Only immunity will tease out truth of Troubles: Boston tapes instigator
The truth about the Troubles will only be revealed in full when perpetrators of violence and their victims feel able to speak out without fear of repercussions, it has been claimed.
Ed Moloney, who was head of the controversial Boston College oral history project, said ensuring protagonists can speak freely about their involvement is imperative to shedding light on Northern Ireland's bloody past.
However, he stressed that oral recollections have limited value and should not be solely relied upon to convict former terrorists of serious crimes.
His comments come after former senior IRA leader Ivor Bell was cleared of soliciting the 1972 murder of Jean McConville.
Writing for The Business Post, Mr Moloney said the case demonstrated "the peril of relying on oral history for evidence that is strong and persuasive enough to secure a conviction for such a serious charge".
He said that oral history is "at best a rough guide to what happened in real life" and described the decision to bring Bell in front of the courts as "a serious mistake".
"Without convincing supporting evidence, Bell should never have been arraigned," he said.
The case against 82-year-old Mr Bell was based on alleged admissions made to a Boston College oral history project, which were played in public for the first time during the legal action.
Reporting restrictions were placed on the court case, but they were lifted on Thursday.
During the hearing the jury was played taped recordings of an interview with a man alleged to be Bell who claimed Gerry Adams was the IRA's "officer commanding" in Belfast and had been involved in the decision to kill and secretly bury Mrs McConville. Mr Adams has denied any involvement in the incident.
The judge later ruled the tapes were unreliable and could not be used as evidence against Mr Bell.
Referring to the decision to involve Bell in the Boston project, Mr Moloney explained: "Bell was a leader who had risen to the top of the IRA; we had, in the main, sought out the ordinary IRA 'grunts', the foot soldiers who carried guns or planted bombs.
"History is too often written by leaders and too rarely by the rank-and-file. In the case of Bell, those of us involved in the Boston College project made a rare exception to one of the rules we had set for ourselves."
The Boston tapes are secret recordings in which ex-paramilitaries talk about their role during the decades of violence in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles.
The recordings contain interviews with both republican and loyalist paramilitaries during which some admit involvement in various attacks, including murders.
The deal was that the former paramilitaries would tell their stories in secret on the understanding that the recordings and transcripts would only be made public after their deaths.
However, the project was highly controversial and police in Northern Ireland later gained access to the tapes for use as evidence in ongoing murder inquiries.
Those police investigations included one into one of the IRA's most notorious murders, that of west Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville.