Boston Public Radio interviews Belfast Project Director Ed Moloney

Transcript of Boston Public Radio interview with Ed Moloney. It featured in Boston College Subpoena News on 15 July 2014.

Jim Braude (JB) and Margery Eagan (ME) interview journalist Ed Moloney (EM) the director of the Boston College oral history project about the impact of the fallout of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) subpoenas for the project’s archives.

Boston Public RadioWGBH Radio 89.7FM

JB: We’re going to try to give you the latest developments and back story to the Boston College Belfast oral history project in maybe forty-five seconds or fewer. For five years as you probably know BC collected interviews with those who were part of the sectarian violence that ruled Northern Ireland. These interviews were done with assurances given to the interviewees that everything would remain confidential. But as you probably know in 2011, the federal government subpoenaed BC and ultimately the school handed over some of these interviews to the British authorities who are investigating the murder of a widowed mother of ten, Jean McConville, and ultimately resulted in the arrest of the leader of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, and threatened, according to many, a still fragile peace.

Globe columnist Kevin Cullen went to Belfast to follow-up on the repercussions of the oral history project run amok. Many of the participants feel that their lives are threatened. Kevin joined us last week fresh from his trip to Belfast. And one of the arguments Cullen made was that BC, because of something called the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the US and Britain, could have exercised political exemptions which would have enabled, according to Kevin, BC to resist the subpoena. The next day the Director of Public Relations from BC, Jack Dunn, joined us to dispute some of Cullen’s assertions.

And after that broadcast we heard from Ed Moloney. Ed’s the man who spearheaded and directed BC’s Belfast Project. He joins us possibly to set the record straight hopefully at least to better align it. ED, welcome to Boston Public Radio – thanks for your time.

EM: My pleasure.

ME: Hi Ed, thanks for joining us. I just want to play a clip from Jack Dunn from Boston College who was on with us as Jim just said. And Jack Dunn said that the blame should be spread around for this terrible situation to many people including you. Let’s hear a piece of that sound:

Audio clip played

Jack Dunn:I think the blame for this should go to all those who were involved and the attempt by Mr. Moloney and Mr. McIntyre to deflect blame from themselves and put it on the hands of Boston College doesn’t hold up to the light of scrutiny.

Audio clip ends

ME: Do you think that’s an unfair statement, Ed Moloney?

EM:   I do. Yes, I do. Not surprisingly and not just because we’ve been on the receiving end of Jack Dunn’s tirades since this subpoena business started. But there are valid reasons for thinking that we were misled by Boston College at a very crucial stage going into this project. When, if we had been treated properly and honestly, we would not have gone into this project …

JB: … Ed, let me be clear. Ed, if I can be clear. When you say misled …

EM: …Can I explain, please? When we drew up the Donors contract, which is the contract that the interviewees would sign which guaranteed their confidentiality and said to them that they were the only people who would be allowed to open or read these interviews outside of Boston College until their deaths, I asked the Librarian at Boston College, Bob O’Neill, to run this wording past the college lawyer to make sure that we were in accordance with all our legal responsibility. And I was given assurance that he would and that eventually that he did. We have learned in the last few months or so, after three years of this subpoena fight, that in fact Bob O’Neill was lying to us. That he never ran the wording or the contract past the lawyers. That the contract should have included wording which made it clear that there were legal limits as to confidentiality.

And I can assure you, and I’m talking on behalf not just of myself but also of Mr. McIntyre but also of Wilson MacArthur, who did the interviews for the Ulster Volunteer Force interviewees, that if that wording had been as it should have been put in as Bob O’Neill had a responsibility to ensure that it was put in we would not have participated in this project. And we would not be sitting here today having this conversation. Sorry, now I interrupted you …

JB: … Oh, no, no, no. It’s fine. I’m glad as I was just going to ask you to explain and you did, Ed Moloney, who obviously was head of the project, you also contend – and we had this discussion in some depth with Jack Dunn when he was here last week – that Boston College didn’t fight hard enough, the subpoenas. And for those who haven’t been paying attention to this: it was initiated by British authorities, went through the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and ultimately the subpoenas were issued. Jack Dunn told us that he thought they fought as hard as they could. You’re not in the same place as he is, correct, sir?

