Thursday, May 29, 2014

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Bias, Bona Fides, & the Boston Tapes: An Interview with Anthony McIntyre

Alfie Gallagher in an extensive interview with Anthony McIntyre probes some of the issues at the centre of the Boston College oral history archive battle. It featured on his blog, Left From The West  today 29 May 2014.

This is the transcript of an interview I conducted with Anthony McIntyre via email. McIntyre is a former IRA volunteer and ex-prisoner. He spent 18 years in Long Kesh, including 4 years on the blanket and no-wash/no-work protests against criminal status for republican prisoners. These protests eventually led to the 1981 Hunger Strike.

Following his release from prison in the early 1990s, McIntyre completed a PhD at Queens University and went on to become a journalist and academic. He was employed by Boston College as a researcher for its Belfast Project, an oral history archive of the Troubles. For this project, he was involved in the interviewing of 26 republican activists who gave accounts of their political activism and/or paramilitary activities during the conflict.

Since the arrest of Gerry Adams a month ago, the Belfast Project has become international news. There has been extensive media coverage of how the PSNI gained access to a number of interviews from the archive following a lengthy legal battle and, based on the content of these interviews, arrested Gerry Adams and several other individuals in connection with the murder of Jean McConville in 1972.

I plan to conduct further interviews with Anthony at some point about the legal battle that was waged to stop the PSNI from gaining access to the archive and the threats that have been made against him and his interviewees since some of the interviews were handed over to the PSNI by US authorities. However, this particular interview explores the specific criticisms of the project that have been made since Gerry Adams's arrest.

At this point, I should also declare a bias in this matter -- Anthony is a friend of mine. However, to paraphrase the late historian J. M. Roberts, all writers have a bias, and so we should simply declare our own particular bias at the beginning of our work and try to keep it in check thereafter.

Anthony McIntyre

AG: Your involvement in the Belfast Project as a researcher and interviewer is well known. However, Sinn Féin and a number of journalists and writers have severely criticised this project. It is these criticisms that I would like to ask you about in this interview.

Firstly, it has been claimed that the project was essentially the brainchild of Paul Bew, the historian and academic who served as an adviser to former Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble. Is that the case? Precisely what involvement did Paul Bew have in the project?

McIntyre: Paul Bew and Boston College staff discussed the possibility of the type of project that emerged. Paul then discussed it with Ed Moloney. Paul witnessed my contract with Ed being signed and thereafter had nothing to do with it.

I think the first time I spoke to Paul about it after that was at an event in England shortly after the issuing of the first subpoena. To borrow from the Gerry Adams lexicon, he played no hand, act or part in it. He never read a transcript and never heard a tape. You can ask him yourself for confirmation of that. Alternatively you can ask Professor Kevin O’Neill at Boston College who did read a small portion of the earlier transcripts.

The irony will hardly go unnoticed that at the time the project started Martin McGuinness was not a mere adviser to David Trimble but a ministerial colleague-cum-subordinate in the power-splitting executive.

AG: So the idea for the project was Paul Bew's?

McIntyre: To a large extent I believe it was, although I do not want to go as far as to say exclusively his. Boston College were engaged in a dialogue with him about it. But he was there at the moment of creation, to borrow a phrase.

AG: Paul Bew was a visiting professor at Boston College in 1999-2000. Other than mooting the idea of an oral history archive of the Troubles to Boston College and recommending Ed Moloney to direct the project, you are saying that Paul Bew played no further role. Why then did he witness your contract with Boston College in February 2001?

McIntyre: Convenience and it involved no one who had not already been familiar with the concept.

AG: In your view then, having Paul Bew witness the contract helped maintain the security and confidentiality of the project?

McIntyre: It kept it inside the loop.

