Boston College Rolled Over With Precipitous Haste

John McDonagh (JM) and Martin Galvin (MG) interview Gerard Hodgins (GH) via telephone from Belfast about the Boston College tapes case against prominent Irish Republican Ivor Bell. Many thanks to TPQ transcriber for bringing this to our readers.

Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
9 July 2016
(begins time stamp ~ 36:35)

MG: We are talking – we had an appropriate lead-in because somebody who knows what it's like being inside a prison – former hunger striker, former political prisoner in Long Kesh, Gerard Hodgins, is on the line. Gerard, are you with us?

GH: Good Day! Good Morning, Martin! How are you?

MG: Well, it's Good Afternoon now with the five hour time difference. Gerard, we have a number of things we want to cover with you and we can think of no better man to cover them with but first of all – there is an historic trial or legal proceeding moving forward. We've had trials of people from decades-old offences. We had the trial of Gerry McGeough, who was the first person brought back for a decades-old offence for a Republican, we had Seamus Kearney and we now have a trial – well we're not yet at the trial stage – but we have a legal proceeding charging Ivor Bell, a very prominent Irish Republican from the Belfast area, that case was in court last week. I saw the BBC footage. You were in court with him. Could you tell us a little bit about this case and why it is so important to our audience?

GH: Well, Ivor is being charged in connection with the disappearance and the killing of a lady called Jean McConville in 1972. Part of the evidence against him is based upon tapes that the British security got from Boston College. These were tapes, oral histories, of participants in the struggle here which were given under, they believed, under conditions of confidentiality that they would never be released until their death. However, the British security services went on a plundering fishing expedition through Boston College archive and as a result they have a tape of a man they believe to be Ivor Bell. They haven't conclusively proved that it is Ivor Bell but they call him 'Witness Z', or Witness Zed as we say in this part of the world, and they're saying in this tape he talks about events that happened around that time and he has been charged with being involved in the killing of Jean McConville. Now, although the British have charged him with this offence, they know that Ivor Bell had nothing to do with it. Yes, Ivor Bell is a lifelong Irish Republican. He has been active in Republican politics from the 1950's and he was a senior leader within the IRA in the early 1970's and at the time of Jean McConville being kidnapped and disappeared Ivor Bell wasn't in Belfast on that day and so he had no part in neither the commission of it, the ordering of it or anything else to do with it.

MG: Alright. Why do you think the British are moving in this case? Is there a political agenda behind it?

GH: The political agenda I would see behind it was about two or three years back, John Larkin, the man who was the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, he came up with the proposal that a line be drawn in the sand into all inquiries into the past and everybody just move on which in itself sounds reasonable. However, the 'line in the sand' would cover many atrocities like the Bloody Sunday killings, the Loughinisland massacres and hundreds of other massacres and killings by British state agents on mainly Irish civilian people. They killed very few actually IRA members but they orchestrated a 'dirty war'. They imported arms for the Loyalist paramilitaries. They gave the Loyalist paramilitaries intelligence about Nationalist people and sent them off to kill us. So drawing a line in the sand would cover the British lovely from all those investigations that are coming down the road. But at the last minute that proposal – most of the political parties agreed with it - once it was pointed out to the Shinners (Sinn Féin) and the Shinners were criticised over having to give amnesty to the British they withdrew their support from it. So I would suspect that the political ramifications behind Ivor Bell is that the British are clearly sending the message to the upper echelons within Sinn Féin that if they don't come to an agreement on the past then the future could be a bit messy for them.

MG: Ivor Bell is accused, as you say, under the tape - if you believe that it is him on the tape - and by the way it's ironic that he's there as the letter 'Z'. There was a famous political movie, Z, years ago that dealt with Greece and that was supposed to be a classic miscarriage of justice (inaudible) at the time it was known. But who is he accused of soliciting, aiding or abetting in this incident that happened in 1972? How can he be accused of that if no one else is charged or there's no one else as identified that he was aiding, soliciting, abetting – getting somebody to take some action against Jean McConville?

GH: That's the amazing thing about the case, Martin. As you rightly say, that there is nobody else who has been arrested and actually charged with either kidnapping that woman, holding her against her will or killing her. Yet Ivor, who wasn't in Belfast on the day that this happened, is somehow charged with soliciting it and arranging for people to do it. It just doesn't follow. The trial should be interesting to see what way the – if they go the whole way with the trial – to see what way the British try to present it and present the case of blame on a man who is clearly blameless. But as I said just before there there's more of a political implication behind this and, in my view, it's aimed more at the leadership of the Shinners to bring them back on board for the British sort of analysis here.

