Ed Moloney, the director of the Boston College Oral History Project on the Northern Ireland conflict, was interviewed on Radio Free Eireann, Saturday September 8 at 1pm ET on WBAI 99.5 FM and wbai.org. A tape recording of a key interview with Dolours Price which reportedly implicates Gerry Adams in a spectacular IRA killing came within hours of being handed over to the British government on Friday when a Belfast court issued a temporary stay. As this is being written, the First Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing a motion to bar the tapes from being handed over to the British pending an appeal to the Supreme Court.
John McDonagh (JM) and Sandy Boyer (SB) interview Ed Moloney (EM) about the legal updates in the case of The Belfast Project, the oral history archive which is the subject of a subpoena from the PSNI.
SB: We’re talking to Ed Moloney, the author of Voices From the Grave, and the Director of what’s become known as The Belfast Project, the unique oral history project of The Troubles, the Northern Ireland conflict, which tried to record it from the point of view of the people who actually did the fighting in the IRA and The Ulster Volunteer Force. And we’ve been covering it of course for months it seems like, the attempt of the American government to get especially one tape from that project turned over to the British intelligence, the British police, and that’s an interview with Dolours Price. And this Friday, Ed, you were in court in both Belfast and Boston and it seems at times you might have been very close to having that turned over!
EM: Yes. I guess we were within hours of Dolours Price’s interviews being handed over to the PSNI. But we were able, first of all in Belfast, we have been planning for a long time to try to get a judicial review of the PSNI decision to subpoena Boston College. That means a judge examines the matter, our lawyers argue why the PSNI should be stopped and he makes a decision. We were facing a situation where there was a gap of seven days between the hearing which will decide whether we can have that judicial review and the handing over of the materials. So we needed to stop the PSNI from getting their hands on the interviews for at least for that period of a week or so. Our lawyers, lead by Kevin Winters in Belfast, who I’m sure people in New York familiar with Irish politics and the whole court situation in Northern Ireland will know him, he was able to persuade a judge to impose an injunction on the PSNI stopping them having any access. At the same time, Eamonn Dornan and Jim Cotter in Boston applied to the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston for another Stay pending our application to the Supreme Court to hear the case. That is being decided I guess early next week.
If the First Circuit Court of Appeals turns us down, which they’re very probably going to do, we then go straight to the Supreme Court and ask the Supreme Court for a Stay. And a single judge, in this case I understand it will be Mr. Justice Breyer who’s actually from Boston, will make the decision. And we’re obviously hoping that he imposes a Stay. Because if he doesn’t, then going to the Supreme Court becomes moot. The cat is out of the bag as the lawyers say in the sense that we’re not able to hold onto the tapes. So those are the two legal actions that are going on. We’re obviously hoping that both will progress. We’re going to have to wait and see. Next week is going to be, I think, be quite crucial.
SB: Ed, one of the arguments you’re making is that if this tape handed over to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, first of all, Anthony McIntyre, who was the lead researcher who did many of the interviews, his life could be in danger and the lives of some of the people who participated could be in danger. And you know, it’s been widely reported, I know you can’t comment on this, but it’s been in the press that these tapes might include something saying Dolours Price alleging that Gerry Adams was involved in the killing of Jean McConville. That would be explosive! And if one looks at who Dolours Price is, I mean, she was involved in an IRA bombing operation in London and I’m not saying this is true, but if hypothetically, she were to say – I know who gave the orders – that might be very badly looked at by some people.
EM: Let’s assume that what you’re staying has a basis in fact and I’m not going to comment as to whether or not that it does. But as you know, the reason why we have these subpoenas in the first place is that a couple of articles appeared in the Belfast newspapers; The Irish News followed by The Sunday Life. It’s a very complicated story which I will tell at some point and I think people will have their toes curled when they hear the full story. And in those articles it was alleged that Dolours Price had made all these claims about Gerry Adams. And if that’s the case, and I was talking to a lawyer I respect during the week about all of this, about what possible criminal charges could follow if it goes down this particular road. And this lawyer said well, normally an aggressive prosecutor would want to implicate everyone involved in this offence in criminal charges. And I said: well how could that be possible if there is no direct evidence? It all falls under the rubric of a conspiracy charge. In other words, if you can establish that there was a conspiracy to let’s say, disappear Jean McConville or blow up London in 1973 or whatever, then it means that Gerry Adams could be facing a charge, a conspiracy charge, quite realistically.