AG:  It has been alleged that Paul Bew's involvement in the project is much more extensive that what you have outlined thus far. For instance, Paul Larkin, the journalist and author of the book A Very British Jihad: Collusion, Conspiracy and Cover-up in Northern Ireland, points out that in the preface to Ed Moloney's Voices From The Grave, it states that Paul Bew "assisted in an assessment of the information contained in the recorded interviews" with two other historians who are not named.

That statement in the preface directly contradicts what both you and Ed have publicly claimed – namely, that apart from Judge William Young [the American judge who had to decide which interviews were relevant to the Jean McConville murder investigation] no one other than yourself and Moloney has read the entire archive of republican interviews.

What is your response to those allegations?

McIntyre: I have never read a full Paul Larkin piece on anything, bits here and there. It is rare in my experience to see him cited either in support of something or against something, so his work as far as I can make out tends not to be influential, and therefore I am not drawn to it. I think he is attempting to get by on the Steven Weinberg witticism: “All logical arguments can be defeated by the simple refusal to reason logically.”

While I have not read his book A Very British Jihad – I do have it at home – it seems to have been rubbished as the product of a fantasist. Read Adrian Guelke’s critique, for example. Guelke was one of the people who was a victim of this supposed jihad. I do know that when the Anne Cadwallader book on collusion came out last year, there was a reluctance on the part of some people promoting her book to have it compared with Paul Larkin’s – again the same type of grounds: they wanted to avoid a solid grounded piece of work being contaminated by stuff they considered fantasy. And when I heard he had invented something called the "Get Adams League", I half thought we would see a new book called A Very Bewish Jihad.

Tom Hachey and Bob O’Neill wrote the preface and simply got it wrong. But this is a matter that is easily verified. Put it to Kevin O’Neill [the professor who assessed some of the earlier interview transcripts in January 2002], Tom Hachey or Bob O’Neill [the two academics who helped establish the Belfast Project] if they are willing to talk with you.

AG: OK. I will try to clarify this matter with one of the academics you've mentioned. To be fair to Paul Larkin though, would you not say that the point he's making in this case is a reasonable one? Thomas Hachey and Robert O'Neill are the two Boston College academics who helped set up the project. Their assertions about the role of Paul Bew and other historians in assessing the contents of the archive are made in the preface to Ed Moloney's book. As far as I know, Ed did not object to what they wrote.

Moreover, it is not exactly a simple misstatement; it is a very specific claim. I mean, why would Hachey and O'Neill say that Paul Bew and two other historians helped assess the archive if such an assessment did not in fact take place?

McIntyre: It would be more reasonable if it was true. It is reasonable for him to make use of what he finds in the record. It ceases to be reasonable once the record is proven to have been incorrect. As a matter of record it is inaccurate. Ed probably did not pay a great deal of attention to the detail of the preface. What relevance did it have then? I don’t recall it jumping out at me either. I don’t know why Hachey and O’Neill thought Bew had assessed the contents.

Interestingly, in his affidavit where he said Bew recommended the project, he [Hachey] made no mention of Bew having read any of the interviews:

Apart from the two interviewers, who saw only the transcripts of the individuals whom they themselves interviewed, the only other people who ever saw any of the material were Robert O’Neill, Ed Moloney, myself, and two academic specialists who were given some of the transcripts to review, but only with coded numbers (not names) attached to them, for the purpose of confirming for us what we believed to be the value of this unique collection.

I know some of the very early republican ones were read by Kevin O’Neill and I presume a sample of the loyalist ones by the other academic. The only report I have seen in respect of them was Kevin O’Neill’s. I presume if the other academic read the republican ones, there would be a report on his conclusions.


Note 1: I contacted both Kevin O'Neill and Thomas Hachey individually, and I asked them about Paul Bew's alleged access to and assessment of the archive. Here are their respective responses to this question:

Kevin O'Neill: To the best of my knowledge, Paul Bew had no access whatsoever to the archive. I cannot explain the statement made in the preface, only Tom Hachey can do that. I only had access to two transcripts on one afternoon in January 2002. After that date, I had no access whatsoever. I do not know who the second historian who had access is.

