Boston College and the ongoing battle over a disturbing past…

As the legal process continues the disturbance of the past continues apace… Liam Clarke has an interesting piece from yesterday’s Sunday Times up on Nuzhound today. In it points out that there is a fascinating clash between history and the law. In particular hightlights the current case in which the PSNI has a US Federal subpoena out to try and get material information on given by Dolours Price:

Price has told me she will not make a statement or speak to the police. She has been in a fragile psychological state since she was caught returning to Ireland after a bombing mission to Britain and her subsequent hunger strike. Her co-conspirators included her sister Marion and Gerry Kelly, now a senior Sinn Féin figure.

Price has been involved in alcohol and substance abuse, and has received psychiatric treatment for post-traumatic stress. She is tortured by her past. In conversation, she veers between pride in her IRA involvement and the feeling that she was trapped into the republican movement by her family background and was not cut out for it psychologically.

Her parents were IRA veterans but her most disturbing early memory was of her aunt Bridie Dolan, who died in 1975. She had been blinded, facially disfigured and lost both hands in 1938 when several grenades she was attempting to move from an IRA arms dump blew up. As a child, Price had the task of holding cigarettes for Dolan, and was upset by her instinctive distaste for her aunt’s injuries. She says this impelled her to show loyalty by getting involved in the IRA.

Her mistake was to give a long interview, parts of which appeared in the Irish News and Sunday Life, in which she said she had deposited tapes at the Boston archive, and then recounted some of their contents. Police say they are duty-bound to pursue such evidence in a murder case, but there must be grave doubt about its evidential value. Price is a disturbed woman, with a history of psychological disorder, and is unwilling to co-operate.

What she has to say may eventually be of interest to historians, who will compare it with other evidence. But can it really be of assistance in a criminal case, where a charge must be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

There’s two other relevant pieces worth noting here. One by Chris Bray at George Mason’s History New Network site, which suggests that the subpoena is motivated by politics rather than the solving of an historical crime… Here’s the core of his take:

…a murder that wasn’t investigated for nearly forty years, and for which the police have said they probably can’t bring successful criminal charges, is now suddenly being investigated, but the records being sought are not principally about the men and women who committed the act itself, and the records in any case could almost certainly not be used in court as evidence. What’s the use of these records? They’re oral history tapes and notes: they would give the British government the voice of IRA members identifying Gerry Adams as their commander — that is, as an IRA member, a thing he has always (and not very plausibly) denied having been.

Indeed. It is also worth noting that Danny Morrison has published (with extended commentary) the text of a letter he sent Boston College last year, before the publication of the book containing the Ervine and Hughes’ extracts… To which there’s an interesting response from Anthony McIntyre

Whatever the intent behind the PSNI request, there has been an ongoing battle over how the recovery of the past is engaged over. Unsurprisingly passions are aroused, not least by the necessarily partial way in which the judicial and quasi judicial processes have been engaged.

In passing it is worth noting Gerry Adams’ recent observation that

…since the IRA had left the stage and there could be no engagement with it. However, we were advised that former volunteers might be prepared to engage with the Smithwick Tribunal on a voluntary basis.

The Sinn Féin leadership spent some time putting in place a process which would facilitate this. When this was achieved Sinn Féin stepped back and the process moved forward.

Whatever that ‘process’ may or may not be, we have only Adams’ word there even is one. But one upshot of a successful move here is a freezing effect on any further attempts by academics to get former combatants to talk openly about their experience of the conflict.

Yet, as we’ve seen with the recent controversy (not to mention media interest) over the 1984 killing of Mary Travers the aftermath of troubles hasn’t gone away you know.

And, whatever people thought of the shortcomings Eames Bradley report it was at least a first pass on this intractably difficult subject. As the Spanish have discovered, a pact of forgetting has some useful pragmatic advantages in that it allows people to make deals that move politics, but it does little to heal the deep hurts that hold whole communities ransom to a traumatic past.

And not just the victims, but those who continue a very lonely struggle to live with what they did to other human beings in the midst of what were some pretty abnormal times.

But the trouble confronting anyone who is looking for some form of ‘closure’ on the past, from whichever quarter they come, is that as Gary Mitchell noted some four years ago, there is a “real truth” and an “agreed truth”, and when the “agreed truth becomes accepted, the real truth becomes a lie”.

, , , , , ,

  • Carrickmoreman

    I found McIntyre’s retort to be disappointing.

  • pippakin

    A sad, ugly past with it seems no room to grow or even disagree.

    All three governments knew the terms of the interviews before the interviews were given. If they disagreed with the clause they should have said so then, not wait until interviews are given that is dishonest.

  • oracle

    I nearly fell off the chair laughing at the complete and total obliteration of Morrison by McIntyre.
    It’s been long and many a day since I saw someone put through .. Nay rammed head first through the shredder as graphically as that.

    Perhaps Morrison should remember to contact the league against blood-sports for protection the next time he thinks about trying to take McIntyre to task on anything because McIntyre’s response was a literal bloodbath of Morrison’s ability and credibility.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Disappointing effort from Mc Intyre. He spends most of the blog telling us how he is not annoyed by the Morrison rebuttal of his tactics by displaying nothing but annoyance and personal vitriol.
    At least it saves him from having to defend the project in any meaningful way.

  • pippakin

    Pat Mc Larnon

    I agree his annoyance is clear but so is his right to be personal. I remember there was a lot of publicity when the interviews were given all three governments had every opportunity to announce that they would not stand by any confidentiality agreement, they made no such statements so its a bit late now to change their minds.

    Btw nor does he have to justify the project why should he?

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    He doesn’t have to justify the project, I wouldn’t ask him to.

    As Morrison points out there was always the likelihood that the PSNI would go after these statements. He points out that Moloney and Mc Intyre would have beeen well aware of the case involving Tom Hartley depositing IRA statements with PRONI.

  • Rory Carr

    Oracle speaks of the, “total obliteration of Morrison by McIntyre” which McIntyre’s response to Morrison could be described as only in the sense that he kicked the man all over the field hoping, that with all blood and guts that ensued, the spectators would not notice that he avoided the ball at every opportunity.

    When Morrison accuses him of negligence in failing to warn his interviewees of the potential for their statements to be seized by the RUC/PSNI for use in prosecution McIntyre asks his readers,

    “When have I ever concerned myself with what he thought, whether it be on Scappaticci, decommissioning or anything else? ” “Anything else” apparently including the matter at hand on which McIntyre chooses to remain coyly silent although he is at pains to tell us of Morrison’s many perceived shortcomings: of which this paragraph is but a small taste:

    “One of West Belfast’s better known bluffers, Danny Morrison would appear to carry his grievances heavily and sorely. For the most part his spites against slights are hurled in the direction of those who have persistently proved him wrong over the past two decades, leaving him looking as daft as a baldy brush. Even his big black hat can’t disguise that. Yet proving him wrong is nothing for any of us to boast about – that’s hardly the most daunting challenge we could face; just as hard as showing that England are not world soccer champions.”

    McIntyre later goes on at laboriously ornate length to distance himself from the charge of negligence by telling us what a horrible, dastardly (Morrison-like) thing it would be to fail to protect the interviewees before unconciously spilling the beans with his rather weak claim that, “Wilson McArthur and I told them that their interviews would be protected in all circumstances.” before adding the clincher, ” We were convinced beyond doubt that this was true,” (my emphasis).

    Well his conviction was clearly askew wasn’t it? And therefore the charge of negligence stands. But what is all this when compared with the burning matter of Danny Morrison’s shaven head?

    Apparently McIntyre’s wife found Morrison’s questioning of her husband’s behaviour in this matter, “Boring”. Well too boring to make any response in any case so uncharacteristically she leaves it to the man of the house.

    Against Morrison’s repitition of Professor Richard English’s assertion that,

    “…far more could have been done to test the claims of Ervine and Hughes against sources reflecting very different perspectives”

    and Tim Pat Coogan’s criticism that,

    “Moloney does not indicate that both himself, and McIntyre, an ex-IRA prisoner and blanketman, are two of Gerry Adams’s most prominent and relentless critics…

    “This book then is no mere academic exercise.

    “Based on the words of a dead man, it constitutes a journalistic hand grenade hurled into contemporary Six County politics, which, compounded by the effects of the abuse scandal, has been damaging to Gerry Adams and brought glee to his opponents.”

    and to Morrison’s own quite reasonable complaint that,

    “There are about a dozen references to myself in the book. Neither the named researcher, Anthony McIntyre (who interviewed me for his doctorate), nor the author, Mr Moloney (who has also interviewed me dozens of times), asked me to respond to any of the allegations Hughes made against me.”

