Tuesday, 17 December 2019

The Boston Tapes Revisited: An Interview with Anthony McIntyre

Following the acquittal of Ivor Bell, I conducted this extensive interview with Anthony McIntyre exploring the trial, the judgment and the ongoing legal battle to prevent further PSNI access to the Boston College Belfast Project

Anthony McIntyre

Alfie Gallagher:  When I first interviewed you about the Boston College Belfast Project oral history archive over five years ago, the PSNI had gained access to the archive and arrested Gerry Adams in connection with the murder of Jean McConville. Though Adams was released without charge, Ivor Bell faced prosecution for aiding and abetting her murder. 

Having been deemed unfit to stand trial, Bell was eventually found not guilty in a non-criminal trial of facts in Belfast on 17 October 2019 after the judge in the case ruled that the tapes from the Boston College archive were "unreliable" and therefore legally inadmissible. How significant, in your view, is this verdict? What are its implications for you and the other interviewees?

Anthony McIntyre:  Firstly, I very much welcome the acquittal of Bell. As I said to you in the previous interview, “I would sincerely hope my research would be thrown out in court for the very reason that it was never gathered for court.

Implications? Impossible to tell. All else being equal, given the grounds cited by the judge for his ruling, the chances of any successful prosecution must be limited. Everybody, loyalists as well, were given the exact same assurances on confidentiality. But we are talking about the PSNI here and the large swathe of DUP influence that holds sway within it. A force determined to cover up the past yet pretending to address it through prosecutions. It is a sleight of hand.

Alfie Gallagher: Justice John O'Hara acquitted Ivor Bell, but he was withering in his criticism of the oral history project in general and your own research methods in particular. On the second page of his judgement, O'Hara highlights the discrepancy between the absolute guarantee of confidentiality in the interviewee's donation agreement and the much more qualified language of Project Director Ed Moloney's contract, which promises to protect an interviewee's tapes only "to the extent American law allows". The judge argues that this "false guarantee" enabled you to "improperly and dishonestly" induce "unreliable" confessions from the people you interviewed. 

How do you respond to this accusation of dishonesty? How do you explain the discrepancy between the two contracts?

Anthony McIntyre: A read of Ed Moloney’s contract reveals that the reference “to the extent American law allows” failed to make explicit that this was a reference to the confidentiality aspect of the project, referring in more general terms to conditions. Nor did it say “only” to that extent. Had it done so this would have raised eyebrows. There were discussions with BC [Boston College] around Brendan Hughes’s added conditions and if I recall properly BC’s response was that while US law allowed the College copyright, he was not prevented from publishing his account independent of BC. 

Moreover, as the donor contract was predicated on Ed Moloney’s contract, it followed that whatever was contained within it had to be permissible “to the extent American law allows"; otherwise to provide a contract not permissible “to the extent American law allows" would have been in clear breach of what was permissible. As it turned out, US law did not enable the donor contract but in fact restricted it and this should have been spelt out clearly by Boston College to all. The issue of confidentiality delayed the project for eight months. I had made it clear from the get-go that without unlimited confidentiality, it would not happen. 

This is one of the problems with parsing the documents after the event when the mind is concentrated like never before. It opens a whole new raft of interpretations which we should have been more panoramic about back then. We live and learn if we manage to survive the experience.

Running parallel with the contracts were the continuous assurances from BC about the inviolable nature of the guarantees. I was at a meeting with BC accompanied by the person researching the loyalists and a difference of opinion arose. The BC professor was suggesting that the length of the embargo could be shortened to allow for greater access by researchers. When the loyalist researcher objected strongly that such a proposal encroached on the guarantee of absolute confidentiality he was told very firmly that the guarantee was “ironclad”. Ed Moloney had earlier insisted that the librarian get the donor contract approved by the BC lawyers. The librarian told Moloney he would do that and later confirmed that he had done so. It subsequently transpired through the Chronicle of Higher Education that he had not in fact gone to the lawyers. This is now all a matter of record.

