A Reply to Niall O’Dowd

Tonight The Pensive Quill features a response from Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre to Niall O'Dowd. Ed Moloney writes a preamble to that response.


Yesterday, Niall O'Dowd published an article on his website accusing Anthony McIntyre and myself of tricking Republican interviewees into participating in the Boston College oral history project with false promises of confidentiality. The article below is our response to this false claim.

Readers should bear in mind two things: firstly, the Provisional leadership dislikes the oral history project because a) one of the participants, Richard O'Rawe went on to publish an inside account  of the 1981 hunger strike which strongly challenged that leadership's version of the protest and raised grave questions about its behavior towards the fasting prisoners, and b) another of the interviewees was Brendan Hughes who was motivated by his anger at Gerry Adams' denial of his own IRA past to tell a no-holds barred account of his and Adams' life in the IRA. In other words the oral history project challenged the official narrative and history - and thereby their sole control - of two key aspects of the Provisional leadership's story: how it dealt with the hunger strike and Gerry Adams' own life story.

Had Richard O'Rawe not decided, against our advice, to tell his story in book form, his interview would have remained sealed until his death and his controversial version of the 1981 hunger strike would have remained hidden from view for many years. But publishing his own story was Richard's right and, as he felt it, his duty. Likewise Brendan Hughes was insistent that his interview be published after his death rather than just made available to scholars. The rest of the archive includes a wide spectrum of republican viewpoints and organisations, from differing generations and geographical locations. Happenstance has meant that the first two projects to result from the archive were these. The idea that the archive was an anti-Adams' project, as claimed by O'Dowd and the Provisional leadership, is therefore a myth. In this context it is worth reflecting on this question: if Gerry Adams had been less inventive about his past would Brendan Hughes have ever contemplated talking as openly as he did?

The second point to bear in mind is that Niall O'Dowd is a close ally and friend of the Provisional  leadership. Some might be inclined to describe him as an apologist for them and unofficial spokesperson. That O'Dowd's critique of the Boston project echoes, almost to the word, that of the Provisional leadership is, in our mind, no coincidence. Reading O'Dowd's article one is tempted to reach for Mandy Rice-Davies' famous observation: "Well he would [say that], wouldn't he?"

Appealing though it might be to leave the matter at that, we have decided to explain the background to the oral history project and the issue of confidentiality as it affected both Republican and Loyalist participants as fully as we are able and to answer O'Dowd's points. Incidentally he and others seem, or wish to forget that the UVF was part of this project. Does he or anyone else imagine for a moment that such an organisation would take part in this enterprise without ensuring for itself that there were adequate assurances of confidentiality from Boston College? That these assurances were given by the college is beyond doubt. The question is whether they were ever meant.

This preamble has been written by me. The article that follows was written by myself and Anthony McIntyre:

A Reply to Niall O’Dowd

There is clear evidence that Niall O’Dowd does not know ‘full well’ the background to Boston College’s Belfast Project. And on the basis of not knowing ‘full well’ he pumps out a piece riddled with errors. What evidence O’Dowd has found is as clear as the mud he seeks to sling.

This is somewhat unfortunate because for a while Niall O’Dowd strongly opposed the British government’s efforts to invade Boston College’s oral history archive.  Now he has opted to say nothing about the British and instead seeks to exonerate Boston College and the American courts.  All in the dubious service of blaming the researcher and project director.

Quoting from a ‘Boston College affidavit’, which was not in fact a Boston College affidavit, O’Dowd writes:

Prior to the commencement of the project, Robert K. O’Neill, the Burns librarian (where the tapes were to be housed) cautioned Moloney that although he had not spoken yet with Boston College’s counsel, the library could not guarantee the confidentiality of the interviews in the face of a court order.

The striking aspect of this and other parts of his May 2000 fax to Ed Moloney - which O’Dowd fails to cite - is that it is clearly O’Neill’s preliminary judgement of the legal situation. For instance, he went on to say: “Nevertheless, the First Amendment to our Constitution is greatly cherished here, and I suspect the courts would look upon these interviews as privileged information.” Our need for firm guarantees was one reason why the project was not started in the summer of 2000 but was delayed a further eight months. We required very specific assurances and we waited until we got them. When Boston College finally came back with those assurances, which it later provided separately to the loyalist side of the project, the green light was given.