MG: Alright. One of the parties who gets no credit for its conduct during this incident is Boston College. Apparently during the hearing, which you were at the judgment last week and we'll get to that - what that judgment was, Boston College had submitted testimony that was given from the United States and it was admitted that they had - agreements were given to anybody who gave such an interview that the interview would not be made public until, without specific permission, until the person's death. And yet the British -  as soon as they got a subpoena from the British government, sent tapes over and in Ivor Bell's case I'm told there were only two tapes that were mentioned in the initial subpoena but they gave additional tapes over to the Crown which could be used for the prosecution of Ivor Bell. What is the reaction to Boston College's conduct and involvement in this prosecution?

GH: Well, in a way I was surprised that they rolled over so quickly. They have a bit of a reputation as a standard of academic excellence in research and stuff and the sort of people you could put your trust in. But they rolled over with precipitous haste and handed everything over lock, stock and two smoking barrels without putting up any sort of a concerned face, a concerted challenge against the British to say no, this is academic privilege. So from a personal point of view, I mean if a researcher or a reporter came along from Boston College to ask me about opinions on the past as some people do, I wouldn't have any dealings with them because I wouldn't feel safe having any dealings with them because it seems when it comes to Boston College you run the risk of revisiting historic charges upon yourself from many years ago. So no, I...Boston College rolled over took quick and the cynic within me would wonder: was the whole thing a long-term strategy made by MI6 or MI5 within the British security establishment cooperated with by elements within the American security establishment and Boston College obviously.

MG: Alright. One of the ironies of this case: The decision whether to prosecute, and this is a charge that goes back to 1972, the decision to prosecute is made by a Director of Public Prosecutions, like a District Attorney in the United States, is made by an individual named Barra McGrory whose father, PJ McGrory, was an extremely well-known fighter for Irish civil rights and Irish justice. He was one of the people, the first people that if you got arrested as an Irish Nationalist or Republican or person arrested by the British that you would go to and now Barra McGrory is the person making the decision as to whether prosecutions would be had. Do you see an irony in this?

GH: Oh! Big irony, Martin! I mean you're right! Paddy McGrory cut his teeth fighting against the injustices of the British state, fighting against the injustices of partition and defended many thousands of people in the courts throughout his life. And his son is now the top legal official of the partitioned Six County state and is the main legal officer who is pursuing people like Ivor Bell, people like Gerry McGeough and also, everyday in the courts here there are good human rights lawyers here from some good companies, like the Kevin Winters and that, and they are constantly trying to access documentation on the past, on the sins of the state, and Barra McGrory, as the main legal officer of the state here, is actively opposing them and using a thing they call 'closed material procedures' which, in effect, a closed material procedure is a secret court where there's only the prosecution and the judge – you are not allowed to be there, your legal representatives are not allowed to be there and you're not allowed to be told anything whatsoever what is discussed in that and that's how rotten and much more rotten the legal system here has become. Even though we're in the post-Good Friday Agreement era and the levels of conflict, armed conflict, are gone and there is a patina of peace about the place but underneath, the laws have become much, much more draconian and repressive and anti-human rights.

JM: Gerard, John McDonagh here. I want to talk about just what's going on now - the re-writing of the history or the erasing of history in the Six Counties. Martin Galvin just talked about a movie that's debuting down at the Galway Film Festival, 66 Days Bobby Sands – he did an interview. He was taken out because at this stage of history he's not aligned with Sinn Féin. I've been looking at pictures, some photo journals, of Long Kesh how that is crumbling into the ground while in Dublin I was on the Kilmainham tour just a couple of weeks ago, you even said you would be afraid to give an interview. So not only maybe you're afraid to give an interview and talk about The Troubles but the history that's being written now and the movies that are being written - they're writing you out. They're writing Galvin out. So there's a whole new history that's coming in about the Six Counties with Gerry Adams - the head of the Civil Rights Movement!

