Eating dinner in the Burns Library of Boston College last night, I glanced around at the old manuscripts sitting on the shelves, knowing that the now infamous oral history tapes from the “Belfast Project” must be stored within a room or two of where were sitting.
On Friday morning, researchers Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre were back in Belfast High Court seeking a judicial review of the “decision of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to request the United States Government to seek on its behalf confidential material held by Boston College, Massachusetts, USA, pursuant to the treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom on mutual assistance in criminal matters”.
As part of the Judicial Review, Ed Moloney submitted an affidavit setting out some of the background to the oral history project, the legal action and the implications of the tapes (or transcripts of the tapes) being handed over fro Boston College to the PSNI. (Technically, a US judge is already holding the transcripts.)
5. There is no doubt in my mind that if any of the oral history archives of the Belfast Project at Boston College are handed over to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (“PSNI”), the peace process in Northern Ireland will incur destabilizing and irreparable damage. In addition to my participation in the Belfast Project, my opinion is based on my lengthy experience as a reporter covering the Troubles in Ireland for the Irish Times, as well covering for the Sunday Tribune the peace process from its inception in the 1990’s through to its successful culmination. My book A Secret History of the IRA is regarded widely as the most authoritative account of how and why the Irish Republican Army (“IRA”) took the path of the peace process.
But crucially, the affidavit – for the first time – outlines some details of what the taped interviews do not contain.
6. When the research project at Boston College (“BC”) began, I as project director, and Anthony McIntyre as researcher, gave interviewees a pledge that nothing of what they said would be revealed until their deaths. I intend to keep that promise.
7. However, I believe the time is apposite to reveal what the interviewees did not disclose.
8. I now wish to make the following facts public: in her interviews with BC researcher, Anthony McIntyre, Dolours Price did not once mention the name “Jean McConville”. The subject of that unfortunate woman’s disappearance was never mentioned, not even once. Nor so were the allegations that Dolours Price was involved in any other disappearance carried out by the IRA in Belfast, nor that she received orders to disappear people from Gerry Adams or from any other IRA figure. None of this subject matter was disclosed in her taped interviews with Anthony McIntyre.
9. The truth is that the interviews that Anthony McIntyre conducted with Dolours Price are notable for the absence of any material that could ever have justified the subpoenas. In this respect it is worth noting that, when she was interviewed by Anthony McIntyre, Dolours Price was given the same confidentiality assurances as other interviewees, which was that whatever she said would not be revealed until her death. As the interviews with Brendan Hughes, later published in the book Voices From The Grave, graphically demonstrate, this enabled interviewees to speak freely, fully and candidly and to talk honestly about their lives in the IRA.
10. The subpoenas served in May 2011 by the United States Attorney General on behalf of the PSNI seeking the interviews with Dolours Price, which was followed in August by other subpoenas seeking further information relating to murder of Jean McConville from the BC archive, was based upon false information emanating from a newspaper report in Northern Ireland published in February 2010 suggesting that Dolours Price had recorded details about the disappearance of Jean McConville during her interview with Anthony McIntyre for the BC project. She did not.
11. The McIntyre-Price-BC interviews are the wellspring for this extensive legal action carried out by the U.K. and U.S. governments in legal actions that could do irreparable harm to the peace process in Northern Ireland, irretrievably reduce academic and media freedoms in the United States and imperil the lives of researchers and interviewees alike.
The affidavit refers to Allison Morris’ interview with Dolours Price and her subsequent article in the Irish News.
12. Specifically, the newspaper report that began the saga of the BC subpoenas appeared in The Sunday Life on February 21st, 2010 under the by-line of Ciaran Barnes. The report, splashed on the front page and continued inside, alleged that Dolours Price had been involved in the McConville disappearance and several other similar events and had admitted all this in a tape recorded interview.
The affidavit also critiques Ciaran Barnes’ report in the Sunday Life which included the text:
“Sunday Life has heard tape recordings made by Price in which she details the allegations against Adams and confesses her own involvement in a series of murders and secret burials.”
The affidavit concludes with statements about the PSNI’s “obligation to exhaust domestic resources” before seeking international assistance.
23. I say and believe that the PSNI failed in its basic duty to establish the reliability and credibility of the false newspaper report until more than fifteen months after publication of the article and long after the subpoenas had been served on BC.
24. I say and believe that the PSNI only moved to check the Irish News material or gather evidence after I submitted an affidavit to the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts setting forth my belief that the basis for the subpoena was flawed and that the taped interview referred to was not the tape deposited with BC but was recorded instead for The Irish News.
A statement accompanying the sworn affidavit goes into even more detail about the background to the case and can be read over on The Broken Elbow blog.
The BBC report from today’s court proceedings notes that Anthony McIntyre has been order by Mr Justice Treacy to file a sworn affidavit by Monday to clarify apparent differences between the American judge’s view and today’s affidavit by Ed Moloney.
It was also set out in the hearing how Mr Moloney has claimed that his research colleague’s interviews with Price contain nothing relevant to the Jean McConville murder investigation.
Mr Justice Treacy said this appeared to be “at odds” with the view taken by an American judge who reviewed the material and concluded it should be handed over. He ordered Mr McIntyre, who attended court with his wife Carrie, to file a sworn affidavit by Monday in an attempt to clarify the position.
The judge stressed: “It would be incumbent on Mr McIntyre, if he knew otherwise, in the discharge of his duty of candour to the court, to indicate whether that averment by Mr Moloney was correct or not. “If it wasn’t correct and he knew if wasn’t correct and he didn’t take the opportunity to make it clear to the court that would be a serious matter not only for him but for Mr Moloney if it turned out not to be so.”
The judicial review hearing was adjourned until next week. A temporary injunction restraining the PSNI from taking possession of the interviews remains in place pending the outcome of the case.
UTV’s report quotes PSNI’s counsel comments on whether releasing teh transcripts would increase the level of threat to McIntyre:
Is there any evidence to demonstrate it could result in an Article 2 [of the European Convention on Human Rights] risk to his life? His cupboard is threadbare evidentially.
Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.