Thomas Hachey: Anthony would be the most authoritative reference in this matter as he did all of the republican interviews and would know for certain who did and did not see the transcripts. ... [I]f Anthony tells you Paul had no contact with the interviews, I would accept his statement. I cannot frankly remember who wrote what or why. Surely Bob and I must have had the clear sense, however misplaced it may have been, that Paul was working closely with the program when it began.

Robert O'Neill, the former director of Boston College's Burns Library who helped set up the Belfast Project, is now retired, and I could not reach him for comment.


AG: Paul Larkin cites Kevin O'Neill several times in his critique of the Boston College project. Larkin refers a 2002 memo written by O'Neill to Thomas Hachey in which O'Neill gives the following assessment of your interviewing methods:

There is a serious problem with the interviewing technique. The interviewer frequently leads his subjects not only into areas of discussion [which he should], but also into modes of analysis [which he should try to avoid], and occasionally even conclusions [which he must avoid!]

Such leading of subjects would be thrown out in a court; they are equally damaging in the collection of oral history. They leave the future reader unsure whether he/she is looking at attitudes and linguistic formations of the subjects, or of the interviewer. As there is only one interviewer this provides the possibility of a large scale “corruption” of this “data”.

Larkin contends that O'Neill's memo demonstrates "the poor standard and slanted nature" of your research. What's your view? Does this memo discredit your work?

McIntyre: I don’t believe it does discredit my research, but I am not the best person to ask. Kevin O’Neill would be better. I would venture the opinion that my own research survives better the criticism levelled by Kevin O’Neill than Paul Larkin’s research has managed to survive the criticism of Adrian Guelke.

I would sincerely hope my research would be thrown out in court for the very reason that it was never gathered for court.

Oral history can be conducted in a variety of ways. There is no one-size-fits-all template. It is more an art than a science. Much is anchored in the "attached" process of rapport and trust that is absent from the "detached" sterile laboratory technique. And I think this is what Kevin O’Neill meant by corruption of data; that in such circumstances it might be infused (some might say infected) with different degrees of empathy. While I am absolutely certain he did not mean that I as an interviewer was corrupt, it is something you should put to him.

The best safeguard to be employed in this form of knowledge production is that ultimately when the final product becomes available the listener/reader should be able to access not only the answers (perhaps a problem in the Ernie O’Malley oral history of the Tan and Civil Wars in the Kerry region), but also the questions and then arrive at their own conclusions as to the extent to which the product is moulded or coloured by the input of the interviewer.

Leading questions as such are not the problem, misleading questions are. In my own view, a question has to lead somewhere; otherwise there is little point in asking it. Were my questions misleading? No.

If we look at the leading questions examples provided by Kevin O’Neill in their entirety I think the whole issue of some sort of Machiavellian manoeuvre to mislead or bamboozle the interviewees falls flat on its face:

Q: In my view it was very very naïve ...

Q: Is it true to say, as many writers and academics claim, that was one of the significant turning points ….[Falls Curfew]

Q: I think that what you are trying to do is argue…

Q: Even in the most functional terms, was it a sledgehammer to crack a nut?

Q: They seemed to be… incestuous…

Q: Most volunteers that stayed the course seemed to have that as an objective, I know I did…

Were I to carry out the interviews again would I drop any of those questions in the light of what Kevin O’Neill has said? No. I respect his judgement but I do not feel bound by it.

AG: But then there is also the question of balance – or lack thereof. The Belfast Project was initially mooted to Boston College by Paul Bew, who recommended Ed Moloney to direct it. Moloney in turn recommended you to interview republicans for the archive. Now, all three of you have publicly criticised Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams in the past. For instance, in a TV3 documentary last year, you referred to Gerry Adams as "the biggest demon you know".

So isn't it reasonable for Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin leaders like Mary Lou McDonald to claim that the project was inherently biased? I mean, Kevin O'Neill raised concerns about this in his 2002 memo when he asked, "What discussion has taken place to insure access to Republicans still active in the mainstream?"