GH: John, it's good to talk to you. Yes! You're right to point out – because pathetic Gerry's been consistent all his life – he was never in the IRA but he created the CRA (Civil Rights Association) which was a bit amazing! But no, you're right. Sometimes a history can be sort of condensed down into a single narrative to suit a political purpose and people will re-invent roles for themselves or invent roles that they never, ever had. But the conflict that raged here over those thirty years was a conflict which was waged for Irish freedom to finally bring about the creation of the Irish Republic pertaining to 1916. We failed. We failed in our objective – we didn't get it. So we didn't win so we were defeated. But the sort of historical nonsense that's being spouted out by Adams and Co. that it was really for civil rights and it all worked out brilliant and sure everything's great now. It's not. We live in a system which has much worse - far less legal protections than we had at any time during the conflict. And also we're living in a system of neo-liberalism where practically every safeguard we once had in terms of health and social security is disappearing before our eyes. (crosstalk) And that's the Ireland we got. Sorry, John.

MG: Well, this is Martin Galvin again and we're talking to Gerard Hodgins – Gerard, we're coming to the end – you won't expect much more in that direction when you get a new Conservative Prime Minister but how and ever. What happened last Thursday – there was a preliminary hearing, there was evidence taken, a judgment was rendered - you were in court for that judgment. Could you tell us what happened in that preliminary hearing and what happens next to Ivor Bell?

GH: Well, in the preliminary hearing Ivor's legal team argued that it should not be returned to the Crown court for trial because there's insufficient evidence and they were arguing that on the, mainly on the point, that Ivor had nothing to do with the offence. It was a magistrate who heard the case...(telephone connection is lost)

MG: Have we lost?...this was – you know – we talked about censorship! In any event if we can't get Gerard back...

JM: ...No. There's only two or three more minutes left.

MG: The Magistrate, he (Gerard) was about to say, the Magistrate ruled that the case could go ahead and no one was surprised because if she wanted to get to a higher court judge and get promoted in the system by the British Crown if she had done the right thing, the correct thing, the just thing and said the case should end here she wouldn't get too much further. So she ruled the case could go ahead. Gerard and Ivor Bell walked out of the court. The case will proceed. We will have more information. One of the things we didn't get to ask him was how much money the British government has in the part of the budget which says that they can come to Boston, get tapes like this, prosecute people like Ivor Bell but they don't have any money for the inquests or anything like that which would show British troop involvement in killings. So we are coming to the end. We deliberately made a decision not to talk about July the Twelfth because we wouldn't have time to cover this important case on Ivor Bell, to go all through it - it's the next real case that should be a concern for anybody in the United States, particularly, there's groups like the Brehon Law Society and others who are about legal justice – I know Frank Durkan would have been the type of person who would have been on top of this case, who would have been very concerned about it and bringing American pressure for justice for a person like Ivor Bell. John? 

JM: Well, this should be more of an American story really than an Irish story because it really has to do with Boston College. And you know, colleges around this country now have to re-assess – any conflict in the world, you really can't tape the combatants – particularly if you lost. If you won then it really doesn't matter because the government that gets into power – they won – they're not going to prosecute their own. Just like the ANC (African National Congress). When the ANC got into South Africa they didn't go after their own and say: Oh, what did you do twenty or thirty years ago? So when you lose a conflict like the IRA did and Sinn Féin did then you have to suffer the consequences and the British are going to go back into history and say: Now we're going to try you for this. So now there'll be nobody speaking to anyone because you don't want to be brought up on charges thirty or forty years later.

MG: John, one of the tragic things is Boston College, they had this agreement they represented to people and those who trusted them and believed them – and some of them did not – others trusted them and believed what was on the agreement and now you find Ivor Bell in this position. But one of the things that saddens me and concerns me is what the British are really doing. They seem to be criminalising the struggle. They couldn't make criminals of Bobby Sands, of Patsy O'Hara, of Francis Hughes and the others who died on hunger strike but they seem to be criminalising the struggle because what you can do is have Barra McGrory decide that people like Gerry McGeough or Ivor Bell or Seamus Kearney should be treated as criminals, tried as criminals, brought before courts as criminals and you will have a Sinn Féin involvement endorsing that part of the system, approving of Barra McGrory, part of the system making these men criminals.

Ivor Bell's seventy-nine years of age. He's a respected and prominent Republican. He shouldn't be on trial for these charges dating back to 1972 – shouldn't be charged for soliciting, aiding and abetting when the others who supposedly he solicited, aided and abetted are never going to be named or charged for a political agenda. This case is wrong. America should pay attention and get behind it.