EM: Oh, absolutely not. I mean first of all when this whole thing started the signals from Boston College quite clearly, quite loudly were that they would have given up the interviews without any sort of legal fight. I discovered the existence or the serving of the subpoena entirely by chance when a friend at Boston College rang me up to let me know that the subpoena had been served. But also to warn me that I was not to endanger his privacy by revealing that I’d been told this by him because the atmosphere at the college was such that no one was going to know about the subpoenas except the college authorities which meant, essentially, that those who had been involved in the project, as well as the people who had given the interviews, would not know about these subpoenas except for this one phone call. The first that we would have heard, I suspect, of the subpoenas, would have been when people were arrested in Belfast because I strongly suspect that Boston College was preparing to hand over these interviews until I got that phone call.

I then made repeated attempts to contact Nora Fields, who is one of the Boston College attorneys dealing with this, and was eventually told – and of course I only had one question to ask her really aside from asking: How on Earth this thing had happen? It wasn’t supposed to have happened.

But the main question after that would have been: Is Boston College going to fight?
The message I got back from her was that she did not want to speak to me. And that set the tone for the relationship between ourselves and Boston College ever since. And it planted a very strong seed of suspicion in my mind in the minds of the other researchers that Boston College was getting ready to hand these interviews over. And because of that suspicion and to force Boston College’s hand I then leaked the story to The New York Times.

The New York Times had the story on the front page the very next day and within a few days Boston College had been obliged to hire a lawyer to resist and to fight the subpoenas. But I wonder whether they would have ever taken on that lawyer if I had not taken the step of contacting The New York Times.

Then when we did get to the legal fight it went in front of Judge William Young at the federal district court in Boston. Boston College lost at that point. Jack Dunn then announced to the world that Boston College would not be appealing – would not go to the First Circuit Court of Appeals – would not take it any higher than Judge Young.
Obviously what was open to Boston College was a route that went all the way to the Supreme Court if they could get there.

But no, they decided at that very early stage that they were going to give up. We then, we who were the only ones who were really campaigning publicly, and this is against the background of Boston College trying to gag us, warning us that we’d be cut off from all flows of information if we continued going to the media with our campaign. We created such a fuss that Boston College was obliged to go back into the fight. Not to re-open the whole case but to fight on almost a technicality which was about the number of the interviews that had been handed over or were going to be handed over. Not the principle of handing over the interviews but the number of interviews that were to be handed over. And Jack Dunn has dishonestly characterised that ever since as Boston College putting up a huge fight …

JB: …Well, let’s hear. I actually want people to hear. Actually if I can, Ed, I want to play what Jack said about that. We’re talking to Ed Moloney who was the director of BC’s Belfast Project. Here is Dunn last week with us suggesting that BC did do everything it could do within the bounds of the law to protect the project. Listen to him:

(Audio clip played)

Jack Dunn: We fought a vigorous defence over two years and we won a significant court victory that protected some seventy-five to eighty interviews from being sent overseas. So Boston College did what it could legally. The criticism from Anthony McIntyre and project director Ed Moloney is that we didn’t do enough. I think it’s a cultural divide, Margery. I think they don’t understand, particularly Anthony McIntyre who spent most of his life incarcerated in Northern Ireland, they don’t have respect for the legal system. We do. We engaged the legal system. The legal system rendered a verdict. We had to accept that verdict. But we won a significant court victory so the narrative that we didn’t do enough is specious.  

Audio clip ends

ME: That was the voice of Jack Dunn. We spoke to him last week. He’s the representative of Boston College. Ed Moloney’s on the phone with us now. He’s the director of the Boston College Belfast Project. Ed, it’s obvious that Boston College has taken a huge public relations hit in this whole situation. So what I don’t get is: What would be their motive? Why would they stonewall you like this? Why would they do what they did? You allege.