And what were the loyalists assured? We were not directly involved in their deliberations but some of their number had face-to-face meetings with senior college staff in Belfast and in their own words, these representatives of Boston College:

.....from day one, gave guarantees that were directly related to the interest this material would have from the PSNI. (BC staff)…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, discussion centered 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.

O’Dowd then proceeds to cite Boston College spokesperson Jack Dunn’s assertion that ‘an agreement was signed between Boston College and Ed Moloney that stated that each interviewee is to be given a contract guaranteeing confidentiality to the extent that American law allows.’

While this is not in dispute, it seems to be a late in the day fallback position adopted by Boston College to shift the blame onto to other shoulders. Their position when the court case began last May was substantially different. As the Boston-based lawyer Ted Folkman points out at Letters Blogatory: ‘in its motion to quash the subpoena, Boston College did not suggest that the promise of confidentiality was a promise only to the extent permitted by American law’.

That aside, one would expect the contract drawn up by Boston College to have this health warning, if that indeed is what it was, written clearly and unambiguously into the confidentiality contract. So what exactly did this donor agreement say?

The donor agreement signed by interviewees stated:

Access to the tapes and transcripts shall be restricted until after my death except in those cases where I have provided prior written approval for their use following consultation with the Burns Librarian, Boston College. Due to the sensitivity of content, the ultimate power of release shall rest with me. After my death the Bums Librarian of Boston College may exercise such power exclusively.

There was no caveat in the contract drawn up by Boston College’s attorneys stating that the type of confidentiality it guaranteed would not withstand a court order. Clearly BC’s legal opinion was that it was unnecessary. Otherwise why not insert the caveat if the type of confidentiality stipulated in the contract in any way clashed with American law?’

O’Dowd goes on to approvingly cite Jack Dunn of Boston College who argued that his ‘good friends in Ireland seem to lack a fundamental understanding of the American legal process.’

That is true. We are not lawyers. Boston College has its own law school and legal counsel yet for all of that it seems not to have understood the American legal process. When we, who ‘did not understand’ American law, warned Boston College that a second subpoena could be imminent, we were told that would not happen. And the reason given later: ‘......practiced lawyers … people who were formally schooled in international law’ had ruled out that eventuality. A second subpoena duly arrived. So much for Boston College’s knowledge of American law.

Furthermore, in a September 2011 email a Boston College official said in respect of the subpoena ‘the action of the PSNI Special Crimes Division was totally unexpected.’ A very definitive statement. But how could it be ‘totally unexpected’ if Boston College’s position is that it always felt the archive might not withstand a court order? Boston College was ‘totally’ surprised because the PSNI action flew ‘totally’ in the face of its own legal counsel.

O’Dowd further argues that we are now ‘defending the indefensible.’ How is protecting the interviewees who took part in this project indefensible? Is he suggesting that we should have abandoned them?

Finally, Niall O’Dowd repeats a hoary old canard when he states that the interviewees were all opponents of Gerry Adams. How on earth would he know? Does he know who we interviewed? Of course not. The project was designed to increase knowledge of republican history and interviewees were chosen for their knowledge not their biases.  Ultimately, if the archive survives and is eventually made available the public will judge for itself the academic integrity of the project.


  1. AM-

    " Had Richard O'Rawe not decided,
    against our advice to tell his story in book form,his interview would have remained sealed untill his death " eh ?-

    Is O'Rawe's story to the boston college going to be the next one in the papers- will he tell who his O.C was when he was caught, like others have- surly O'Rawe's full confession has not been made public yet-

  2. O'Dowd is undoubtedly a close confident and defender of Gerry Adams. O'Dowd as many will recall accurately 'predicted' the ceasefire. So when he writes in terms of the end of the ceasefire how seriously should anyone take him? I quote,

    "Strange as it may seem the tapes have the potential to damage the peace process.

    The British security forces MI5 etc., are looking for any dirt they can find on Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams among others on those tapes."
    O'Dowd is undoubtedly a close confident and defender of Gerry Adams. O'Dowd as many will recall accurately 'predicted' the ceasefire. So when he writes in terms of the end of the ceasefire how seriously should anyone take him? I quote,

    "Strange as it may seem the tapes have the potential to damage the peace process.