(ends time stamp ~ 55:08)

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

13 comments to ''Boston College Rolled Over With Precipitous Haste "

  1. Gerard,

    I debated this at some length with the poster 'Tain Bo' some years ago and as then I take issue with the narrative implying that people ought have been, as you put it, "surprised that they (Boston College) rolled over so quickly".
    Initially Boston College engaged the services of a law firm which previously had successfully argued a case against the Microsoft Corporation, where Microsoft had sought confidential interviews two scholars had conducted with officials at a rival business. I'd contend its inaccurate to suggest that they were totally remiss in their responsibilities to protect the oral history deposited in their care or that they rolled over quickly.

    Ed Moloney as Project Director signed a contract with Boston College which though not explicit did indicate there were indeed possible limitations to complete confidentiality insofar as might arise under US law. This in itself ought to have been a red flag ... a large in your face red flag that would have driven a more cautious and wiser man to seek independent legal advice.

    It is also a matter of record that in correspondence between the Project Director and Bob O'Neill of Boston College, in the lead in to getting the project of the ground, that O'Neill gave fair warning of possible weaknesses in their arrangements.

    "I cannot guarantee, for example, that we would be in a position to refuse to turn over documents on a court order without being held in contempt."

    Even if a blind man had not seen the huge red flag in the contracts he would have needed to have been deaf too not to have heeded the alarm bells screaming loud in those words.

    I have a lot of sympathy for the predicament that Ivor Malachy and others now find themselves in but there's also a cautious and sceptical part of my make-up that often asks 'qui bono' when presented with what I and indeed others might perceive as careless or recklessness.

    Its a matter of record that Mr Hachey and Bob O'Neill having written a glowing preface to Ed'd book then each benefited from twenty-five percent of the subsequent book royalties.

    I have no information as to the dispersal of the other fifty per cent and rightly or wrongly assume that it all went to Ed?

  2. Henry Joy,

    initially BC refused to commit to doing anything. I suspect they were trying to conceal the fact that the subpoena had been issued and do the handover in secret. We learned of it despite BC and not because of them. The attitude within the institution at the time was summed up for me by one of the staff "they are terrorists and we should not fight the case". Once it was public they were embarrassed into moving to quash.

    The employment of an external lawyer was little more than optics. The promised political lobbying never materialised and they shunned offers to help from other academics with vast experience in the very area. They refused to appeal the Dolours Price handover despite being able to do so within American law.

    Ed's contract in respect of US law was never grounded in the issue of confidentiality. As Ted Folkman (I think) pointed out BC never relied on that in their initial court submissions. The only occasion American law was ever cited as I recall was in respect of copyright - which allowed Brendan to write additional conditions in.

    The whole issue of American law is crucial. Once BC said "to the extent allowed by American law" (whatever way it was worded) it followed that what was in the donor contracts was allowed by American law otherwise they would not have been there. The onus is on the institution to explicitly explain in the donor contract if there are circumstances whereby the guarantees cannot be upheld.

    The quote you cite from Bob O'Neill is precisely why the project did not go ahead at the start. It took something like nine months before he told Ed he had got it sorted, was then asked to run it by the legal team, which he told Ed he did. Years later he would tell Beth McMurtrey for the Chronicle Of Higher Education that he had not in fact done so and that it was a mistake on his part.

    I suppose it is of no consequence one way or the other who got the other 50%. The college initially claimed Ed wrote the book for profit from which he alone benefitted: the purpose was to blame him and absolve the college of responsibility. Once Ed produced the evidence that the two academics got 25% each, the college had to retract. It is a matter of public record that the royalties were split three ways - 50 to Ed and the other 50 to the two academics.

  3. AM,

    Firstly, I'm mindful of the annoyance and distress that the Belfast Oral History Project must have had, and might continue to have on you and your family.
    That said, viewed from a distance and without admittedly possibly not having a full grasp of all the nuances of how things have sadly unfolded I still have difficulties in unreservedly attributing all and total blame to Boston College. Gerard seemed to do this in his interview and my comments were intended to tease out this perceived imbalance.

    Three sides to every story and all that!

