Boston College has a Strong Motivation to Launder the Truth

Ed Moloney with a critical response to a piece by Joanna Harrington.  The Harrington article and the Moloney response appeared on the  EJIL: Talk blog.

I wish to lodge a protest with this website in the strongest possible terms. Your article contains a number of key inaccuracies which could have been corrected or at least challenged had you bothered to contact me, Ed Moloney, the director of the Belfast Project which is the subject of your article. You clearly have had access to my blog and your article is dotted with my name (but none from Boston College), yet you did not even bother to contact me to check some important facts. Instead you took as gospel the account of Boston College in this affair despite the fact that this college has a strong motivation to launder the truth in its own self-interest.

This is a story of many things but essentially it is a tale of grossacademic funk, of a college abandoning a research project that it had initiated and funded, which it boasted about and which it used as a basis to become an important archive for other documents from the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It is a story of a college that has thrown its research subjects to the wolves and denigrated those in Belfast who worked on its behalf. Had you done the most elemental research you would have been aware of this controversy surrounding the project and the subsequent subpoenas and that ought have sent you in the search for balancing inputs from those involved on the ground in this project. But you didn’t. I now ask that these comments be incorporated in your account which should be corrected and edited to reflect my input. In this capacity I am speaking on behalf of the two researchers who carried out the interviews, Dr Anthony McIntyre who interviewed IRA activists and Wilson McArthur who interviewed Loyalist activists.

 Your first gross error came at the start of your article when you wrote:

The Belfast Project at Boston College was not, however, a typical university research project. This project was not initiated by a     professor or college employee, tenured or otherwise, but by the Irish journalist and author Ed Moloney. Moloney entered into an agreement in 2001 with the head of Boston College’s Burns Library to house what was then an envisioned collection of recorded interviews with former paramilitaries about their activities during the Troubles. Interviews were then conducted from 2001-2006 on the basis of a promise of confidentiality for both the interview and the interviewee, to last until the interviewee’s death.

This is so wrong it is difficult to know where to start. But here is the history of the origin of this project. In 1999-2000, Professor Paul Bew of the Political Science Department at Queens University Belfast was a visiting scholar at BC. He arrived just after the Good Friday Agreement had been signed in Belfast heralding the end of the conflict and the beginning of peace. While at BC, the head of the college’s Burns Library, Dr Robert K O’Neill told Bew that because of the peace deal, BC was interested in starting a collection  associated with the Irish Troubles and could he, Bew, help the college search and locate suitable projects. Bew agreed. This is the  point at which the project was initiated and note that it was the college Head Librarian who initiated it. When Bew returned to Belfast he canvassed around for ideas. He approached me amongst others and I suggested replicating a project that the Irish govt had put in place after the Anglo-Irish war of 1919-1921 to collect the stories of those who had fought in the conflict. He took that idea back to O’Neill who contacted me to see if I would take the idea forward with BC’s help. This I agreed to do. BC then drew up the contracts including the crucial donor contract which did not carry any caveat or warning about interviewees’ vulnerability to subpoenas. The funding was also put in place for the project. Each interviewee received £25,000 p.a., I received £5,000 p.a. for what was essentially a part-time job and a small sum was set aside for equipment, transcription and shipping. All that money came from BC.
So in every meaning of the phrase, the Belfast Project was “a typical university research project” that had been initiated and funded by college employees.

Since the subpoenas were served and it has become painfully clear that BC was deficient in its responsibilities to interview subjects, some of whom could now face jail terms, there has been an effort by this college to shift the blame on to myself and the two researchers and to denigrate us in every way possible. One way it has done this is to put distance between itself and the project by implying or suggesting that they kindly made room on their shelves for a project which otherwise was nothing to with themselves, a project that was entirely my work and idea. That is blatantly a lie and you have fallen for it. BC is a college that has an income of nearly $750 million a year and employs full-time p.r. people and while we have nothing like those resources we nonetheless have presented our case truthfully and have largely succeeded despite the massive odds against us.

The second untruth is this, which you also wrote:

Critics, however, note that the Boston College project was notinitiated by an academic, but by a journalist and author who, with the librarian, tried to use contract law to ensure that an intended collection of interviews conducted in Northern Ireland were housed on a confidential basis outside the jurisdiction. Boston College’s Center for Irish Programs has acknowledged an association with the project, with the Center’s Executive Director having ‘met periodically in Belfast with the former IRA/UVF university-trained men who conducted the interviews with paramilitary veterans from opposing sides,’ but the project’s terms were agreed without the Center’s involvement.

You repeat here the canard you began your piece with, that this project was not initiated by an academic but by a journalist. I repeat, BC began this project, funded it, drew up the contracts and therefore own this project despite its efforts to suggest otherwise.

The second untruth concerns what you have to say about the Center For Irish Programs. Let me be very, very clear about this. The head of that Center is Professor Tom Hachey and throughout the life of this project, from 2001 to 2006, Hachey was the man we all went to for instructions, for assistance and for anything to do with the project aside from storage of the interviews. He was our main point of contact with BC. Dr Bob O’Neill deferred to him in all matters concerning the project and he was the public face of the project when the book based on the Hughes/Ervine interviews was published, giving all the media interviews that resulted, which are available on archive. It was Hachey who came to us circa 2004 to ask if we would agree to existing contracts being altered to allow publication of interviews while the subjects were still living. Ask yourself how that rests with BC’s efforts to blame the subpoenas on ourselves?

One reassurance he tried to give us at that time was that there would be no risk as we were legally safe. BC wanted bangs for its bucks, he explained, i.e. publications that would justify the expense incurred on the project. We declined on the grounds that it would be wrong to alter a deal already made with interviewees but one result of all this was the publication of the Hughes/Ervine book. BC wanted publications from their investment and this was the first. It was Hachey who conducted negotiations with the publisher, via my agent, about that book; it was Hachey who asked that he and O’Neill should share the byline on the book (Faber refused) and it was Hachey who insisted that half the royalties go to his Center and to O’Neill’s library. (Incidentally, I have all the emails to back up every word I write) This pathetic attempt to distance himself from the project, using yourself as the vehicle, may have more to do with the internal politics of BC than anything else but whatever the reason it is despicable.

Accordingly, I would ask that all this be reflected in your continuing coverage of the Belfast Project, that you correct or at least balance your inaccuracies and that you contact me beforehand so that I can see what you intend to do.


  1. Well said Ed, I read this as Hachey and O'Neill wanting big Bucks, Did I not read somewere that you Posted both of them Cheques, I stand corrected if I'm wrong.

    AS for Joanna Harrington , I would be curious as to her response, If Any , is that the same Joanna Harritgton who, is a professor in the Faculty of Law and an associate dean in the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research at the University of Alberta.

  2. Hope this is not off thread Anthony.

    Gary McKinnon extradition to US blocked by Theresa May.

    This scottish computer hacker had his extradition via the mlat to usa blocked because he would have taken his own life.

  3. Its justmacker

    It was not off thread at all and was an interesting observation.