    The British security forces MI5 etc., are looking for any dirt they can find on Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams among others on those tapes."

  3. For fucks sake why do the dummy tits need to look at these tapes,has,nt Scap Davidison,Donaldson and those still strung on to the network fulfilling the role set out in in Kitsons dirty little war,may be this is just the the outworking of a wee power struggle between the so called security forces i.e. mi5 /6 fru sb etc??????

  4. After sitting down to a lovely roast chicken dinner I opened the Sunday World newspaper and read Suzanne Breen,s interview with Mickey Devine,s daughter Louise,by the end of the article I had tears in my eyes,but I,m sure they were nothing compared to what that girl and the other families have went through,people everywhere owe Richard O Rawe their undying gratitude for exposing Adams and his cronies for the heartless opportunistic bastards they really are,Louise,s call for a public inquiry into the events surrounding her fathers and the five other hero,s needless deaths will no doubt fall on deaf ears,its here I believe that the IRSP/INLA should instigate such an inquiry,Adams and his cronies in qsf have promoted a myth that they are the" good guys"in the hunger strike dispute and have acted openly and honestly,with people like Richard, the Dark and the testimonies of those involved in the BC oral history future generations would have been able to dissect and explore all the relevant information around that sad time and expose those who lied,I believe Richard and I think that oral project is vital to future generations who would seek the truth and not the sanitized version qsf/brits would have us believe.my heart goes out to Louise Devine and those other families I sincerely hope they find the peace and truth they desperately deserve.

  5. Anthony

    'The second point to bear in mind is that Niall O'Dowd is a close ally and friend of the Provisional leadership.'

    'Colonoscope' would be a more apt name for O'Dowd's website!

  6. the lesson is:
    if by your actions/words you sow division, you're on the wrong path/road

  7. What did you think of Ruth Dudley Edwards piece in www.independent.ie ?

  8. Yer man try telling that to the brits .they have been using that tatic all over the world and with outstanding results,well for a while anyway,or untill the colonies were bled dry.

  9. Lmao Robert.ask O'Dowd if there is any sign of an independent thought up there...

  10. good point marty,
    however take it one step further,
    by your own logic and mine too,
    it follows that Republican splits only ever serve the Brits. outstandingly well O think you said.
    Ergo ....
    ( a gap fill exercise for you marty )

  11. Cant argue with that point Yer man its been the bane of Irish history,would if only we could stand united as a nation how great that would be.I,m sure you,l agree

  12. oh yes marty,
    united we stand, divided we fall
    my feeling is this will happen in Derry, but I can't say when, for that is to place it in time !

  13. Dave this is my second attempt to reply to your question,yes I have read Edwards piece and I think its typical of the crap she posts,her depiction of the Price sisters as once clever attractive girls whose misplaced idealism ruined their lives,is from someone who I think has a face like the backend of a bus is an insult to these women who are still clever,attractive women who have remained true to their republican principals,her opinion is what youd expect from a London based west brit,

  14. Marty.

    "ave this is my second attempt to reply to your question,yes I have read Edwards Piece"

    I agree with you 100%, she writes an absolute load of tripe,you say she is like the backend of a bus, i would say, rear end of a donkey, she writes from other peoples pieces, then adds her own tripe,thats a typical Brit. And Yes , Both the Price sisters never lost their republican stance, and many more Men and women are the same. PSF have a lot to answer for.

  15. This whole debate has become very tiresome.

    Tommy McKearney once wrote that he believed that it was remarkable how Adams held the Movement together throughout the ceasefire and how it hadn’t descended into a bloody feud. I read that statement several times and wondered if McKearney was hinting that the ‘Agents of Influence’ had taken control and therefore controlling Adams became a moot point when they were controlling the Think Tank…And from that we can deduct that British Intelligence knew everything there was to know about the glorious past of all involved. Plus, I’ve no doubt that at some point in the future we will all be shocked to hear that some of those who participated in this exercise are in fact also ‘Agents of Influence’…..that’s a cert.

    So, the only reasons to bemoan this pointless and useless exercise are that concerned with integrity.
    Boston College failed to honour its side of the contract and thus has lost a degree of academic standing and integrity in the eyes of those highly influential academics of world renown from that bastion of academic integrity that is West Belfast!