    Those of us not inside the loop may have to wait some time before the full narrative ever becomes completely transparent ... or reconcile ourselves to the fact that that's possibly not going to happen.
    In the meantime you'll have to forgive those of us in such a position if we use our imaginations to fill in the gaps and attempt to make sense out of what has become what I'm sure you'll agree has become a sorry mess.

    Like with Táin Bó, you and I will have to agree to disagree as to the significance of the 'American Law' phrase contained within Ed's contract.
    However, I must take issue with your summation that the onus totally rested with the sponsoring institution, that it was exclusively their responsibility to explicitly explain any limitations of confidentiality in the donor contract. Surely there's a shared responsibility here, a shared responsibility between the institution, the project director and the project workers?

    Avoidance of shared responsibility, at best seems to me as 'up-lining' and at worst as 't'was all their fault ... s/he made me do it'.

    Almost everyone understands that in order for the project to ever get of the ground, never mind fly, it had to have trusted interviewers. The donors had to unreservedly 'buy' the interviewers ... a heavy onus rested on their shoulders ... the project director was the conduit between the institution and the project workers ... the integrity of the project was without doubt his responsibility ... most intelligent and reasonable people would agree, an even greater load had and has to be carried by him.

    In my opinion, its unfair, unjust and unsustainable to attribute all the onus on the principals. As outlined, and as per my bone with Táin, Gerard and the majority of commentators ... don't or didn't have other parties an onus of responsibility in this matter too?

  4. AM,

    Why was Boston College chosen over some place else were the UK Government could not have a hope to get access to them?

  5. Steve,

    that was the point of BC. It was believed it was such a place.

    Henry Joy,

    Gerard did not set out in his interview to attribute "all and total blame to Boston College." He blamed them for rolling over so readily which is exactly what they did. You sought to refute that and cited the hiring of Swope as an example, despite the well documented failings on that strategy. What degree of blame Gerard might assign to myself and others I have no idea.

    The full narrative might never be known. I am as close to the situation as it is possible for me to be and there is much about it that I still feel has not been brought out and about which I might like yourself be ignorant of forever and a day. But feel free to use your imagination to fill in the gaps. People have every right to view the entire project however they wish.

    Agreeing to differ on the US law is fine although that difference leaves unexplained how BC as conduit (not Ed Moloney) sat down with the UVF leadership (who approved their people's involvement in it) and stated that US law allowed exactly what the donor contract said and that the guarantees and safeguards were ironclad.

    Three sides to very story does not equate with three equal sides to every story.

    "a shared responsibility between the institution, the project director and the project workers"

    That is the BC position which has little substance to it. The onus lies exclusively with the institution to outline the limitations if the institution is aware of what the limitations are. BC now say (insofar as Jack Dunn can be believed about anything) that it was aware of MLAT from the outset. Different from what they said when the first subpoena was issued. Why they did not outline this before the project started or even prior to the Moloney book being published is something they alone know. They knew about MLAT and still decided to write a forward for a book that given their knowledge could only have had disastrous consequences. The onus does not lie with the field workers or project directors to outline what they are not aware of. But there is an onus on them to do the utmost to make themselves aware in advance - anticipating the law is how Palys & Lowman term it.

    All involved at the research end must bear culpability but not to the same extent. Life is more messy than that. The greatest load does not have to be carried by Ed Moloney but by BC.

  6. AM

    in fairness, you're probably right that Gerard did not intend in his interview to attribute "all and total blame to Boston College." That sense, perception or interpretation of exclusive attribution of blame was probably invoked in me as much from the headline to the article, "Boston College Rolled Over With Precipitous Haste" as it was from anything Gerard specifically said. On rereading I also note Gerard's qualified surprise at Boston College "rolling over so quickly" was in response to a pretty long, loaded and leading question from Martin.

    The ultimate truth is that everyone makes occasional mistakes ... as my late father was wont to say 'the man who never made a mistake never made anything'. I have always been of the opinion that the Belfast Oral History Project was well worth attempting. Unfortunately it has ended as it has. Regardless of how blame is apportioned that isn't going to change now. However a proper debrief or review can point out the slippery stones for those that follow in your path. If that is to happen questions have to be asked of all players.

