Boston College – The Truth-Telling Is On Its Way

Ed Moloney looks at the court case being initiated against Boston College by some of those interviewed for its oral history project. It initially featured on The Broken Elbow on 14 May 2014.

For the best part of three years myself and researcher Anthony McIntyre have been battling on two fronts on behalf of the Boston College oral history archive.

One front was occupied by the Provisional movement’s leaders and their many allies in Irish political, media and academic life. The other was Boston College itself.

One was intent on slandering our motives for starting the archive, the other intent on slandering us by shifting the blame for the subpoenas away from itself and on to us.

The first of those forces has been on the retreat now for years and will continue to be on the retreat as more and more of the truth, at least as the tellers see it, spills out. When I first wrote about Gerry Adams’ role in the disappearing of Jean McConville in ‘A Secret History of the IRA in 2002, the Sinn Fein leader was able to silence and halt the media storm that followed with a single threat of a libel suit. Now a thousand threats would have no effect at all.

The second of those forces, Boston College, will soon feel something of the same as former interviewees for the college’s oral history project take the college to court in Belfast. At the heart of the case will be an email exchange between myself and college librarian Bob O’Neill in 2001 in which I received an assurance that the contract signed by interviewees which gave them ‘ultimate’ control over who had access to their tapes would be vetted by the college’s lawyer and by the man in charge of the project Tom Hachey. This contract was the assurance to the interviewees, and us, that no-one, least of all the PSNI could gain access.

For three years we believed that the contract had been vetted by lawyers. But recently an investigation by the Chronicle of Higher Education extracted an admission from O’Neill that he had misled us, that the college’s lawyers had never vetted or even seen the contract. We had been lied to.

The story below by Liam Clarke of the Belfast Telegraph is the best account of all this and I heartily recommend that followers of this blog read it:

Former IRA man Richard O’Rawe is intending to take legal action over the handover of parts of his interview.

By Liam Clarke – 13 May 2014

A former IRA prisoner is to sue Boston College after it handed over parts of interviews he recorded to police investigating the murder of Jean McConville, it can be revealed.

Richard O’Rawe was one of more than 40 paramilitaries who gave their testimony about their role in the Troubles to an oral history project for Boston College.

The interviews were given on the basis that their contents would not be revealed until after their deaths, but after a protracted transatlantic legal battle the PSNI secured access to a number of interviews.

In the wake of the handover of the tapes, police have arrested a number of republicans in relation to the McConville murder –including Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. He denies involvement.

The PSNI was supposed to be handed only those recordings where the 1972 abduction and murder of west Belfast mother-of-10 Mrs McConville was discussed.

However, solicitor Kevin Winters said that the Massachusetts university had handed over a recording of O’Rawe – despite the fact that Mrs McConville was not discussed on it.

O’Rawe was active in Ballymurphy in 1972.

Mrs McConville was abducted from her home in Divis flats, at the other end of the Falls Road, by a separate IRA company. Accused of being an informer, she was taken away, interrogated, shot dead and buried in secret.

Republican involvement was a closely guarded secret for years and O’Rawe knew nothing of it while he was active in the organisation.

He still lives in west Belfast, where graffiti has appeared in nine separate locations across the carea branding those who gave interviews to Boston College as “touts”.

This is causing O’Rawe “distress, stress, and serious inconvenience resulting from intimidation and reputational damage,” Mr Winters said.

“We will issue a letter of claim setting out the case and about 14 days later we will issue a writ,” Mr Winters said. The action will be taken in the High Court in Belfast, which deals with monetary awards in excess of £30,000.

The case could open the way for other republicans and loyalists who gave recorded interviews to Boston College for its Belfast Project to sue.

O’Rawe recounted his career in the Provos to Boston College researchers on the basis of strict conditions contained in a ‘donor contract’ with the college.

These conditions stated that “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 Burns Library, Boston College”.

However, the contract didn’t specify that the secrecy of the archive was limited under American law.

“In retrospect, that was my mistake,” Robert O’Neill, of Boston College’s Burns Library, told the Chronicle of Higher Education this year.

The college has argued that Ed Moloney, the journalist who directed the project for it, and Anthony McIntyre, the former IRA prisoner who interviewed republicans for the project, should have pointed out the problem.

However, Mr Moloney has a 2001 email from Mr O’Neill stating: “I am working on the wording of the contract to be signed by the interview(ee), and I’ll run this by Tom (Hachey) and university counsel”. Thomas Hachey was executive director of the Center for Irish Programs at Boston College.

“The college cannot pass the buck. It had overall control of what was going on,” said Mr Winters. “Mr Moloney and Mr McIntyre were employed by Boston College. This is as if one of my staff did something within his employment and I said, ‘this is nothing to do with me – it was up to him to sort out the legalities’. That wouldn’t wash and I could be sued.”

Boston College has a subsidiary, Boston College Ireland, in Dublin, which reports directly to Professor Hachey and handles all its business in the UK and Europe. This is the body being sued in Belfast and enforcement of an award is possible under European law.

Mr Winters argued that the Belfast Courts were appropriate because the contract was signed in Northern Ireland, the interview was given here and O’Rawe allegedly suffered damage here.


Richard O’Rawe is best known for his two controversial books on the 1981 Maze hunger strike and is a former H Block prisoner himself.

He acted as the spokesman for the protesting republican prisoners in the jail and after his release he worked as a Sinn Fein Press officer.

He was jailed for armed robbery but did not become active in the IRA again after he was released in 1983. Only a small portion of his testimony is in the hands of the PSNI.

1 comment:

  1. Ed, I believe the concept of the Belfast Oral History project was a worthy one.
    However for people as familiar with the machinations of Adams and his followers, and indeed those of the British security services, yourself and Anthony's actions were remiss in not seeking independent expert legal opinion (Caveat emptor).

    Your continued selective omissions in this regard undermines the integrity of your commentary on the fall-out from the Belfast Oral History project. And as such leaves both yours and Anthony's performances in exercising due diligence open to question.

    Everyone involved in the administration and implementation of collecting the histories had a duty of care to the interviewees.

    Drop out of the blame game and take responsibility for your own actions, or as in this case careless inaction.

    In doing so you will remove yourself from the 'drama triangle'; if you can, stop taking on the role of victim, or indeed those of rescuer or persecutor.

    Do your jobs as journalists; present the facts including the short-comings of all involved. Let the work itself stand on it's own merits.
    I for one have faith in it's ongoing value, a value I believe that will appreciate only further with time.