McIntyre: I will give you one example of the inherent bias of Mary Lou McDonald. She welcomed the arrest of Ivor Bell on the presumed basis of the Boston College tapes and criticised the arrest of Gerry Adams – who she also claims was never in the IRA - on the presumed basis of the Boston College tapes.

I think there is a lot of pro-Sinn Féin perspective out in the public discourse. I believe one task of academia is to bring out a wider range of perspectives than that which merely parrots the line. Long ago I acquired the view that a history becomes dominant in part to the extent it has managed to suppress alternative histories. My work was about bringing raw material out of the ground. How it might be processed by other historians was another matter entirely. They have to bring their own perspective and filtering methods to bear and, as part of that, would be free to weigh up how far – if at all – I as an interviewer might have shaped the responses of the interviewees. The tapestry of history is a mosaic of many different shades. The Belfast project did not set out to establish a new tapestry but to insert another tile in the multicoloured mosaic.

Was it inherently biased? What demonstrable untruths did it produce? There would be a serious problem for the project were its authors to claim it was the definitive account of republican history. But no such claim has been made. Does the project add to our knowledge of republicanism or detract from that knowledge? I think the answer is pretty clear. What is the more fraudulent history of the IRA – one with Gerry Adams at its core or one with him always having been outside the IRA?

I was willing to record any narrative that was on offer. But a project that wanted to balance the figures had to be a management area of responsibility. Boston College had the ability to employ a researcher that could easily have recorded all those voices that would have testified to, say, Gerry Adams being a man with an exclusively peaceful past. There was no discussion that I recall about the need to widen out the range of interviewees. BC never once raised an objection. Even Kevin O’Neill’s memo – the first time I got sight of it was this year.

The voices of the people I interviewed are not in the slightest way stripped of authenticity because many of them did not believe the Sinn Féin narrative. The logic of the SF argument is that only the official line on anything is the authentic one because critics of the official line are not to be trusted. This sort of puts Sinn Féin in an awkward situation when it asks to be believed in its criticism of the official government line.

Is the recently published work of Ernie O’Malley’s oral histories of Galway and Kerry republicanism during the Tan and Civil Wars discredited because a majority of people he spoke to were of the anti-Treaty persuasion? The Free Staters sought to discredit him and the Wee Staters in Sinn Féin do the same today. Both sets of Staters rest in the Treaty tradition and republicans opposed to them sit in the anti-Treaty tradition. Narratives should be drawn from both but that does not mean that the researcher doing the drawing must be the same person. Different people can draw out different things which can then be aggregated, filtered, tested by others once the coalface researchers have left the stage. Whoever finds the authorised biography persuasive? This is why there is a glaring need for the unauthorised ones.

I think the power of the Boston College oral history can be found for example in the destruction of the Morrison fiction around the 1981 hunger strike. Who believes Morrison today when he claims he did not take an offer into the prison on 5 July 1981? The same sort people who believe Gerry Adams was never in the IRA.


Note 2: I asked Kevin O'Neill about the memo he sent to Thomas Hachey in early 2002. O'Neill disputes Paul Larkin's interpretation of it, claiming that the memo "has been taken out of context by most who have referred to it."

O'Neill maintains that he was asked to examine a small sample of the archive in order to "assess its importance as an historical archive" and "to insure that the archive being created would be broadly representative of those involved in the Republican Movement." That is why he says his critique focused on the interviewer's own perspective and technique. O'Neill states that he was not told who the interviewer was or who the interviewees were.

With regard to the question of bias or "corruption", O'Neill makes the following observation:

There is obviously an important difference between "the possibility of a large scale 'corruption'" and a "flawed and corrupted interview process" [Paul Larkin’s description]. I was expressing a concern that the interviewer's POV might impose too much of his/her perspective; I was not making a judgement that this was so. Obviously I would have needed to see much more of the archive to reach such a judgement. I would also need to listen to the tapes (I only read transcripts) to understand the nuance of the questions and the atmosphere of the interviews.

O'Neill also points out that he stated in the memo that "the files contain very important information" about the Troubles and that "what is already collected forms the foundation of a significant historical archive." However, he argues that Anthony McIntyre's own statements about the people he interviewed suggest that the archive has "an over-representation of anti-agreement voices":

From what I have seen, Anthony McIntyre did a very good job of interviewing his subjects. However, my concern that his POV might prevent him from including a representative sample of pro-agreement voices seems, sadly, to be born out. In defence of McIntyre - and one I could not make in 2002 because I did not know who was doing the interviewing – Whatever ‘fault’ there is to this bias in the project rests not with him, or Ed Moloney (whose views were well known), but to those at Boston College who hired them to do this job.

In a follow-up email, I asked Kevin O'Neill if his criticism of the project was not the involvement of Anthony McIntyre and Ed Moloney per se, but that Boston College did not seek to balance the project. I suggested that one way for the college to have done so would be to have commissioned a different researcher to interview more pro-Sinn Féin republicans. O'Neill agreed with my interpretation:

At the time I wrote the memo, I didn't know who was doing the interviewing, so I couldn't exactly say that. But that is exactly the spirit of what I was saying.

O'Neill says that he was also raised the question of whether anyone involved in the project was trained as an oral historian – someone who would have the expertise to determine what confidentiality guarantees actually existed and "who would have been hypersensitive to the way promises were made to the interviewees."


AG: Danny Morrison would probably respond that the interviews you conducted are totally discredited because the history department at Boston College has now distanced itself from the Belfast Project. Indeed, Peter Weiler, Professor Emeritus and Chair of the college's history department until 2003, states that the project "tarnished the reputation" of the department. He suggests that the project lacked professionalism and academic rigour:

The project didn't observe normal academic procedures into projects of oral history. Questions asked were often very leading, and there was no attempt at balance.

When Boston College historians themselves disown and condemn the Belfast project, doesn't that discredit your research?

McIntyre: As we say here, ten out of every 9 people asked claim they don’t believe Danny Morrison about anything. I saw him trying to spoof and spin his way out of the damning O’Rawe narrative in the Irish Times a day or two back. We joke that his novel The Wrong Man is semi-autobiographical because he never gets anything right.

If the spin put on that statement by the history Chairs and former Chairs was allowed to go unchallenged, it could damage the credibility in the way that any smears or untruths could do.

The “Chairs” have a point insofar as they had no involvement or association with the project. I think they are criticising the BC people who were in charge for the way it was organised. That is where I think their criticism that the reputation of the department has been damaged is directed.

Tom Hachey has offered the following reason as to why the Chairs were not involved:

Given how the desire for confidentiality among the Belfast Project participants was so very strong from the outset, the prevailing wisdom at the time dictated keeping the details as secretive as possible ... With the optic of hindsight, however, I do regret that we did not include a few colleague specialists from both Boston College and elsewhere in reviewing the project, despite the potential security risk in any wider exposure of the project.

At another level, they are criticising me for the leading questions. But other than what Kevin O’Neill flagged up as leading questions, they have shown nothing else.

Where does responsibility for balance lie? During the interview process? Or at management level, whose task it would be to decide what they wanted from the project and then organise it accordingly? They never once complained to me that I was not interviewing enough pro-SF people. Had they done so, I would have readily explained why that was. Then they could have brought in another interviewer who would have had easier access to that type of interviewee.

AG: Your critics would say you should never have been involved in the Belfast Project at all because of your trenchant criticisms of Sinn Féin and the peace process. For instance, Paul Larkin suggests that Paul Bew was "reckless" for not informing Boston College about your "dissident republican" views. Larkin argues that since Bew was your PhD supervisor at Queens University, he would have known about your hostility to Sinn Féin:

McIntyre has not had a connection with the “Provisional Republican Movement” for the best part of two decades and was already questioning Sinn Féin’s peace strategy before he left the movement in 1998. ... Nor does Bew point out that he was McIntyre's adviser for his PHD, and that it was an anti-peace process tract from a dissident republican ethos.