    The fact that the UVF sanctioned their members/former members to talk with Wilson does suggest that Boston College were very convincing in their guarantees of confidentiality. Do you known if they sought independent legal advice before authorising a go-ahead?
    The failure all round to seek independent advice seems to have been the biggest short-coming by far. I do understand that Robert O'Neill misled people about having had it checked out with the College's legal department but in matters with such serious potential downside for participants its difficult to exonerate culpability in not seeking independent opinion. I remember and respect from our previous exchanges on this matter that this is of great regret to you personally. But I do wonder how would you have reacted if your contract had but guaranteed confidentiality only to the extent American law allowed. How would Wilson have reacted and indeed how would the UVF leadership have?

    The inclusion of such a phrase in Ed's contract but not in your contract, not in Wilson's and not in the donor contract is difficult to rationalise away. If one were to add to this the fact that the main signatories to the original contract were to come to some financial gain from publications which were fundamentally the fruits of the academic research would you not agree that these are legitimate questions to pose and worthy of explanation?

  7. Henry Joy,

    I don't know if the loyalists sought independent legal advice but I have to presume they didn't. What I do know is that they specifically mentioned a court order to BC and were assured that the project was protected against it. They said their concern then was if the PSNI would be able to access them under any circumstances for a "peek". They were told under no circumstances.

    In Ed's contract there is no mention of confidentiality guaranteed only to the extent American law allowed. what is says is:

    Each interviewee is to be given a contract guaranteeing to the extent that American law allows the conditions of the interview and the conditions of its deposit at the Burns Library ...

    It is inferred from such wording that it was confidentiality being referred to.

    If Ed's contract states that the donor contract will guarantee conditions to the extent American law allows then the confidentiality guaranteed in the donor contract is to the extent American law allows. If a contract is created which guarantees conditions to the extent American law allows and those conditions are then outlined but are not stated to be contrary to what American law allows, there is something untoward at play.

    What Ed'd contract should have said is "unless" American law allows. Even the use of that one word you insert (but was actualy never in the contract) "only" to the extent would have been sufficient to invite further scrutiny.

    I guess the reading of the American law thing is akin to the Old Hag/beautiful woman perspective. People tend to see it in diametrically opposing ways.

    Had my contract guaranteed confidentiality only to the extent US law I would have wanted to know what could not be guaranteed. Had what appeared in Ed's contract (cited verbatim above) appeared in mine followed by the explicit guarantee I would have read it as meaning the conditions outlined were to the extent that American law allowed.

    However, today, having listened to your view and that of many others over the years who see the meaning as different I think I would want to have a look at the old Hag/beautiful woman again.

  8. AM

    true, our differences of interpretation are very much akin to the Old Hag/beautiful woman scenario. So much so in fact that it has taken several readings of your comments for me to even get a fleeting glimpse of what might be a beautiful woman in a representation that to me is clearly a drawing of an old hag!

    That you guys interpreted that phrase in Ed's contract as an affirmation or supporting addendum rather than as a limitation is difficult for me to see and swallow. This is even all the more challenging given the explicit, clear and on the record statement of Bob O'Neill that the College would most likely fold in the event of a court order. To my mind O'Neill was saying to ye that this is a somewhat ambiguous representation ... he was inviting you guys to look a little closer and see the ugly old hag too!

    But as often seen when using this training exercise people tend to see what they want to see and are often seriously blinded to seeing the other side. There is a fuller and more enlightening version of this exercise than the one described in the link you provided. Its a version of where one half of the group are primed with a unambiguous drawing of the old woman and one half with one of the young elegant one. Not only does it lead to more entrenched positions between the opposing 'perceivers' but it also goes a long way to helpfully informing how those biases are formed.

    Its not unreasonable to assume that each of the parties to the agreement had their own attachments to proceeding with the project. Those attachments invariably lead to bias.
    If such biases in our judgements are to be avoided or minimised independent counsel is always sensibly advised.

    Unfortunately and for a myriad of reasons this did not happen.
    The position in the above article (and headline) irk insofar as for me they come across as rearguard action and defensive spin.

  9. Henry Joy,

    As one of the barristers in the case said the US law reference in Ed's contract was totally meaningless phrase in that everything is permitted to the extent any law allows it. What should have been in the contracts was the crucial phrase
    ‘Except as required by law, subpoena or court order’.

    I met Bob O'Neill in June 2000 and turned down the project on the grounds that he was not able to give the proper guarantees. What he did say to me was the college would not accept any material if it could result in "legal repercussions" for the donors. He probably used that phrase as a result of Ed having said about his earlier discussion with him: "The assurance I sought was that the people donating their interviews would not be exposed to any legal repercussions in Northern Ireland as a consequence of anything they might place in Boston College.