I think Justice O’Hara has a point when he refers to the material being dishonestly induced. What he should have done was state where responsibility for the dishonesty lay. It certainly did not lie with me as I gave my own interviews as part of the project under the same conditions as every other participant. Which means my own too were dishonestly induced as I was operating under the same false guarantee and it was not dishonesty on the part of the person who interviewed me. I would have been off my rocker to have done interviews knowing that they were not fully protected by American law. The dishonesty was institutional.

I think we can get a measure of the dishonesty employed by BC who, once it had all gone belly-up opted to blame the research team for giving the guarantees, but it was unable to sustain that falsehood the more journalists delved into it.  I was even accused in the Irish Times by BC of being responsible for the judicial decision to hand over all the republican interviews on the grounds that I had refused to sift through them for the purposes of assisting the judge in his deliberations on what was relevant to the investigation. There was never a chance of my assisting a police investigation. I would face prison first. BC was not prepared to do likewise. It wound up the clock and was not there when it struck. 

In all of this, I remember being chilled by the conversation I had with the librarian immediately after the first subpoena was issued. He told me that while he was supportive, the attitude among many of the leading lights at the college was that it should not fight the subpoenas as the interviewees “were all terrorists.”

Alfie Gallagher:  According to the investigation by the Chronicle of Higher Education which you mention above, email exchanges between Ed Moloney and Boston College librarian Robert O’Neill confirm that O’Neill himself drafted the interviewee donor agreement and that he promised Moloney he would run it by university counsel. He subsequently admitted that he never did so. 

This is astonishingly negligent and dishonest. But surely it was careless of Ed Moloney to rely on Robert O'Neill's verbal assurances rather than written legal advice? You've said above that the entire project was delayed for eight months because of the issue of confidentiality. What precisely was the problem? How could it possibly have been resolved to your satisfaction other than by written proof that legal advice was sought?

Anthony McIntyre:   It was wider than Moloney. I was always guided by the view that the fewer who knew the better, constantly probing BC on the tightness of the project. It was not prosecutions I was concerned about as I had accepted the assurances from BC about the nature of the guarantee. I was cautious in case people in Boston either genuinely sympathetic to Sinn Fein or taken in by it, discovered what was going on and blew it wide open. So, I guess I was a constant source of pressure to keep the circle small and tight. Yet none of that should have impacted on diligently legally anchoring the project. 

Due diligence missed a step because of the institution we were engaged with, its integrity, history, involvement in the peace process, its law faculty, its influence and range of contacts. As the Loyalist researcher said, he felt BC was a truly serious player, it had to know what it was about, it was hardly going to get something so badly wrong, there was never an inkling of suspicion that it might make such a bad call.  He was also in a meeting that I did not attend with the librarian where he was told that the whole venture was legally protected, that the police could not even get a “sneak-peek” never mind more serious access. He will confirm all of that for you. Consequently, we ended up scorched but have to take a hit for it. 

The lengthy delay occurred after a meeting with the BC Librarian around June 2000. He didn’t have the confidence to give the assurances that were required. He was speculative rather than firm. He did say that the college would not accept anything into its vaults if there was any possibility of “legal repercussions.” That was it as far as I was concerned a non-starter. Then after a lot of back and forth between him and Ed Moloney, the assurance was given. We could and should have asked for that specifically in writing but even had it been in writing we would still have been stung. The donor agreement seemed to be the “in writing” that was required and ultimately that turned out as not worth the paper it was written on.

At this time the mood music about the past was nothing like it is today. It had not become so weaponised to borrow an in-vogue term. Ultimately, I think BC were of the view that the British were not going to be as vindictive as they turned out to be, and made calculations based on that assessment rather than on what was legally doable. But even here, when the moment of reckoning came, BC had power and influence which it desisted from using, opting instead to seek judicial redress, and then hide behind the ruling of the courts and loudly proclaim, “We did all we could. We fought and we lost. Too bad. Get on with it and have a nice day. By the way, we will not foot any legal bills for people hauled before the courts.”