So are you a dissident republican and — as Martin McGuinness has described you— an enemy of the peace process?

I know you have publicly opposed continued armed struggle since at least 2000, but could you explain how and when you arrived at this view? How is it possible to oppose both armed struggle and the peace process?

McIntyre: “Enemy of the peace process”? It is just the North Korean moment again – heretic, witch, infidel, malcontent, apostate, renegade, rejectionist, ad infinitum.

Basically Paul Larkin’s argument comes dangerously close to this: only those who support the peace process have a right to carry out research into the history of republicanism. In other words it would be fine for Jim Gibney to carry out that sort of work but not myself. I do not object to Gibney carrying out research work. But given, for example, that he criticised Brian Rowan for claiming the IRA robbed the Northern Bank in 2004, how valuable a method of truth retrieval would it be?

I hope that despite my own perspective that I have retrieved not only truth but also perceptions which always include biases and colouration. Is Paul Larkin now telling us that because of his own hostility to the British state that he should not be allowed to research it?

In terms of importance, many cite Richard O’Rawe’s two works Blanketmen and Afterlives but who cites the British Jihad work? O’Rawe’s work had its origins in the Boston College project. It has shredded the Morrison account and as many historians and journalists will now state, it has radically altered the way in which the management of the hunger strike is viewed. Are we seriously to believe that I “led” Richard O’Rawe to the conclusions that he came to?

I fail to see how Bew was reckless. I don’t know what he told BC about my perspective, but I discussed my perspective on republicanism with Bob O’Neill and Tom Hachey anytime we met up during the course of conversation over drinks. Moreover, it is not as if I was hiding my views: I had been very vocal about them in all sections of the media. Tom Hachey later wrote something glowing for my book when it was published.

My perspective on Sinn Féin was so clear that a blind man on a galloping horse could see it. While the project had ended by that point, you would imagine Tom would have said, “We have been sold a pup here – this guy we had working on our archive holds views we knew nothing about.”

I did question Sinn Féin’s peace strategy, but not because it was peaceful. Many of my criticisms of the peace strategy were that it was not peaceful. It was at times a very violent strategy. When the IRA assassinated Joe O’Connor, I opposed Sinn Féin’s peace strategy because it covered up a shoot-to-kill policy, something Sinn Féin had been shouting about for years in respect of the British. When I peacefully opposed the violence that was running in tandem with Sinn Féin’s peace strategy, Sinn Féin responded with intimidation. When I stated in an article in the Irish News that never again should republicanism use violence in pursuit of its goals, a current senior Sinn Féin figure wearing his IRA hat came to my house trying to intimidate me and my wife.

As for my PhD being “an anti-peace process tract” from a dissident perspective, that is something Paul Larkin simply made up. Delusional stuff that seems to be predicated on the fantasy that the peace process was being promoted by Gerry Adams in the years 1969-73 and that I attacked it in my PhD. My thesis only covered those four years. It was not about the peace process! In my view, it was a straightforward account of the emergence of the Provisional Movement during its formative years. It stressed that rather than republican ideology driving the insurrection it was the bad policies of the British government. Danny Morrison, whatever criticisms I have of him today, was pretty generous with his time back then when I interviewed him for my work. Martin McGuinness was also interviewed for it. Were they too part of the PhD Jihad I was waging against the peace process? Fantasy stuff, I am afraid.

There is no one Damascus moment when I turned away from armed struggle. And I guess I would have to go back and look at what I was saying over time. I have noticed in the past that when have read back through stuff I actually discover I had ideas on things that from today’s position I would have attributed to a later date. I know that somewhere towards the end of my PhD I cited Nicos Poulantzas where he had said the problem with political violence is that once you start, you never quite know when to stop. What I can say is that by the time of the GFA [Good Friday Agreement] in ’98, I had no objection to the peace whatsoever. The IRA under the direction of the peace processors had carried out a war up until a matter of months earlier.