    And, that the journalistic integrity (whatever the hell that is?????) of Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre has been betrayed…..same old, same old with Irish Republicanism and the egotistical maniacs it attracts!

    Another way to view this is that all those involved been very cleverly duped in to giving British Intelligence the keys to publicly use what secret information they already had, in the public domain and thus protecting their ‘Agents of Influence’ even more…..simples!

  16. AM-

    Re-read Deadly Divisions about the
    I.N.L.A and i came across a few
    items about the hunger-strike-

    Shortly BEFORE Joe McDonnells death
    councillor Flynn [ IRSP ] received a telephone call from a man from the northern Ireland office,who told him to go to Long Kesh- Flynn went and was accompanied by Séamus Ruddy [ IRSP ] they met a NIO offical and were allowed to see both Lynch and Devine- Flynn could not get the official to reveal what was being offered- page 179-

    There is the proof that there was no deal being offered at that time comming from a IRSP member who was the main link between the INLA hunger-strikers and their leadership-if there was a deal then why not tell it to the IRSPs main link-

    The IRSP leadership arranged a meeting between them and the I.N.L.A leaders and it was agreed that Bik McFarlane could not make any deals as a result of negotiations UNLESS the INLAs representative had taken part in them- page 175-

    Maybe some-one from the IRSP could go to Mickey Devines daughter and let her know the full truth-

  17. Maybe because Flynn and Ruddy were not compromised, as many of the Adams Committee appear to have been.

  18. Though I rarely agree with Ruth Dudley Edwards, I have found her to be a very nice lady and I object to the nasty remarks made about her on this thread. We ought to show respect to everyone, even our political opponents.

  19. Alfie,

    have been too busy to address this before. I think the lads see it is boisterous rather than abusive. But you are right. It is not the type of thing that is encouraged here. We tend to let it go for a while in the hope that it pulls back of its own accord. If it becomes a fetish then we step in and call a halt. I doubt this is going to happen here.

  20. Alfie I found her remarks about the Price sisters objectionable,your nice lady is good at dishing it out so I think she and yourself should be au fait with the reply,as for respect that is something I wouldnt dish out to loosely a cara,been shafted by people I once respected,but I would rather play the ball than the man anytime,so I,ll make a deal with you here ,she keeps her personal insults to herself and I for one will do the same.

  21. Marty,

    You know I have a lot of time for you, but I found your remarks about Ruth rather vicious. With regard to Ruth "dishing it out", here is what she said about the Price sisters:

    "Dolours Price, who gave similar evidence, is a sad woman whose story -- along with that of her sister Marian -- is an awful reminder of how perpetrators suffered too. Coming from a family of fanatical republicans, the sisters were, respectively, 21 and 19 when they helped Gerry Kelly bomb the Old Bailey.

    After years of imprisonment, hunger strikes and force feeding, they were released on humanitarian grounds after seven years. Later, they would both bitterly oppose what they saw as a Sinn Fein sell-out in the Good Friday Agreement and Dolours has been voluble about what she sees as Adams's betrayal. In the unlikely event of her agreeing to help the despised PSNI and give evidence in court, the defence lawyers would be licking their lips.

    Dolours suffers from depression: Marian, who is prominent in the 32 County Sovereignty Committee, the Real IRA's political wing, is in solitary confinement in Maghaberry Prison. They were once clever, attractive girls whose misplaced idealism ruined their lives. No wonder they hate Gerry Adams."

    Where is the insult to the Price sisters? All I can see is pity for them.

  22. I should also say that I was very disappointed with Ruth's analysis of the Boston College saga in the Sunday Independent. I had hoped she would stand up for the right of journalists and academics to protect their sources, but she did not. In any event, verbally abusing someone on account of their opinions is not in keeping with republican principles. Indeed, it is nasty as well as being counter-productive.

  23. "They were once clever,"implying that they are now stupid?"" attractive women"implying that they are now no longer attractive, sounds arrogant and condescending to me and giving her history of pro brit statements over the years she would not be someone who would lose sleep over either Marian or Dolours,rather she will probably shed bucketloads when Thatcher falls of her perch,and like the west brit she is I bet she also went WOW when Lizzie brit ag caint as Gaeilge,and I still love you to Alfie a cara.