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Ed Moloney: Boston College
and Me | A personal account of the
Boston Project
August 11, 2014
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It was one of those early May mornings so typical of New York City. Bright sunshine and a cold,
fresh breeze that blew occasional clouds and rain showers over the streets of Riverdale. Not
quite springtime but a promise that it was on its way. And then the phone rang and the clouds
suddenly darkened.
I have some bad news said the voice on the other end. But before I say anything you must
promise me. Keep me out of this. It was a friend at Boston College where from 2001 to 2006 I
had been director of an oral history project set up to collect interviews with participants from
both sides of the conict in Northern Ireland.
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The e!ort to include the
police had been stillborn
but we had created an
historically valuable if
small project
The IRA ceasefire and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement had made the idea possible; Boston
College had made an indirect approach, asking for ideas for projects it could fund to mark the
historic moment. I suggested creating an oral history archive that would collect the accounts of
activists from all sides of the conict, from paramilitaries to police; it would be a view of
Irelands most traumatic quarrel from a grassroots level and the college was enthusiastic. We
both agreed, it should be done quickly before time and age made it impossible. And we agreed
security for the participants was paramount.
Discussions started with the college in the summer of 2000 and
by early the following year the archive was under way. By 2006,
when college funding ended, archives with IRA and Ulster
Volunteer Force interviews (the UVF was the most violent
Loyalist/Protestant group) had been created. The effort to
include the police had been stillborn but we had created an
historically valuable if small project, one that would provide
many insights to historians.
Gallons of ink have been spilled detailing the dispute between myself, the Irish researchers and
Boston College over whether false guarantees were knowingly given to participants. My view
was then and still is that the college had underwritten a guarantee that the interviewees had sole
rights over access until their death, that it would be safe from hostile intrusion, particularly
from a foreign government. This was an American archive after all and was it conceivable that
Washington would allow foreigners to invade and pillage it?
What we did not know until only recently, thanks to an investigation carried out by the
Washington-based Chronicle of Higher Education (http://chronicle.com/article/Secrets-
from-Belfast/144059/), was that a promise given to us by BC back in 2001 that the crucial
donor contract would be vetted by the colleges lawyers was a lie. The donor contract as we
wrote it guaranteed confidentiality until death, in other words that no-one except the
interviewee could access the interviews. If the contract has been vetted, as we were told it would
be and later that it had been, the contract should have included a health warning; we would
certainly have withdrawn from the project had that happened and I would not be writing this
account. But it hadnt been vetted, we had been given a false promise. We had been misled;
there was no vetting.
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The colleges hostility to
me deepened and as time
passed and our criticism
of the colleges cowardice
intensi"ed
But less attention has been paid to the character of the response of one of Americas
more prestigious colleges to the threat to academic freedom, as well as to the wellbeing of
those who had agreed to take part in its project, posed by subpoenas served by the DoJ
on behalf of Northern Irish police in 2011. How did Boston College acquit itself in one of
the most consequential struggles ever between government and academe in the US?
So back to that May 2011 phone call. My friend had called to tell me that a subpoena had
just been served on behalf of the British authorities seeking two interviews, both with
former IRA gures, Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price. Hughes was dead and at his request
a book Voices From The Grave had been published, based on his recollections; Price was
still alive. But the friend was nervous. We, the Irish researchers, were not supposed to know
about the subpoena, he said. It was being kept a tightly guarded secret inside the college even
from those who had most to lose. That alarmed me even more than the news that a supposedly
inviolable archive had been invaded.
I put in a series of calls to the colleges legal counsel, Nora Field. I had only one question to ask,
at least initially: was Boston College going to resist the subpoena? Each call was met with a
similar response: she was busy, she couldnt get to the phone and so on. So I called the college
librarian, Bob ONeill, explained what I knew and asked him to get a message to Field, I needed
to speak to her about the subpoena.
He never called back, so I phoned him only to hear him admit what I already suspected. Boston
Colleges legal counsel did not want to speak to me even though the subpoena could put the lives
and freedom of our interviewees at risk. Since I only wanted to discover if the college would
ght, her silence told me all I needed to know. I had also heard that sentiment in the counsels
ofce was edging towards an immediate handover; people there, I was told, were saying things
like .these people (the interviewees) were just a bunch of terrorists anyway.