EM: Well, you’ll have to ask them that question. I cannot understand it for a moment.
I mean, one of the stories that I heard about the college president, Father Leahy, was that he had been a very strong critic of Cardinal Law over his handling of child sex allegations, paedophile allegations, related to the clergy in the Boston Diocese. And that he had said that Cardinal Law should have listened to his heart and not to his lawyers so much. Well in this case I think if Father Leahy had listened more to his heart and not to his lawyers we would not be in this situation now. I think Father Leahy, if he had decided to fight this all the way, had mobilised all the resources that Boston College could have mobilised: all their alumni, all their political contacts, all their contacts throughout the rest of American academia – to make a real principled stand and fight as hard as you could all the way up to the Supreme Court to try to protect these interviewees who had taken a huge risk in giving Boston College a very valuable archive, an historically valuable archive and have been rewarded in this shameful fashion.

I think now Father Leahy would be a hero amongst American academia.
And instead, Boston College has been soiled by this affair not least by their utter failure to stand up for the rights of people who participate in research projects. This is an affair that’s going to have enormously negative implications for American academic research generally.

I mean who in their right mind now who let’s say is involved in a controversial episode in political life is going to take part in a research project such as this, an oral history project such as the one that we ran at Boston College, in any American university knowing that this is the way that you’re likely be treated at the end of the day?

ME: The Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen offered a theory that we did this because of Britain’s help with us during the Iraq war – that they are our ally in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is there any credence to that do you think?

EM: I think there probably is. I think a lot of people were struck by the fact that when Gerry Adams was being questioned by the PSNI at Antrim police station about the kidnapping and abduction and murder of Jean McConville, Abu Hamza was appearing in a New York federal district court charged with Al Qaeda-linked offences. And he had been extradited from the United Kingdom at the request of the US and I think you probably are seeing this working out.

But it’s an unthinking working out of this relationship, a quid pro quo relationship, because what the impact and the effect of the American decision to submit to these British requests is to undermine a peace process which was one of the very few diplomatic triumphs for peace making and peaceful negotiation undertaken by the United States in the last fifteen or twenty years.

It’s having a very negative effect. I think we can see that in the way that attitudes are hardening in Northern Ireland. It’s becoming almost impossible now to get agreement on dealing with the past because a lot of Unionists, hardline Unionists, are rubbing their hands with glee and anticipation at the prospect of more dirt and prosecutions affecting the leadership of Sinn Féin, people who they are obliged to share power with and who they don’t like sharing power with and it’s having this very, very negative effect.

And that’s only happening because the American government is going along with this.
And whoever took these decisions in the Department of Justice just did not do minimum research into this.

If they had spent ten minutes on the internet researching the case of Jean McConville they would have realised that the police who started this hunt for the Boston College archive were fully aware that at the end of the day the road that they went down would lead to the door of Gerry Adams and that would have very calamitous, potentially calamitous, consequences for the peace process. They must have known that but why didn’t the American government, why didn’t the DOJ, why didn’t Carmen Ortiz discover these things?

JB: Ed Moloney, last question from me: Our first involvement with this topic on the radio was when we were talking to Tom O’Neill, son of (former Senator) Tip O’Neill. And Tom’s deeply involved in Boston College. During that conversation, Anthony McIntyre, who’s name we’ve mentioned and with whom you’ve worked, and his wife, Carrie Twomey, called us from Northern Ireland during the discussion. And Carrie Twomey specifically said, as did many of the people with whom Kevin Cullen met when he was in Belfast a couple of weeks ago, that they really feared for their lives because of the release of these documents. Do you think those fears are well-founded?

EM: Oh, absolutely! There’s no doubt in my mind that the people who have been exposed as a result of these subpoenas are under a threat of death. I mean, it is the rule inside the IRA – and make no mistake the IRA still exists as an organisation – it is a rule inside the IRA that if you are caught betraying the organisation’s secrets then you are liable to be killed under the justice system that the IRA upholds. And that’s not something that one can take very lightly.

