Northern Ireland Conflict Archives Should not fall into Police Hands

The following article appeared in the Guardian’s Comment Is Free site on 10th July 2012

In 2001, three short years after the Good Friday Agreement had seemingly drawn the curtain on the violent political conflict in the North of Ireland the Belfast Project took its first breath. It was devised in Boston College by specialists in the study of Irish affairs and the archiving of matters flowing from such study. Its specific purpose was to enhance knowledge about the Northern Ireland conflict through tapping into the minds of those who were involved, and whose narratives would be lost forever were some effort not made to retrieve them for posterity and wider society.

Last year the PSNI launched a fishing expedition through the US Justice Department which aimed at plundering the fruits of that research stored in the Boston College archive. It sought material that it claimed may be of use to it as prosecution evidence.  Its raiding foray focussed on the 1972 killing of Jean McConville which prompted this from Chris Bray in the Irish Times:

the PSNI and its predecessor agency, the RUC ... ignored the murder of Jean McConville for nearly 40 years. The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland told us precisely that in a 2006 report that found almost no paper trail at all connected to that murder.

Despite the verdict favouring the PSNI delivered by the First Circuit court of appeal in Boston last Friday it remains crucially important from an academic and journalist perspective that nothing from the Boston archive falls into the hands of the PSNI. As NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet has argued the ruling has “significant implications” for academic and journalistic research.

This is one reason that the ongoing legal battle fought by myself and Ed Moloney to protect the archive will continue. Academics, journalists and historians are not gatherers of evidence for the state. If they cross the line that so clearly demarcates their position from police detectives the effects on the production of knowledge can only be suffocating.  

In terms of public understanding, the fallout is already being felt. In the Guardian it has been reported that a London university project similar to Boston College’s own, this time involving former security forces personnel with experience of the Northern Irish conflict, has had to be abandoned because of the PSNI assault on the Boston College archive. Public understanding will be all the more impoverished as a result of that.

If the Boston College project was such an invidious exercise as some are now prone to charge, it seems incomprehensible that the British secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, would ever have recommended it as a template for truth recovery. That he subsequently came to back the PSNI attempt to sabotage it is another political u-turn in relation to addressing the past that requires considerable elucidation. 

Moreover, the double standards of the British state are on full display. It refuses access to the archives in the possession of its security services to the family of the murdered solicitor Pat Finucane, despite the British Prime Minister David Cameron admitting security force collusion in Mr Finucane’s death.

This throws into sharp focus a very tendentious mining of the past and helps explain the considerable suspicion in the nationalist/republican community and beyond that elements of the British state are not merely investigating the past but are seeking to reconstruct it in a way that distorts a more rounded appreciation.  

Ultimately law enforcement agencies, which cannot escape culpability for Northern Ireland’s  ‘dirty war’,  are now trying to shape society’s knowledge of that war by seeking to monopolise control over what unfolds from the past while simultaneously relegating the role of academic and journalistic researchers. Any agency other than law enforcement is liable to be sabotaged. A law enforcement view of history is a partial and self serving one which seeks to conceal rather than reveal.


  1. Just posted a comment on the guardian. as "itsjustmacker", Most are English posting on it, also Loyalists and a few Irish, but, it is an excellent piece and i would recommend everyone to read and comment on it.
    Get your piece said and support Anthony and all genuine Historical researchers.

  2. Mackers,
    The Brits have the power to rubbish and wipe their feet over all moral codes and ethics, so why are we surprised?
    This weeks fiasco with Martin Corey almost beggars belief, yet it happened.
    They can do what they please, when they please and where they please.
    MI5 are now in the driving seat and sinn fein are positioned as the nodding dog in the back.
    It's open season here again.

  3. Fionnuala.

    You have hit the nail on the head, we are all back to second class citizens and the puppets arms and legs are getting weary with all the strings about to break.