So, I picked up the phone and called Jim Dwyer at the New
York Times, an experienced and skilled Irish-American reporter
who would understand the gravity of the situation and its
implications. The next morning the story was on the front page.
By the beginning of the following week Boston College had
hired an outside attorney; the tactic of shaming them into a
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ght had worked but at a cost. The colleges hostility to me deepened and as time passed and
our criticism of the colleges cowardice intensified so did the antagonism to me and to Anthony
McIntyre, the lead IRA researcher.
In the months and years that followed I would often have cause to recall a story that Harvey
Silverglate, that venerable champion of civil liberties in Massachusetts, told me. Bob Drinan
was a Jesuit priest who had been president of Boston Colleges law school back in the 1970s and
had been elected to Congress on an anti-Vietnam war ticket. Had Drinan still been around when
the subpoenas were served, Harvey said, he would have removed them from the archive, locked
them in his ofce safe and deed the federal government to come and get them. And he would
have mobilised the Jesuit Order and all of Boston Colleges not inconsiderable legal, nancial,
academic and political resources to resist the intrusion, all the things the modern Boston
College lamentably failed to do. They were frightened of the nes the federal government could
impose, he explained.
So this story is as much the tale of an altered American academe in which the business model
has replaced the place of learning and research.
A week or so later the IRA researcher Anthony McIntyre and the UVF interviewer
Wilson McArthur and myself had a conference call with the college librarian Bob ONeill, who
kept the archive, and Tom Hachey who headed up the Center for Irish Programs. Hachey,
a close friend of the college president, Fr William Leahy, also a Jesuit, was in charge of
the project. The call was notable for two things: the two academics were keen to know what we
remembered about the guarantees of condentiality each had given us, as if they wanted to
know what our defence would be, and it would be last contact any of us had with them. In
subsequent weeks phone calls and emails to them went unanswered.
With one exception. We were worried that there could be more subpoenas and to avoid that, we
asked, surely the remaining interviews could be moved to a location outside the reach of the
British? I wrote to Hachey and ONeill suggesting that the archive be relocated to the south of
Ireland, to McIntyres home. He had vowed never to surrender the interviews and anyone who
knew him would realise he meant it.
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Anthony McIntyre was a lead researcher on the Boston Project. (Click for image source)
The British would have to launch a legal action in hostile territory and the odds were that the
interviews could be safeguarded. But the two men refused, citing an interview I had given to the
Boston Globe saying that if the other interviews were really in danger they should be destroyed.
I still believe that in preference to a handover that was an acceptable option but if the archive
had been moved it could have been safely preserved and kept out of British hands. We never
heard another word from Hachey and ONeill.
In August 2011, the Boston Globe published an editorial urging Boston College to hand
the tapes over and I immediately emailed Hachey and ONeill asking if the college
would respond. There was no reply. The refusal to relocate the archive was a bad sign, this
was even worse. The college had agreed to ght, or rather had been forced to, but it
was becoming clear there was no enthusiasm for the struggle. The signals from Boston
College to the British were clear: they were pushing at an open door.
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So unsurprisingly, the same month a second subpoena was served, as we had feared, asking for
any and all interviews that mentioned Jean McConville, the widowed mother-of- ten whose
abduction and disappearing by the IRA in 1972 over allegations that she was an informer was
supposedly the reason for the legal action. (It should be noted that prior to this the authorities
cared so little for her that for the best part of twenty years her death had not even been
classied as murder and there had never been an investigation into her killing worthy of the
name. When I revealed the story back in 2002, (in my book A Secret History of the IRA)
essentially the same story allegedly contained in the archive, the police showed no interest at
all.)
In the interim, McIntyre and myself had penned a reply to the Globe editorial and we
soon discovered how this had enraged the administration at Boston College. On August
17th, 2011 we received an email from the colleges attorney informing us about the
second subpoena and telling us that the previous day the colleges response had been led
with the court. It was too late for our input and the message was clear: we were being excluded
from the case.
The next day another email from the attorney arrived. It read: Ed Boston College asked me to
remind you that my keeping you informed about developments in the case is with your
agreement that you will not go to the media about the information, but let us proceed with the
court process. We were being punished because we had dared criticise the Boston Globe for
advocating surrender to the PSNI.
So to summarise: the colleges lawyer had refused to speak to me when the subpoenas were
served and if the college had got its way the rst we would have known about the matter was
when people were arrested in Belfast; I had been forced to go to the New York Times to compel
and embarrass Boston College to ght; the two people at the college we had trusted most had
cut us off and the college was refusing to publicly criticise the British action. Now we were being
muzzled and sidelined, told to keep our mouths shut or suffer the consequences.