    This is what he said in a fax to Ed. ‘I would have no difficulty personally agreeing an embargo on the tapes to protect contributors. But I first must clear this with university counsel. I cannot guarantee for example that we would be in a position to refuse to turn over documents on a court order without being held in contempt.’ So, there was no way any project could go ahead on that basis.

    So off he went and told Ed in an email the following month: ‘Next I will meet with legal counsel to discuss the guarantees you require.’ He then came back and told Ed he had got the guarantee from counsel. Moloney would later tell BBC Spotlight reporters that O’Neill confirmed to him via phone call that he had run the matter by legal counsel and that the assurances asked for were now in place. Years later O'Neill conceded that he had not gone to legal counsel at all.

    In his affidavit he said:

    When Ed Moloney first proposed this project, I raised the concern about a court ordered demand for the records, but was persuaded that it would be highly unlikely for any government to seek, or court to order, their disclosure.

  10. ... The loyalists were told the exact same thing in more even more firm terms.

    This is what Ed wrote about it:

    Exactly the same process was repeated when the loyalists joined the project except that BC staff, including Dr O’Neill, had face-to-face meetings with their representatives at which their concerns about legal status were again raised and answered in exactly the same way. In particular, ‘ironclad’ guarantees were sought by the Loyalists that the archive would be legally beyond the reach of the police in Northern Ireland. They were told that Boston College legal counsel were in a position to give such guarantees. The same BC donor contract was then provided to the Loyalists.

    Wilson writes:

    ‘What was the selling point for me both initially and at every contact I had with BC was how specific the guarantees were. O'Neill, from day one, gave guarantees that were directly related to the interest this material would have from the PSNI. O'Neill and Hachey gave these guarantees formally as official representatives of BC and did so putting on the line the integrity of this unrivalled Irish Studies collection in this illustrious academic
    institution. At every meeting subsequently, at least once with both Anthony and myself, the discussion centred around how the project was coming along and every time that discussion touched upon how none of this could have happened without the iron clad guarantees that predicated the whole thing.

    So if Bob was trying to get people to look closer he certainly went about it in a very strange way.

    Each time I met him in Belfast I went over the security of the thing with him. I actually think he thought I was paranoid. He kept trying to reassure me that I had no need for concern: it was a protected archive. And as ever I told him my concern was how it could be protected from the Provos not law enforcement as I accepted their guarantees. You would imagine that he might have said to me then I was wrong. You would even imagine he would not have written a forward for a book if he believed the college would not be in a position to refuse a court order.

    The Trustees of Boston College in their motion to quash the subpoena had this to say:

    The person who interviewed Dolours Price believed that there were no circumstances under which disclosure would be required, and would not have participated in the Belfast Project if he had thought otherwise ...

    Even though it is difficult for you to see and swallow that we could have seen the American law reference as enabling rather than restrictive, Judge Young had this to say:

    Although the legal agreement between Moloney and Boston College was appropriately equivocal in its guarantee of confidentiality, Boston College asserts that the promises of confidentiality given to interviewees were absolute.

    The above article and headline "a rearguard action and defensive spin"? Why would Gerard have to spin? What rearguard action does he have to fight? The title of the article is lifted verbatim from his interview, as so often happens when we publish here. It is a very accurate summation of BC's position: it rolled over with precipitous haste. Whatever side of the divide people take on the entire matter there seems to be general consensus about that. Probably one of the reasons why Professor Kevin O'Neill of BC publicly called on the college to apologise to us.

  11. AM

    I apologise, my mistake, the title of the article was indeed lifted verbatim from the interview.
    And thank you for your fulsome reply which shoots holes in much of the narrative I've constructed in an attempt to make some sense out of what has become an even more confusing escapade!

  12. Henry Joy,

    no need for apologies - you saw it as you did with the material in front of you. I'm fine with that and the fact that people are entitled to see it other than I do. I feel it is more complex and, yes, confusing than people at first think. But regardless of how blame is apportioned there was a serious error of judgment at our end and others should learn from it.

  13. AM

    agreed ... your experiences with Boston College makes for a cautionary tale and a salutary lesson not just to those involved in research projects but to all parties to agreements where an imbalance of power exists.


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