I suppose that is one commitment it did stick to. BC have not contributed one cent to the legal battle waged by the researchers against the PSNI raid on the archive, nor has it provided one cent to the legal defence of those who ended up in court as a result of the tapes. BC abandoned everyone.  

As for Moloney’s judgement, unlike me, he had been through a serious source protection case in Belfast around the Pat Finucane case. That made him cautious, not wanting to rush his fences on the project. His assessment of what the librarian conveyed to him was hardly an abandonment of his instinct, but was based on a wide range of factors probably similar to those outlined by the loyalist researcher and views held by myself. As it turned out he was mistaken, but no more than me. In his view everything was set in stone.

When you think of the publication of Voices From The Grave, if BC had the slightest doubt about the guarantees being absolute, that was the point where they should have been brandishing the halt sign. Instead, they were writing forwards for the book. Why did they allow the publication to go ahead and speak publicly about the existence of the archive if they knew it was not resistant to a court order?

Moreover – and this is easily forgotten over the course of time and the evolution of the blame game –  Moloney made two crucial interventions early on which prevented the entire archive falling into the hands of the PSNI. The first was to alert the New York Times to the existence of the subpoena at a moment when BC was trying to smother any suggestion of going to the media. That prevented BC getting its shafting act together. It was forced into putting up a fight of sorts. Sham as it was, the College could no longer hand the archive over and be done with as now we suspect was its preferred option.  He then moved to get independent legal counsel for both of us. That ensured we were not chained below deck on the BC ship once the captain and his crew decided to scuttle the vessel and jump to safety, abandoning all passengers on the grounds that “sure they are all terrorists anyway.” That allowed a serious campaign, for the most part coordinated by my wife, to get into gear. 

Looking back through a prism of what has occurred since the project began and knowing what I now do, were I to do it again, I would want it all done very differently. Even the donor contract would no longer suffice for me. I would insist on it being much more specific, substantively more robust. So now we sit holding the black swan, best defined in a Mick Herron novel as “a totally unexpected event with a big impact. But one that seems predictable afterwards, with the benefit of hindsight.”

Alfie Gallagher: Long-standing critics of the Belfast Project like Danny Morrison and Allison Morris would probably say that you and Ed Moloney were blinded to such dangers by an overarching desire to damage the reputation of Gerry Adams. Justice John O'Hara would seem to agree with them. In his judgment, O'Hara says that the tapes in the Bell case demonstrate that you had "a clear bias" against Adams and that you were "out to get" him. Would you accept that this judgment is a vindication for your critics? Does it not irreparably damage the credibility of the project?

Anthony McIntyre: They would wouldn’t they, to borrow a well-worn phrase. I haven’t read a thing by Allison in yonks. The last time she came up was when one of the families from the Shankill bombing accused her of lying in relation to the Castlereagh material. And I only ever read Danny to find out what he is lying about.  I suppose both have a dog in the fight. Almost everybody accepts that Allison handed her Dolours Price material to the Sunday Life despite her denials. That helped start the Boston College subpoena although that was not her intention. I was pretty philosophical about her doing what she did in spite of the problems it caused. She has as much right to interview Dolours as anybody else. My issue with her was the extent she went to cover up her action through frivolous complaints in the NUJ and smearing. It all came to nought.

Morrison was left badly exposed as a result of the oral history for his role in causing the deaths of six hunger strikers, hence his visceral hatred of it and those associated with it.  And I think ultimately, he had a much more nefarious role than Morris because of who, in my view, he has been working for.