Any lingering theoretical affinity that I may have had towards the republican physical force tradition died forever with the Omagh bombing. I felt then that the tradition of physical force had no place; that no armed campaign should ever be waged on traditional grounds. I am not a pacifist, but the use of military force in any circumstance must always be a last resort – never a first one. The physical force tradition defers to the perspective that it is any Irish person’s right to anywhere any time use political violence. I have long been totally at odds with that view. Yet the Provisional Movement – of which Sinn Féin was an integral part – carried on killing people long after the GFA.

So that is how we can oppose the peace process but not the peace. The peace process was not a peaceful process. The NIO [Northern Ireland Office], London and Dublin all to varying degrees were prepared to turn a blind eye to the Provisional Movement ‘peacefully killing’ people in the manner of Auden’s ‘necessary murder’. I opposed it. And Paul Larkin’s point is?

I find it strange that Larkin seeks to savage Paul Bew because of Bew's Workers Party past. This, Larkin contends, makes Bew totally unreliable to ever have had any association whatsoever with the Boston College project given the Workers Party's antipathy towards Sinn Féin. Paul Larkin made a very critical documentary back in the 1990s about the Workers Party. Now given his seemingly avid support for Sinn Féin – which long despised the Workers Party – does this invalidate his documentary? By the very standard he applies to others, how can such a rapid detractor of everyone at odds with Sinn Féin make a documentary about those he is in vehement opposition to? If he was, in 1991, the enthusiastic supporter of Sinn Féin that he is today, did he reveal this in the documentary? Perhaps he did not support Sinn Féin then and might contend that he therefore had no axe to grind. But that would make him a Johnny-come-lately displaying all the enthusiasm of the convert, which brings a problem of a different category to his current critique. Because what we tend to notice is that the Johnnies seem to be the most vociferous critics of Sinn Féin’s detractors: empty vessels making a lot of noise.

I don’t know Paul Larkin’s political past other than that – to the best of my knowledge – he was once associated with Red Action. But I think a certain guilt factor at never having been part of an anti-repression struggle when participation was costly, does tend to drive the Johnnies into launching Jihads against the perceived apostates. I can’t say that with any degree of certainty of Paul Larkin. I simply do not know. But first impressions - which are not always reliable – suggest the appearance of a Jihad Johnny out to smite down heretics and unbelievers not sharing his fantasies. There is an uncanny resemblance with religious type zealotry. Perhaps if I was to look at his background I might discover a flirtation with Jesus! And that would go some way towards explaining something about the type of mindset on display. But I don’t know.

AG: OK, Anthony. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. If possible, I plan to explore in later interviews the legal battle that you are fighting to prevent PSNI access to the archive as well as the threats that you and the interviewees face since the seizure of some of the interviews.

For now though, I would like to conclude by asking you about the recent announcement by the PSNI that it wants to seize the archive in its entirety. Did this come as a surprise to you? In your view, what are the implications, both for the security situation in Ireland and for source protection rights in general?

McIntyre: It did not come as a surprise. I predicted this would happen:

Boston College is now engaged in a PR exercise: a symbolic public washing of the hands. Had it been concerned with respecting what is an endangered archive it would have made its right of return offer to each of the interviewees privately. By going public on its position it is merely signalling to the British police that if they do not move quickly enough with a further round of subpoenas, they might lose the opportunity to once again plunder the college’s so called confidential research. The college knows the British could raid again. Jack Dunn admitted as much on BBC Spotlight this week.

Boston College is in possession of an endangered archive. It knows that PSNI is engaged in political policing and a fishing expedition. Yet it continues to hold onto an archive that it could easily dispose of. it knows that by holding onto it the archive is likely to be used against its own research participants. Why would any university be engaged in such an egregious holding exercise?