    McIntyre has no reponse other than to return to the matter of Morrison’s “bald pate” and a side track into the hunger strikes which horse one would have thought could well do without another flogging in McIntyre’s one-trick-pony show.

    “There is little point in my feigning hurt or offence that Bangers [Morrison] should wield his crayon against me…” says McIntyre. Indeed. Little point in feigning it when one is embarked upon a lengthy venom-filled rant demonstrating just how hurt McIntyre surely was by Morrison’s piece. That’s the trouble with the truth – it often has a tendency to hurt.

  • oracle

    Pat Mc Larnon

    “As Morrison points out” is that an attempt at humour? Morrison couldn’t point a compass.

    Morrison asked sarcastically “was McIntyre not doing any reading in Long Kesh”

    Well actually McIntyre was on protest thus had no material to read except a bible, strange the wonderfully enlightened all knowing writer extraordinaire Morrison didn’t know that.
    Perhaps his memory was playing him up again.

  • Mrs jones

    ‘Our real geniuses and inspired apostles we never recognised,nor did we honour them.We killed them by neglect,or stoned them whilst they lived,and then went in reverent procession to their graves when they were killed’.-James Connolly.

    ‘He wore no convicts uniform,
    Nor meekly served his time,
    For ye to jeer and mock him,
    And drive him from his home’.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Rory,

    excellent analysis.

  • slappymcgroundout

    As I posted on some other thread way back when:

    “And some wonder why Big Gerry denies ever being in the PIRA.

    Lastly, before anyone gives an interview in the US:

    28 U.S.C. § 1782(a), in pertinent part:

    The district court of the district in which a person resides or is found may order him to give his testimony or statement or to produce a document or other thing for use in a foreign or international tribunal. The order may be made pursuant to a letter rogatory issued, or request made, by a foreign or international tribunal or upon the application of any interested person and may direct that the testimony or statement be given, or the document or other thing be produced, before a person appointed by the court.”

    Now to update:

    “Police say they are duty-bound to pursue such evidence in a murder case, but there must be grave doubt about its evidential value. Price is a disturbed woman, with a history of psychological disorder, and is unwilling to co-operate…But can it really be of assistance in a criminal case, where a charge must be proved beyond reasonable doubt.”

    So long as she is relating names, dates and places there won’t be any “grave doubt”, nor will there be any problem with “reasonable doubt”. With the mentally ill, is not usually a problem with names, dates and places, but instead the interpretation of events, i.e., on X date, me and Mr. A and Ms. B were doing such and such, and then this happened…that’s all good and usually spot on. The problem is when the story continues with the claim that the other souls involved must be secret govt agents as secret govt agents have been tracking her for years and so what would seem to the rest of us as your garden variety accident causing injury is interpreted as a secret plot against her. Been there and seen and heard that.

  • pippakin

    “That’s the trouble with the truth – it often has a tendency to hurt.”

    Could it be that the ‘truth’ would hurt Gerry Adams more than anyone?

    I would have thought that the last people to want the PSNI to get hold of them would be the PIRA and its leadership.

    Slappyetc

    Ms Price is a victim of the PIRA and before them the IRA. She is one of many. Its not for you to discuss her state of mind as if she were some inanimate object.

    The promise of confidentiality was given it must be respected.

  • slappymcgroundout

    “I agree his annoyance is clear but so is his right to be personal. I remember there was a lot of publicity when the interviews were given all three governments had every opportunity to announce that they would not stand by any confidentiality agreement, they made no such statements so its a bit late now to change their minds.”

    Pip, the respective governments have zero obligation to do anything with respect to private confidentiality agreements. Unless the law itself affords a confidentiality then any right of discovery (see the US law that I quoted above) well and truly trumps any private confidentiality agreement. Mr. Pensive Quill screwed the pooch on this one. I occasionally read his blog and did so after the piece on Slugger to which I added my above-related comment. Mr. Pensive Quill was strangely silent at the time. And that because there isn’t much for him to say.