Justice O’Hara’s claims about bias failed to disconcert me in the slightest. I have a bias towards a belief that Adams was a key IRA strategist, towards a belief that he was the architect of the Disappeared, towards a belief that he served as the IRA chief of staff, a bias towards a view that he served on the IRA’s army council. I would be surprised if Justice O’Hara failed to share that bias. He would need to be chronically stupid not to. Did that bias towards those views lead me to ask any question designed to prompt a dishonest response? Not the slightest shred of evidence that it did. So was my probing on Adams out to get him or to get the truth about him?

It won’t damage the credibility of the project because far too many people are interested in the contents of the tapes, the general public, academics and journalists. The reading I am getting is that while there were plenty of lies told at the Bell trial about Gerry Adams, they were all told by Gerry Adams who gave evidence of never having been in the IRA plus the usual crap he spews. 

An additional factor is that Interviewee Z also wrote into the conditions of his contract, which it is suggested BC managed to lose, that his interviews were not to be released until 30 years after both he and his partner had died. That was hardly the action of a person or project out to sabotage the political career of Gerry Adams.

Alfie Gallagher: The tapes at the centre of the Bell trial have not yet been made public, but Justice O'Hara argues that they "clearly show" you leading Ivor Bell to "speak against" Gerry Adams and to corroborate the claim that Adams ordered the disappearance of Jean McConville. O'Hara's view is supported by Gerry Moriarty's detailed report on the trial in the Irish Times and the testimony of Professor Kevin O'Neill. So when did you first become aware of Gerry Adams's alleged involvement in Jean McConville's murder? Were you not leading Ivor Bell to confirm this allegation in these tapes?

Anthony McIntyre:  I have at no time said I interviewed Ivor Bell. Nor has he said he was interviewed by me. Interviewee Z has never given me permission to reveal his identity, so I will address the question in terms of Z. 

There was nothing about either Kevin O’Neill’s testimony or Gerry Moriarty’s reporting that I found objectionable. Would I have preferred they said something different? Of course, but it is not for me to impose my preferences on them nor for them to be guided by how I might view matters. Kevin O’Neill’s testimony proved crucial to the verdict. I welcome the verdict, much as I would welcome a similar verdict if reached in the Winston Rea case. Kevin O’Neill gave what I believe was his genuinely held appraisal of the interview technique. Now, I can counter it with a defence of my own technique, rightly described by Ed Moloney as unconventional. But Kevin O’Neill was not in court to make an argument on my behalf. He was there to give his view as a competent historian on what he listened to on tape. And he reached conclusions that it was not the way to do oral history. I agree it was not the way to do conventional oral history.

At the heart of Kevin O’Neill’s argument was his contention that my questions were leading. He has previously made the same observation. I’ll cite from my own contribution to an interview with Marian Finucane in 2014:

“Ed Moloney would then come back and he might be critical, he might say: you didn't emphasise this or you've asked a leading question. And on occasion Ed did criticise me for asking leading questions and he said look, don't be asking leading questions. And others had felt I asked leading questions … But I mean my own view of an interview is: there's no purpose in asking a question that doesn't lead to something. Why bother?”

People will have to make up their own minds about the extent, if any, to which questions shaped answers. Z was free to answer whatever way he chose. Justice O’Hara at no point claimed Z was malleable and like putty in my hands. I suppose from my point of view I employed a probing technique designed to unlock knowledge. Was it designed to produce accounts that were not true? No. Did it challenge anything that seemed to be inaccurate? Yes.

As for first time I learned of the allegations against Adams, at this point it is impossible to say. It was a long time ago. What I can do is cite the record: in the Sunday Tribune in 1999, I wrote a piece stating that the policy of disappearing people was initiated by the post Twomey leadership in 1972. Adams was the Belfast commander immediately after Twomey.

