Belfast Telegraph

Boston College tapes were not set up to 'get' Gerry Adams - researchers hit back

Sinn Fein president claimed PSNI's evidence against him in Jean McConville murder investigation is based on Boston College interviews with ex-paramilitaries

The director of an oral history project on the Northern Ireland Troubles - part of which was relied upon by police to quiz Gerry Adams about a notorious IRA murder - has rejected any suggestion it was set up to "get" the Sinn Fein president.

New York based Irish Journalist Ed Moloney insisted Mr Adams' vocal criticism of the Boston College-backed endeavour was based on "almost complete ignorance", as he had not seen the contents of the archive.

"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," he said.

"I wish to refute this allegation in the strongest possible terms."

His remarks came as Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson revealed his Democratic Unionist Party had been on the verge of putting a motion before the powersharing Assembly calling for Sinn Fein's exclusion from the ruling Executive over comments made by senior members, including Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, during Mr Adams' detention that they might review their support for the police if their leader had been charged.

Mr Robinson said he stopped short of the move when Sinn Fein "corrected" its position - a reference to Mr Adams' statement of support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) upon his release from custody on Sunday.

The Belfast Project at Boston College involved interviewing more than 25 former paramilitaries on their recollections of the Troubles on the understanding their accounts would not be made public until after their deaths.

But that assurance was undermined when a US judge ordered that audio tapes that referenced the 1972 murder of Belfast mother-of-ten Jean McConville be handed over to detectives from the PSNI.

After four days of questioning at Antrim police station, Mr Adams claimed most of the evidence detectives presented to him about Mrs McConville's death was based on allegations levelled by project interviewees, two of whom were the now deceased former IRA members Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price.

Prosecutors in Northern Ireland have been asked to assess a police file on Mr Adams to decide if any charges will ultimately be brought against the Sinn Fein president.

Tapes returned

Amid uncertainty about the status of the tapes still held in the archive, Boston College has now offered to return the material to those individuals who have given interviews.

Mr Adams, 65, who vehemently denies any involvement in the murder or that he was ever a member of the IRA, has denounced the oral history project, claiming many of its participants were opposed to Sinn Fein.

Published author Mr Moloney worked on the archive with former IRA member turned writer and academic Anthony McIntyre. They were effectively sub-contracted by the college to undertake an initiative it agreed to fund.

Both have subsequently criticised the college, claiming it did not robustly challenge the PSNI court bid.

Mr Moloney said the suggestion their work had an anti-Gerry Adams agenda was without foundation.

"It is a slur on my professional integrity as a journalist of over 30 years standing who has covered nearly every aspect and participant in the Troubles," he said.

"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."

'Complete ignorance'

He insisted Mr Adams was not in a position to criticise the project as he did not actually know what it contained, noting that the only other person who ever had access to its entirety, apart from himself and Mr McIntyre, was a US judge who presided over the case involving the PSNI.

"He speaks from a position of almost complete ignorance about the archive," the journalist said of Mr Adams.

He claimed that of all the material reviewed by the judge - amounting to some 180 interviews - only 6% made reference to the McConville case, and most of that in an indirect way.

Mr Moloney added: "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."

Anthony McIntyre also responded to the Sinn Fein president's statement, addressing Mr Adams' complaints that he was offered no opportunity to respond to claims made in the project.

He said: "The courtesy of responding to accusations was something never granted to Jean McConville. Mr Adams has had many opportunities that she was denied and will always be denied.

"His seeming objection that only a minority of the interviewees was sympathetic to his parliamentary career and political project is valid. Yet it does not invalidate the value of the exercise. Boston judge, William Young who read all the republican interviews, described the project as a bona fide academic exercise of considerable intellectual merit."

'Pinochet, not Mandela'

Mr McIntyre added: "One purpose of an oral history project is to capture a number of narratives that would otherwise be unobtainable. That they might not conform to Mr Adams’ worldview is not a consideration for the historian. Mr Adams’ concern is that there are republican narratives which depict him as a Pinochet rather than a Mandela and for that reason he would rather see them smothered."

Earlier Mr Adams welcomed the indication from the college that the tapes may now be handed back.

"Everyone has the right to record their history but not at the expense of the lives of others," he said, restating his criticism of the archive.

He added: "I welcome the end of the Boston Belfast Project, indicated by the College's offer to now return the interviews to the interviewees before the securocrats who cannot live with the peace seek to seize the rest of the archive and do mischief."

College spokesman Jack Dunn said it was prepared to hand the relevant material to those who were interviewed.

"Obviously we'd have to verify that they were the individuals that took part in the process," he said.

"If they wanted those documents returned, we'd be prepared to return those documents."

Mr Dunn, in an interview with the BBC, rejected the criticism from Mr Moloney and Mr McIntyre over the college's handling of the court case.

"Any suggestion that we did not fight hard enough is completely specious," he said.

'Backlash threat'

In another twist, Mrs McConville's son, Michael, yesterday alleged that, a number of years ago, Mr Adams threatened him with a "backlash" if he released the names of those he believed were responsible for his mother's death.

Mr Adams rejected the claim last night and, as he resumed his work in the Irish parliament today as a representative for Co Louth and prepared for an election rally in Dublin, he reiterated his denial.

The party leader said his sole purpose in meeting him was and is to help his family.

"I can understand the antipathy they feel toward republicans given the abduction and killing of their mother and the life they subsequently had," Mr Adams said.

"However, I made no threat against Michael McConville and neither did I warn of backlash.

"The family have the right to seek redress in whatever way they choose and through whatever avenue is open to them.

"This case raises in a very stark way the need for the legacy issues of the past to be addressed in a way that brings closure for victims and their families."

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers today updated senior ministerial colleagues on the latest developments at the regular weekly meeting of Cabinet at Downing Street.


Further reading

Gerry Adams: Chief Constable Matt Baggott says criticism of Sinn Fein leader arrest as 'dark side' of policing was 'unfair and inappropriate' 

Gerry Adams: Bids to discuss arrest of Sinn Fein leader at Stormont are rejected 

Boston College to hand back tapes: Some interviews used by police to quiz Gerry Adams over Jean McConville murder

Police tell Gerry Adams' wife of death threat to Sinn Fein chief

Gerry Adams release will not make fallout go away, you know

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