In the past few days a concerted attack has been made on the integrity of the Belfast Oral History Project, led by the leadership of Sinn Fein, in which the claim has been made that this was a ‘Get Gerry Adams’ enterprise designed to embarrass and discomfort Mr Adams.
I wish to refute this allegation in the strongest possible terms. It is a slur on my professional integrity as a journalist of over thirty years standing who has covered nearly every aspect and participant in the Troubles. It is a slur on the professionalism and detachment with which I know the lead IRA researcher Dr Anthony McIntyre approached his work interviewing the participants.
One simple reality has been overlooked. Mr Adams does not know what he is talking about. There were over 200 interviews from 26 participants housed in the Boston College archive and Mr Adams has not read them, does not know their full content and aside from two or three names that are in the public domain, does not know who was interviewed. He speaks from a position of almost complete ignorance about the archive.
Only one other person aside from myself and Dr McIntyre has read the full archive from beginning to end. That was Judge William Young who presided over the first hearing dealing with Boston College’s attempt to get the British subpoenas dismissed at the Federal District Court in Boston in December-January 2011/2012.
This is what he said about the archive: “This was a bona fide academic exercise of considerable intellectual merit.”
And he went on:
[These materials] are of interest – valid academic interest. They’re of interest to the historian, sociologist, the student of religion, the student of youth movements, academics who are interested in insurgency and counterinsurgency, in terrorism and counterterrorism. They’re of interest to those who study the history of religions.
So how does one reconcile Mr Adams’ wild and unsubstantiated accusations based on almost complete ignorance of the archive’s contents with the opinion of a disinterested American judge who has actually read the entire archive? I don’t think it is possible to do so.
Judge Young was obliged to read the archive because of an extraordinary claim from Boston College that its academics could not help him decide which interviews were responsive to the subpoena because they had not read it.
So the judge spent the Chistmas holidays reading the interviews to decide which ones should be handed over. In his judgement, which has been reproduced elsewhere on this blog. Judge Young could find only one interview that was fully responsive, i.e. that dealt directly with what had allegedly happened to Jean McConville.
Another ten or so interviews made some reference to her and because the British had asked the American courts to be “expansive” in their approach to the subpoena request he decided to also hand these over. This meant that even if an interviewee had said, 'I don’t really know much about Jean McConville other than what I have read in the papers', then that interview had to be surrendered.
Out of over 180 interviews that he read only eleven met Judge Young’s generous criteria for surrender. That is just under six per cent of the interviews reviewed by the judge. At one point in his judgement he referred to '….the paucity of information (about the McConville case) unearthed after extensive review by this court.'
If this was indeed a “Get Gerry Adams” project then all I can say is that we did not do a very good job of it.