The chill effect is considerable. Source protection has been delivered a crushing blow. The PSNI held Gerry Adams four days trying to pin an IRA membership rap on him. That seems incredible and saturated with malign political intent. Having failed to make any progress are they hoping to access more material that they think might give them grounds to arrest him again and to keep arresting him and possibly other Sinn Féin leaders?

Perhaps chilling autonomous research over which it had no control formed a strand in the motivation for going after these type of archives to begin with. The British state responsible for war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for participating in torture on an international scale as has been ably demonstrated by Ian Cobain in his book Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture, is sending out a clear signal to anyone thinking of making records that it will hunt them down and invade the depositories, universities or or anywhere else that might hold such archives. It is declaring war on history retrieval and is in effect saying that law enforcement is the only body that can legitimately carry out any serious investigation into past actions and that the results of their findings will remain free from subpoena or public scrutiny no matter how many grievous actions on the part of state security agencies are contained within them.

This is why the Stevens Report has been for the most part suppressed, the full documentation on the Dublin/Monaghan bombings is withheld from the government in Dublin, the evidence of Special Branch involvement in the killing of Pat Finucane remains under cover, why there have been no prosecutions of those British security service personnel who had a direct input into agents like Freddie Scappattici and Mark Haddock, why any inquiry into the British Army massacre of numerous Ballymurphy civilians has been denied.


Niall said...

Very informative interview......although, was AG leading?!??!?!.....just messing there!

DaithiD said...

Two pertinent Gerry Adams quotes, from Before the Dawn intro :
It is probably an invariable rule that the participants in any conflict cannot tell the entire story until some time after that conflict is fully resolved.
It is fully resolved now isn’t it? Unshakable institutions and massive community support for the new dispensation? Its surely over now Gerry isn’t it? They have concreted in their weapons Gerry, it better be over!
And in terms of the ethics based history collation (im guessing one in which everyone is a winner and deserves a medal?) he has this to say of his own work :
Any account of this kind is bound to be selective….I offer here nothing more nor less than my account, from my perspective
So its effectively Anthony’s mosaic idea, why deny the Boston interviewees their thoughts, their words, their voice?

grouch said...

the flirtation with jesus comment was not fair. and u look like a jesus freak in that photo.

Henry JoY said...

Anthony says;
"Ed probably did not pay a great deal of attention to the detail of the preface. What relevance did it have then? I don’t recall it jumping out at me either."

In fairness Anthony given the seriousness, the sensational and sensitive nature of the revelations contained in Ed's book every detail ought to have received serious attention, indeed in minuscule detail. Many people would say that there is an ethical imperative not to allow inaccurate inclusions, even in a preface. Such inaccuracies ought have jumped out at someone. Or did the publisher's marketing department rule the day?

Even from perspectives that are not necessarily hostile to your work and indeed supportive in the main for the concepts under-pinning the project, many aspects of which this is just another, suggest at best poor judgement and poor performance; at worst it could suggest a cavalier attitude. Either way it has precipitated disastrous consequences for oral histories in conflict situations.

In your ad hominem on Paul Larkin you reference in support Adrian Gruelke's critique of Larkin's publication; the same Mr Guelke states in an article in today's Irish Times,

"Martin Mansergh has already lucidly laid out the story of the Boston College tapes in these pages. Most of the blame in this affair lies with those who made it known that they had explosive secrets to divulge and yet imagined that this material could be kept confidential insofar as that suited them."

All that said ... and as I'm sure you well know Anthony ... blame is a pretty useless commodity. Much more useful is detached review and evaluation; potentially leading to constructive learning opportunities. Surely the function of history is to create such opportunities? Maybe someday the full history of 'The Boston Project' will be told ... Based on exchanges to date I won't be holding my breath though.

AM said...

NPR: Gerry Adams’ Arrest Calls Educational Privacy Into Question