Alfie Gallagher: But Kevin O'Neill did not merely testify that your questions were leading. He said that the tapes that were played during the Bell trial were "much more compromised" than the archive material he reviewed in 2002. In Gerry Moriarty's trial report, O'Neill says that one of the "serious concerns" he has about these tapes is that "there was preparation by McIntyre of Bell off tape".  Presumably O'Neill is referring to an off-tape conversation between you and interviewee Z, before which Z is unsure whether Gerry Adams ordered the disappearance of Jean McConville but after which Z has "come to the conclusion that Gerry [Adams] did give the order to disappear her”. In retrospect, do you not think this was inappropriate? Isn't it possible that because of your bias against Gerry Adams, you were looking exclusively for answers that confirmed your hostile view of him whilst ignoring evidence to the contrary? 

Anthony McIntyre: Kevin O’Neill would have to detail exactly what he meant by that. You should talk to him. All interviewees were talked to off the tape. I would always cover the ground with them in respect of the areas to be covered and the no-go areas. There is a demonstrable gulf between preparing and prompting. If it was a mere question of seeking interviewees who would confirm a hostile view of Adams and ignoring evidence to the contrary, the advice I gave to Dolours Price – which ultimately led to her not talking about the McConville incident – would not have been proffered. I at no time interviewed anybody, either as part of the BC project or separate from it who told me that Gerry Adams was never in the IRA. If an interviewee was to tell me that in May 72 Gerry Adams killed two women in an explosion, I would have immediately contested this by pointing out on tape that Adams could not have done so as he was in prison at the time.

It is through the recorded interviews that I reveal the existence of a discussion off tape. That is laid out there for the audience to weigh up when they are making a judgement on the authenticity of everything that is said. I could have chosen to conceal that. Revealing not concealing was the purpose of the project. 

My modus operandi is only inappropriate if I prompt an interviewee to make an allegation which I know to be untrue. As an evidence gathering exercise, it is all inappropriate, but the people culpable of impropriety here are those who seek to use it as evidence, not those who gathered it as something else. 

Would I adopt the same approach if I was to interview people tomorrow? Yes. 

Alfie Gallagher: I'm not aware of anyone – outside of Sinn Féin at least – who claims to believe Gerry Adams's denials of IRA membership. Indeed, I'd say most people find a lot of the allegations made against Adams in the Boston tapes to be credible. But however many skeletons there might be in his closet, most people credit Gerry Adams for ending the IRA's armed struggle and steering the Republican Movement into constitutional politics. Vincent Browne gives a succinct expression of this view in his documentary about Adams: "Without him, the atrocities almost certainly would have happened anyway, but without him, peace wouldn’t have happened when it did.” 

Is it not the case that if you and other critics of Gerry Adams had won the debate within the Republican Movement in the mid-90s, then the IRA's armed campaign would have lasted a lot longer? Wasn't the alternative to Gerry's jaw-jaw just dissident war-war? 

Anthony McIntyre: I have never bought into the Vincent Browne perspective that peace only came about because of Adams. It can be argued that in order to make peace an essential component of his political career the IRA’s war was extended in time well beyond what was necessary. If you consider how little was really achieved between 1974 and 1998 it makes a mockery of the war. Therefore we have so much Sinn Fein revisionism today. I think had the debate been won by other critics, there would have been a different type of peace, one fuelled by the needs of the most disadvantaged and not shaped by the exigencies of political careers. I feel the odyssey of Adams needs viewed as a full reel and not as a still shot of a moment in time when he is brandishing a dove. The title of the Davenport-Sharrock book Man Of War, Man of Peace? is illustrative of the point I make. What use is a history of George Best where it does not address his role in Manchester United?

Alfie Gallagher: But isn't it true that Adams's critics within the Republican Movement in the early 90s were in favour of continuing the armed struggle? Isn't that one of the main reasons why the first ceasefire collapsed?