    I have just read that piece from your link, "US Supreme Court appeal possible in Boston College IRA case". I now firmly believe that the FBI.CIA/MI5/MI6 are all in this and the judges are just play acting. FBI/CIA/MI5/MI6 do not give a shit about the consequences , seems they want to stir things up. that's my own honest opinion, after reading and digesting it, i have concluded that any appeal will be thrown out.
    Lets hope I am proven to be wrong.

  4. Nuala,

    I would agree with that. The Brits are being vindictive and vengeful in so many ways. The treatment of Martin Corey this week is one more example. Is there anybody still deluding themselves that the Brits have really devolved power? Here is one of the Tory right wingers interning people with ease. They would kill people just as readily if their strategic needs required it. This happens because the Brits know what Hannah Arendt knew: ‘The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.’


    You might be right. The verdict seemed very flabby and loose, not what I expected. I had thought whatever way it went, it would be as tight as a drum. Anything but. Fair play to you for the comment to the Guardian.

  5. From Helen McClafferty:

    Yesterday's Statement from Pat Finucane Centre on Martin Corey

    Yesterday a judge ordered the release of a man against whom there is no evidence of wrongdoing that would lead to charges in a court of law. Before he can be released the Secretary of State intervenes and overrules the court on the sole basis of 'secret evidence' that neither the defe...nce nor the general public has access to. This evidence... has been provided by an organ of the state, the security service MI5, an organisation that has been involved in gun running, the murder of officers of the court (Pat Finucane) and the torture of prisoners in other jurisdictions. So what message has Owen Paterson sent ? There is no rule of law. We will overrule the courts, set aside fundamental standards in terms of evidence and deny Martin Corey the right to a fair trial. Surely the real threat to the peace process is posed by the individual sitting at his desk in Hillsborough Castle not the gravedigger from Lurgan sitting in Maghaberry prison.

    Is Paterson deliberately raising the temperature?

  6. Has anyone ever given thought that the information which sos Patterson and the "security services "are using to keep Marian and Martin interned is sensitive material from its newest branch and indeed the one with possibly the most to hide ie the prm branch..

  7. That Corey ruling is nothing more than mental torture. SF should be ashamed of itself. As for the historical records, Mackers has integrity and dignity sadly missing from the authorities and SF. i for one wont be behind the door letting old comrades know the score. What is going on is beyond belief. No-one has to support 'war' to see the extent of shame that is being condoned by SF.

  8. This is one of Jim Gibney's better pieces. But he cannot seriously suggest that MI5 is behind this in a way that the PSNi is not. Both are up to their necks in it. Sinn Fein's new beginning to policing has failed and in this piece Jim Gibney fails to address that uncomfortable fact.

    Jim Gibney on Marian Price and Martin Corey

  9. Mackers,
    If Martin McGuinness can stand with the PSNI Chief Constable and call people like Colin Duffy traitors for [allegedly]continuing to do what IRA men had done at Adams and McGuinness' command for 3 decades, who is going to lose any sleep if their new best friends in the PSNI sling them into jail. I personally find it somewhat humorous. SF saying the Boston College tapes have nothing to do with them is like Adams never being in the IRA; DELUSIONAL. But then again, he never grew a beard either, did he? They may find their faith in the PSNI will bite them in the arse!!

  10. Larry,

    there was a unionist who used to say the only reason he wore a beard was to stop people calling him a bare faced liar.

    I don't want to see him or any of the rest of them jailed despite their double standards. And I certainly care if they or anybody else were to be jailed arising out of the BC tapes

  11. 'Is Paterson deliberately raising the temperature?'

    Well, he is certainly not trying to lower it.


  12. mackers
    i totally understand your position and don't wish to undermine it in any way. But personally i couldn't give a stuff if the SF leadership get slung in jail. How many did they/scap/donaldson place on the much talked about conveyor-belt. Couldn't care less about them big man. just my viewpoint.

  13. BTW if john o'dowd can call people murderers let him point the finger at his masters.

  14. Anthony I read Gorbels Gibneys column in todays Irish News and while if one was a stranger to this this little word weasel,you would say it was a fair call for justice for Marian and Martin, but peel away the thin veneer of comradely compassion and we see the real truth, if qsf were in a minor position or positions with the sdlp were reversed in Stormont,qsf would as they have done in the past call on the sdlp to withdraw from Stormont,mobilse their supporters on to the streets. the local £10 touts would be given the nod to hijack at will and the bearded one would be on the front of every camera in town shouting the odds of the brutal brits never learning anything from history.Marian and Martins internment by the unaccountable Patterson is nothing more than an embarrassment to their head honchos,trying so hard as they do to fool their people in believing that they still are true republicans,they need now to explain just how this injustice that is being perpetrated in the name of the government they so willingly serve is to be righted,they should now withdraw their menial services for a start..

  15. Larry if O Dowd started a finger pointing exercise,would it end up like wagon train ie,in a fucking great big circle.

  16. marty
    don't really think O'Dowd knows anything. Unlike Adams O'Dowd never was in the IRA. He seems to have waited until the IRA had well and truely exited stage left before he hopped up onto the stage himself.

    Adams' assertion makes me laugh though. Like the old Salman Rushdie joke...what's the difference between Salman Rushdie and Elvis? Salman Rushdie is DEFINITELY dead. Gerry is just as funny.

    By the time the PSNI and the DUP are finished with SF and their peace/piss process, there might be few 'nationalists' in Stormont once more. They may indeed get 'their Stormont' back.

  17. Seems to me Larry a cara that they already have,the dup will say and do whatever it likes, Girdwood barracks and the proposed changes to the screws uniform with the removal of the crown,they are prepared to flex their muscle to push through their agendas while qsf sit with their thumbs up their bums and their minds in neutral..worse than fucking useless in every dept, the nationalist and the loyalist people here are worse of than ever..

  18. Sinn Fein criticise police raid on Derry mayor 's home.

    he home of the mayor of Derry, Kevin Campbell, was raided by the police on Thursday night, Sinn Fein have said

    Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney said laptops and mobile phones were taken away but the police gave no reason for the search.

    It is understood a number of other homes were also raided in Londonderry but it is not clear if the searches were connected.

    Mr Campbell was elected mayor in June. He lives in the Creggan estate.

    Sinn Fein have described the raid as "inexplicable" and said the party will be demanding answers.

    Is this an error by psni?, or is it the start of the which hunt against PSF?.


  19. Marty

    Whilst I agree with what you say in the 8:15 post, I like you im sure, see the important thing as getting Martin and Marian out of Jail and I see Gibney's article as a help not a hinderance.

  20. Itsjustmacker,

    Another example of Martin McGuinness having put manners on the cops. Always liked Kevin

  21. Mick,

    or simply Gibney flapping at the impotence of his party's stand on policing.

  22. Mick a cara always great to hear from you and hope all is well.I would agree with you up to a point in regards any help in highlighting Marian and Martin,s case must be welcomed,however Gorbels Gibneys party are a mainstay of the Stormont "government " here and as such should be demanding the right to exercise their authority,like the dup have on the prison warders uniform issue for eg, their words of outrage are reminiscent of the old British motorbikes ie,all noise and no performance...qsf can and should walk from Stormont it is after all the walking season,and it would be the right road to take even for a party now so wedded to the establishment...

  23. Raymond McCartney was looking very upset and dismayed on tv tonight that Derry PSNI raided the SF Lord Mayor's house. It was like 'how could you after everything we've done for you'?!!

  24. Lol Larry "how very dare they"

  25. Marty
    think that's a bit forceful, SF are much more reserved.

  26. Good article. The brits aren't interested in a truth commission, they are getting the boot well in [mopping up] now SF are not just house-trained but 'dependent' gymps. It will be interesting to watch the brits turn the screw and SF helpless during the 'process'.

    It will be the PSNI and DUP who win the peace.

    As for academia, as someone considering a PHD after am M.A. it looks like straightforward history topics are the safest road to travel.