Then on the other hand, if they decide to charge everyone else except him and all that evidence comes out and assuming that the evidence says what you have said it says, it’s going to raise a major political row of double standards. So either way this is like a huge hot potato for politics in Northern Ireland. And the more you think about it, when you step back and look at what has happened in the last year, year and a half or so that we’ve been battling these subpoenas, and look at the way that the policing service is moving in Northern Ireland, a process of what a lot of people are describing as the re-RUC-ing of the PSNI. The primacy of RUC voices in places like The Historical Enquiries Team, which is the unit that is behind this particular move and the role of former RUC officers who all resigned and are now back in.
You remember when the PSNI was set up the RUC officers were given the opportunity to resign early or retire early and they’d get huge, big golden handshakes which a lot of them did. Well, they took those golden handshakes and now they’ve been re-hired on a sort of out-sourcing basis by a private company. And they’re back in there and they’re in back in areas like intelligence gathering in particular in places like The Historical Enquiries Team.
You look at all of that and you wonder what on Earth is going on here and when are people in Northern Ireland going to wake up and realise just exactly the potential of what is happening here? Because if this all does happen, it’s going to be explosive. There’s no doubt about it.
JM: Ed, we’re talking about what’s going to happen if Boston College turns it over to the PSNI. But what are the ramifications for American historians or even other historians that want to do this type of research on conflicts anywhere?
EM: You’re absolutely right John to asking that question because unfortunately it has not yet penetrated…or I think it actually has penetrated and the American media consciousness and I just get the feeling that they’re just wary of it. Because I was talking again to a lawyer about this last night about our bid to go to the Supreme Court. And he was saying that one of the major reasons why we think it could end up in the Supreme Court, and you know you have to be realistic here, only a tiny, tiny fraction of cases that are sent to the Supreme Court for consideration actually do get a hearing, right? So the statistical odds are very, very much against us. But it does depend on the quality of the arguments, and the issues and the gravity of the issues involved.
And this is really about a lot of unsettled business relating to the law and journalistic and media rights. And the First Circuit ruling in our case makes it impossible for journalists of any stripe, any colour to hide behind the confidentiality agreement with a source. It makes it absolutely impossible.
Previous law or previous judgments had opened up windows of opportunity to use confidentiality. The First Circuit slammed those windows tightly shut. And that’s the significance of the case. It obviously has ramifications for academic life. But you know? Don’t worry about academics because from my experience of them in the last year and a half, they couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag. But I am concerned about journalism because it is my trade and from that point of view it’s an extraordinarily important case. So it may be for that reason that it will end up in the Supreme Court. But I don’t know. It really does depend upon factors out of our control. I certainly hope it goes there and I hope that we win.
SB: And Ed, you’re also concerned about the lives of your researchers and people who gave interviews.
EM: Oh absolutely.
EM: Oh absolutely. There’s no doubt that someone like Anthony McIntyre could very much be in danger. And this is not the danger that, you know, the week after the interviews are handed over like there’s a burst of machine gun through his front door window. It’s like five years down the road and he steps off the pavement and he gets hit by a car which speeds off into the distance. It’s that type of situation that you’re worried about. We all know how these people operate. And how they wait and take their time and bide their time and take their opportunity if and when it produces or provides itself. So it’s not an immediate threat that we’re talking about but it is a very real threat. And the same applies of course to any of the interviewees who are identified as a result of this.
Because if they have talked freely about IRA matters then the IRA will regard them as having been informers and subject to the same IRA discipline as they did when they were active in the IRA. So it’s a very, very dangerous situation and there literally could be people killed as a result of this very foolish and I think politically motivated action by the PSNI.
SB: Well, Ed, look, we’re going to keep on this and we’ll obviously be talking to you I’m sure in the future. So thanks very much for coming on.
EM: No problem.