Anthony McIntyre: Many of them were, the majority I would safely guess.  Were they indifferent to reasoned argument or were they resentful of Adams trying to stroke them? I think the way he conducted business, his endless deception, the pursuit of his own career to the detriment of all else, was arguably a rallying point for much of the opposition. An argument not given enough credence is that when Adams abandoned it, the armed struggle collapsed. The inference to be drawn is that it only carried on as long as it did because his input was essential: that’s another reason I don’t buy into the rather benign interpretation offered by Vincent.

Alfie Gallagher: Returning to Bell trial, I think the glaring flaw in Justice John O'Hara's written judgment is his claim that you deliberately gave a false guarantee of anonymity to your interviewees. As you said above, you were given the same false guarantee by Boston College yourself when you were interviewed for the Belfast Project. Indeed, the PSNI has spent the last three years fighting for legal access to your interviews in an attempt to prosecute you. Where does your case currently stand? Why do you think the PSNI is devoting so much time and resources to access the Boston College tapes when their legal admissibility was always in serious doubt?

Anthony McIntyre: Justice O’Hara was patently wrong, but it is the type of error that has been so well cancelled out by events and documentation, that it is no longer necessary to address it. The PSNI reflects the community it hails from. A more accurate name for it would have been the DUPSNI. The same deep-rooted strain of antipathy towards republicanism that permeates the DUP is manifested in the PSNI. Given the polarised nature of Northern society, it would be strange if it were any other way. And there is no one there to put manners on the PSNI because it has put manners on Sinn Fein.

The PSNI went after the BC tapes with a gusto never on display when in supposed pursuit of police and troop transgression. The instinct there is to cover up, make sure evidence stays beyond the reach of lawyers acting on behalf of the families of those killed by state actors. For all the talk about legacy they have never once investigated police torture or prison staff violence despite it being as systemic as clerical abuse. My own case has moved from the Divisional Court in Belfast to the Supreme Court in London and back to Belfast where it is currently seeking to go before the Appeal Court there. The PSNI motive is most likely to be found in a blend of vindictiveness and fishing. The courts in the North are so timid and on message that the PSNI would be foolish not to try it on with the judges. There is a good reason for the quip about the judiciary in the North – “If you want justice go to a brothel; if you want screwed go to a court.” 

The fabricated investigation – there was no investigation – the PSNI concocted one as an excuse, much as they sought to bribe a son of Jean McConville in a bid to create a pretext for an investigation and a bid to plunder a history archive. The PSNI have been lying through their teeth since the get go. In my own case, they have been lying on oath, making up armed robberies and concocting prison sentences that demonstrably never happened, fabricating narratives about bomb attacks. There is also the possibility that they want to access as much as they can in a bid to measure what damage if any has been done to the agents they were running. Before they issued a subpoena, they, in my view, had one of their agents make a written approach to BC seeking access to the archive. When it was rebuffed, the subpoena was resorted to.

The PSNI might speak to me at some point in the future but I will not be speaking to them. Not a word.

Alfie Gallagher: Finally, Anthony, what are your hopes for the future of the archive in Boston College and its historical legacy? 

Anthony McIntyre: I have few hopes for the archive. I regard it as an opportunity lost. Consider the chill effect that has been in place since the first PSNI sabotage, which has inhibited researchers reaching out and the researched opening up. Couple this to a lot of people – who could have made a major contribution to the type of truth recovery it rendered possible – having died during that chill season. The aggregated effect is a considerable swathe of the tillable history terrain being lost to us forever. Those knowledgeable but now silent voices will never speak again.

When I listen to some of the public broadcast discussion, particularly around the Patrick Radden Keefe book Say Nothing, it makes me think that people like Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes have left a rich mine for future students to excavate.  Also, that their humanity has been crystallised and preserved in a manner robust enough to resist the sustained erosion of a revisionism which tries to rewrite the past with a pen filled with ink from the present. Brendan and Dolours brought to the fore a more subterranean narrative that ruptured the self-serving official mulch of those who would rather it had never seen the light of day. Their past is not a mere cog in somebody else’s wheel. It has an autonomous force of its own. 

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