And I’m not suggesting for a moment that someone’s going to knock on Anthony McIntyre’s door and put a bullet in his head. But he could be walking down the street one day when someone pushes him into the path of an oncoming car. That’s the sort of danger that we’re facing as well as the direct danger and threat of violence. So yes, I am taking it very, very seriously indeed. And everyone who knows the situation in Northern Ireland knows how vindictive the leadership of this organisation can be in these circumstances. Don’t forget these tapes have led to the arrest and embarrassment of one of their iconic leaders. You cannot treat these things lightly.

JB: Ed, I said it was the last question – this one really is the last question as we only have a couple of seconds. Dunn, when he was here said everybody shares some of the blame. BC – and I’m paraphrasing – BC made some mistakes, too. Obviously you don’t think “some” is not the appropriate adjective there. Do you take any responsibility personally at all for the mess, any share of the mess that this thing’s evolved into?

EM: The thing I regret above all else was leaving research of the legal situation entirely to the Boston College end. I think that was a mistake because it left us open. We were too trusting. We took people’s word and the consequences of that is what we’re living with now I’m afraid.

JB: Ed Moloney, thanks so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

EM:   Okay.

ME: Thank you for being with us. Ed Moloney was the director of the Belfast Project.


  1. JB:...Do you take any responsibility personally at all for the mess, any share of the mess that this thing’s evolved into?

    EM:The thing I regret above all else was leaving research of the legal situation entirely to the Boston College end. I think that was a mistake because it left us open. We were too trusting. We took people’s word and the consequences of that is what we’re living with now I’m afraid.

    'Grief walks upon the heels of pleasure; married in haste, we repent at leisure.'

  2. Thanks for the link Anthony. Thought-provoking and informative article.

    I really do wonder will Richie's proposed action ever come before the courts.

    If it does will yourself and Ed have a watching brief?

    Have ye taken advice as to any further potential fall-out if this case were to be heard?

  3. Henry,

    Is your problem with Ed, Anthony, the interviewee's....or simply the whole concept of the Belfast Project?

    Why do you seem to be labouring over the same point? All you keep talking about is 20/20vision, hindsight...

    Sometimes you come across like a Danny Morrison clone...

  4. Henry.

    I will assume your “computer issues” have been resolved or were you just waiting for a new BC article to appear so you could enlighten the world with your talent for hindsight.

    The link is a wee bit dated, almost three weeks old, July 6. I would have thought you would be on the BCSN site daily as it would help with your retrospection.

    Just a stab in the dark you have no interest in the issue instead you were elected to be the resident hindsight cowboy and even with all the information available you still manage to do a piss poor job at that.

    You ducked out of the Paul Bew thread and on this one you kick off with having a go at Ed. You could have picked a better quote as I doubt there will be any repenting, but at least we know your computer is working even though you still make no sense.

    That was a lengthy article and now you have what appears to be “new information” for you to continue sounding daft.

    I will assume since you address Richard as Richie that you or perhaps someone else is or was on good personal terms with the man.

    Does he have a genuine cause to pursue “breach of contract” yes, as for some reason BC handed over his accounts to the Brits even though they did not request it or at least publically.

    This would be beyond Anthony and Ed’s control and squarely at BCs door. That might explain why they returned his material after the fact.

    Remember the donor contract, safe keeping, I will even toss in to the extent American law allows. Perhaps you should ask BC why they handed over unrequested material.

  5. Kevin Cullen: "If you look at the actual agreements I think BC did not promise more than it could deliver in some respects.

    The problem is it got lost in translation over the Atlantic Ocean.

    Everybody who spoke to them, and I just was in Belfast and interviewed a number of people who gave oral histories, they were absolutely guaranteed. There were, absolutely."

    It got lost in translation!
    Who's responsibility was it to ensure that didn't happen?

    To my mind that responsibility rested firmly on Ed's shoulders.
    As programme director it was remiss of him not to have sought advice.

    This interview was the first time I heard Ed acknowledge his short-comings in this regard.

  6. Henry.

    "To be deposited in the Burns Library for safe keeping until death." I don’t see how that is misunderstood but since you enjoy waxing poetic “lost in translation” must sound like a goldmine for you.

    On the thread you done a quick bunk from you were critical of the donors for not seeking a brief and now with an unassigned number spoken too you are taking one side of “conversation(s)” and using it as cannon fodder to suit your continued babbling.

    Who exactly is the “everybody” that spoke to the “them” considering BC drew up the contract and using your favourite hindsight would there have been any reason at the time for anyone to doubt BC or believe they would renege on their responsibility of the collected material(s).

    You must feel slightly chuffed that Ed in retrospect regrets trusting the prestigious BC or is it only you that has the power of hindsight. You are only plucking the feathers that you believe lend some weight to your Henrys’ inquisition.

    In your mind wee white sweety mice work overtime exaggerating and knocking square pegs into round holes. Go back to the Bew thread you are all over the place and nowhere at the same time.

    I doubt Ed having regret will satisfy you and I shall look forward to bantering with Henrys’ until your computer does a bunk.

    It is well past time that BC admitted they made a henrys of the project and put on a puppet show in defending Boston College and shamefully endangering those they sought the material from.

    Henry your fixation with Ed and Anthony is bordering if not passing into the weird as you essentially don’t make an argument but grasp at sound bites and present it as the be all to end all.

    Why don’t you in your own words clue us in as to “your opinion” on the project, Ed and Anthony?

  7. Tain, I didn't criticise the donors for not taking legal advise; what I did do was suggest that researchers have a duty of care to their research participants.

    I pondered as to whether that duty of care extended to suggesting and affording an opportunity to interviewees before proceeding to seek independent advice.

    People rightly may say that theoretically and ethically that's all grand but on the ground in the rough and real world of Belfast such practices would have blown the project out of the water before it got out of first gear.

    That being so, wasn't it all the more important that all the parties on the College side were fully informed and fully briefed as to all the legal implications and ramifications?

    That didn't happen. All parties were remiss in this regard.

  8. Tain, I guess the 'everyone' that Kevin Cullen refers to are the donors; 'them' being the researchers.

    It has seemed to me for some time now, and I've draw attention to this before, that there were clear indications right from the start that Boston College might not go the distance.

    Kevin Cullen concurs it seems with my appraisal.

    "If you look at the actual agreements I think BC did not promise more than it could deliver in some respects."

  9. Henry,

    “you guess or you know” is it everybody or everyone who spoke to the them? I can respect protecting sources but this is very vague and carries as much weight as lost in translation or even “in some respects” but since that is your forte using bits that suit you and avoiding your own opinion on the BC project the hindsight rule doesn’t add much does it.

    Lost in translation might have grown wings if American English and the Queens English were two different languages, it would be safe to dump that line in the rubbish bin.

    There would have been no reason for a donor not to seek legal advice up until the donor(s) signed the donor contract which excludes 3rd parties and insists on secrecy.
    You answer your own question as to why donors would not seek independent advice could they trust a brief, would it leak out and guarantee the donor a bullet in the nut that being the rough reality you mention.

    Certainly the BC legal experts could have done a better job regarding the MLAT but realistically chances are even without the treaty the British would have applied the right pressure on their American ally and eventually get what they wanted. It might have tied it up in the courts for a while longer but powerful governments are not going to worry about legality especially as they would view the material as “Terrorist(s)” and the Americans are not about to fallout with the Brits over the issue.

    BC went into save the college damage control mode with their greatest concern being its reputation and of course funding.

    “Jack Dunn: We fought a vigorous defence over two years and we won a significant court victory that protected some seventy-five to eighty interviews from being sent overseas. So Boston College did what it could legally.” At that point the Brits were not seeking the entire collection but it does sound good that they won a victory even if it is of the imaginary kind.

