIntyre feel they were hung out to dry and that the College should have resisted the US authorities or at least given them a better understanding of the risks.
And Paul Bew?
Well I declare an interest. When I went back to Queens University almost a decade ago, Bew was just about the best tutor I encountered there. He is a few years older than me and actually valued my contributions in tutorials, more than any other “youthful English PhD who knew it all”. Bew actually valued me as a source.
But we all go on journeys. As a student at QUB in 1968, Paul Bew was a radical left winger. He was even one of the leaders of the very first Civil Rights march in which I (as a 16 year old) participated…Monday 7th October 1968.
And he was even one of the leaders of the Peoples Democracy march, ambushed and beaten up by RUC, B Specials and loyalists at Burntollet Bridge, near Derry (January 1969).
So what happened?
Bew was one of the advisors to David Trimble (UUP Leader) before and after the Good Friday Agreement.
Now he is fully signed up member of the Henry Jackson Society (the neo-con think tank) and actually an Independent member of the British “House of Lords”. And the Commissioner for Public Standards in Britain.
While Danny Morrison (never one to miss a good conspiracy theory) perhaps overstates the role of Paul Bew in this debacle…and Bew perhaps understates it….there are indeed questions around his role of “facilitator” to it all.
And perhaps an odd footnote. Having spent decades denying being an IRA Leader and getting a bit snippy with journalists who asked the question, Gerry Adams has now stated that he has “never disassociated” himself from the IRA.
This is very significant as I think it should be seen alongside new impetus for “Truth”, “Victims”….and Amnesty. These calls seem to have the backing of the political Establishment.
So Gerry just another West Belfast blowhard. Like Danny and Mackers PhD. And …me.
Four men, all in our late 50s and early 60s who were complete nobodies with little future in August 1969.
Look at Gerry.
Look at Danny.
Look at Mackers PhD.
Look at FitzjamesHorse…Well ok I am still a complete nobody in 2014. But you take my point.
But if this West Belfast Blowhard is entitled to one observation.
What exactly is the point of publishing these memoirs after the death of ONE contributor…in this case Brendan Hughes?
Surely this puts other people, including other contributors at a disadvantage.
Surely the Boston Project would carry more weight if published after the death of ALL participants.