    What should have happened here is that the folks conducting the interviews should have informed their interviewees to obtain legal advice on the matter of whether being interviewed was the wise (appropriate) thing to do. If they had come to me for legal counsel, my advice would have been, not on your life are you giving an interview to anyone other than me. Note that I just said, other than me. You see, the stories could have been preserved and later published, but the interview would not be by some historian or some other lay person. The interviews should have been between a lawyer and the person. That way, the information would be protected by the attorney-client privilege. In that process, the interviewee signs a consent to release the information subject to a condition subsequent, here the interviewee’s death.

  • pippakin

    Slappy

    I have little doubt that the three governments can make a case my point is that, knowing the terms of the interviews and saying nothing at the time may even have created the illusion of agreeing to the confidentiality clause. Imo it makes it morally wrong, reprehensible, to attempt to gain access to the interviews now. In addition it is an added and unnecessary burden on both the interviewer and the interviewee.

  • slappymcgroundout

    “The promise of confidentiality was given it must be respected.”

    Not at all. A promise was made that some had no right to make. End of story.

    “Ms Price is a victim of the PIRA and before them the IRA.”

    Ms. Price is responsible for her own actions. No one put a gun to her head and said join the PIRA and then put a gun to her head again and said, go bomb. She might be a victim of the conflict as are many other a solider in many other an army, but that does not make her a victim of the PIRA. And think the matter through, since on your unstated but implied rationale, Gerry and Marty were also “victim of the PIRA and before them the IRA”. After all, they didn’t start the movement, they joined an existing movement. And Gerry can also say the same thing that Ms. Price says about being reared in a family that held certain beliefs.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    oracle (profile) says: 21 June 2011 at 4:31 pm Pat Mc Larnon

    “Morrison asked sarcastically “was McIntyre not doing any reading in Long Kesh”

    Well actually McIntyre was on protest thus had no material to read except a bible, strange the wonderfully enlightened all knowing writer extraordinaire Morrison didn’t know that.
    Perhaps his memory was playing him up again.”

    Oracle please do try and keep up. Mc Intyre, in information provided quite openly by himself, was sentenced in 1977 for an offence committed before the 1st March 1976 and thus had political status. He later lost his status and was removed to the H-Blocks after a failed escape attempt and so at that stage he certainly had no reading material but the H-Blocks were a hive to information.

    So, to paraphrase –

    “strange the wonderfully enlightened all knowing writer extraordinaire ORACLE didn’t know that.
    Perhaps his memory was playing him up again.”

  • Mrs jones

    If Morrisson had a compass and he looked at the dial it would probably spin so fast he wouldn’t no what way to turn.Typical of SF.Find a scape-goat.Blame anybody but the leadership.SF chief Gerry Adams stood in front of his loyal membersip at the SF Ard-Fheis two years ago and said his clan had been through a difficult year.Was it not his compass which directed the Republican movement to where it is now?Nothing remotely difficult in understanding that it no longer has a compass….No direction…..It’s stook in Stormont.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Mrs Jones,

    absolutely excellent piece, unfortunately it has nothing at all to do with matters under discussion.

  • slappymcgroundout

    For how badly Mr. Pensive Quill and the rest involved screwed the pooch, from the piece linked on the sidebar there (Seen Elsewhere, the piece on BC and US Supreme Court):

    “This is our worst-case scenario,” said Mary Marshall Clark, the director of the oral history research office at Columbia University. Interviewers for Columbia projects advise the subjects that whatever they say is subject to release under court orders, like subpoenas, and require them to sign consent forms, Ms. Clark said.”

  • Mrs jones

    Sorry for steering off track on the ‘issue’ pat,i don’t claim to understand the ‘legal’ end of things.The point i was trying to make was that i think it’s a bit rich of danny to be calling people like AM/Brendan Hughes/Marian Price Touts.Long before ‘voices from the grave’ was written SF ceasefire soldiers were trying to blacken AMs name in Dublin.That’s a fact.So imho writer extrordinaire morrison is still parrotting the same old same old.

    Danny Morrison-‘Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre surely had their tongues protruding from their cheeks like gumboils when they claimed that they believed they could be killed if the interviews they carried out as part of the Boston College project were handed over to the British authorities. It is such nonsense and a very weak defence when there are better and more proper ethical and academic grounds for resisting the handover – not that Ed or Anthony, it seems, in their haste, properly warned participants that their confessions/boasts/ toutings could be seized under subpoena.’

    As Gerry A sayz in Free Ireland in takes a big man to hold his hand up and admit when he’s wrong.