    You fail to point out the “clear” indications that BC might not go the distance and you use the words “might not” so you are not 100% sure on that as you should have said “would not” but they could have.

    Much the same as “I think BC did not promise more than it could deliver in “some respects.” Thinking and knowing are not the same so perhaps translation is what the reader sides with.

    Just to piss on your parade Henrys’ you have not offered much on the subject instead you grasp at bits of other peoples thoughts and on this thread you thank Anthony for posting a link which you imagine was verbal gold for your non-opinion-opinions. If you were interested in the issue then the 6th of July article on BCSN should have already been on your plate.

    But, not to be a complete bastard I will give you credit for being the persistent hindsight genius any chance you will formulate your own assessment on the subject?

  10. Ok Tain;
    Ed, Anthony et al took the great University at their word, swallowed it whole; hook, line and sinker... Doffed their caps, thank you very much Sirs, most gracious and most kind of ye Sirs ... to fund us Sirs.
    ... Ed publishes his book based on the 'secret' project, with forewords from two of the fine professors. Once again thank you very much Sirs ... Then the big bad University lets them all down when the shit hits the fan ... unless bastards them university folks.

    And now Anthony's so traumatised by the whole sorry escapade that he can't even bear to hear songs by 'Boston'... unless bad bastards those University folks ... so they are sir ... you betrayed our trust sirs.

    Keep wearing the TPQ team jersey if you must Táin.

  11. typo in previous; useless rather than 'unless'

  12. Henry,

    I am unsure what the TPQ quip means; I was unaware that I was defending the Quill. I thought you and I were having at it over the BC issue. Though what you meant is keep on defending Anthony even on that one you are wide of the mark as all I am doing is pointing out my opinion on the issue which does not agree with your extremely narrow view.

    Now your own hindsight is out of steam and sounding more like complete ballix, utter shite! But as you babble at least your honesty shines through what happened to your sensitive not playing the man rule?

    “Anthony, Ed, et al” (the donors) you insinuate that the donors were paid. Ed and Anthony were employed by BC not the other way round they received a working wage and in my opinion they got short changed on that one but that is neither here nor there.
    The” et al” didn’t pull an Oliver Twist and go begging with cap in hand, do the “et al” sound like the sort that would beg?

    When flimsy logic fails revert to poor sarcasm!

    “Jack Dunn: We fought a vigorous defence over two years and we won a significant court victory that protected some seventy-five to eighty interviews from being sent overseas. So Boston College did what it could legally.”

    A casualty of truth he is not sure how many interviews they saved that were not requested and politely says overseas instead of to the Brits. Is there sufficient reason to view BC as weak at the knee when the pressure was on?

    I noticed you ducked on “Richie” was he one of the other 20 or 25 that Dunn fails to mention but then again that is how you have been arguing avoiding questions and using other peoples words.

    Back to the Quill jersey you haven’t offered any reason for me to switch sides, I think that is the official SF tradition, should I put on the cavemen SF inspired BC Touts jersey?
    I too get fed up reading or hearing about BC and it is not like the College could not have dumped the entire collection into the river long before the Redcoats’ were anywhere near their door.

    Up until the actual subpoena arrived at their door they had the right and the chance to destroy the entire project so there is legitimate reason to be critical of BC handling of the issue.
    I notice that Anthony’s trauma is mild as he managed to post your attack on “et al.” You are losing the bap on this one!

    Keep pulling rabbits’ out of your arse and I will keep on posting even though it has become mundane! Perhaps the wounded Anthony would do us a favour and set aside a special page for us to go round in the buck eegit circle that way readers don’t need to yawn as I believe the Paul Bew thread bored all away.

    I will have to pull Anthony up on keeping those Quill jerseys shy but I hope the new look doesn’t upset your sensitive nature. On the upside you can do a bunk from this thread as I expect you will find something in the latest BC article here.