The college was abdicating the fight outside the courtroom and signaling furiously that it didnt
care much about the fight inside it. As that email indicated, Boston College was refusing to
organise a campaign to protest the subpoenas. Anyone who has experienced this sort of ordeal
can tell you that you win or lose outside the courtroom as much as inside. It was time for
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action.
We asked Eamonn Dornan, a Queens, New York-based, Irish-American attorney who also
practises as a barrister in Belfast and Dublin if he would represent us on a pro bono basis. He
agreed and set about ling pleas to establish our standing in the case. Jim Cotter in Boston
agreed to represent our interests there, again on a pro bono basis, and thanks to Harvey
Silverglate, the Massachusetts ACLU joined the team. Our gratitude to all these lawyers was in
direct proportion to our dismay over Boston Colleges behavior.
By this point Irish-American groups, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Brehon Law Society
and the Irish-American Unity Conference, had joined the campaign. These groups were alarmed
at the consequences for the peace accords and for the architect of the IRAs peace process
strategy, Gerry Adams who we all agreed was the real target of the British action. Their rst
achievement was to recruit John Kerry, then the Massachusetts-based chairman of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, now Secretary of State. He issued a statement urging Hilary
Clinton to intervene, to get the British to withdraw the subpoenas in order to protect the Good
Friday Agreement, the deal that had been brokered in large part thanks to the efforts of
Presidents Clinton and George W Bush.
Gerry Adams who we all agreed was the real target of the British action
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The striking thing about Kerry is that he is a graduate of Boston College Law School but it was
Irish-Americans who recruited him, not Boston College. I later lobbied Kerrys successor in
Washington Robert Menendez and discovered Boston College had never been near him. Not
only was Boston College boycotting this campaign but there was no effort that we could see to
mobilise other colleges to the cause; some people suggested that it was actually discouraging
them and while we never had evidence of that theres no doubt that had Boston College tried, a
well organised effort could have galvanized American academe; after all the subpoenas
potentially had enormously negative consequences for scholars.
The rst court challenge was in December 2011 at the Federal District court in Boston, in front
of Judge William Young who had presided over the trial of the shoe-bomber, Richard Reid.
No-one expected success here. The important phase would be the appeal, in front of the First
Circuit based in Boston and then perhaps at the Supreme Court.
As expected we lost but within days Boston College announced it would not appeal. We had
fallen at the rst hurdle and now the college was abandoning the ght.
But worse was to come. After Judge Young ruled against the college he then had the task of
deciding which interviews were responsive to the subpoena, in other words which interviews
should be handed over. His rst instinct was to ask the college to undertake that task; after all
Bob ONeill would be familiar with the archives contents given that he was its custodian.
When he called his court to order in late December 2012, Judge Young was presented with a
sealed afdavit by the Boston College attorney. We only know its contents because the
subsequent interaction between an astonished Judge Young and the college attorney was
witnessed by Jim Cotter, our attorney. The afdavit, he learned, contained the extraordinary
claim from ONeill that he could not help the court because he had not read the interviews!
I knew this was a lie because ONeill and myself had often discussed the interviews and it was
always evident to me that the librarian was so familiar with their contents because he had read
them, as indeed he was duty bound to do.
The true purpose of the colleges ploy soon became evident. The college attorney suggested that
instead the court should approach Anthony McIntyre in Ireland to ask for his guidance. Given
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Extravagant lies about
myself and Anthony
McIntyre have
characterised Boston
Colleges campaign
against ourselves
that six years had elapsed since the project had ended McIntyre could hardly be expected to
remember such ne detail but anyway he took a principled stand, in contrast to ONeill, saying
he refused to co-operate in the betrayal of his sources.
And of course that opened the way for Boston College to lay the blame on McIntyre for what
followed. Judge Young announced that since no-one from the college would help him, he would
take the entire archive into his custody and read them over the Christmas vacation.
All 186 interviews were removed from the colleges sealed archive, the sanctity and security of a
condential collection of interviews sacriced entirely unnecessarily. In his nal judgement the
true cost of Boston Colleges temerity became evident. Judge Young ruled that if an interviewee
had given say 15 interviews but only one mentioned Jean McConville, all fteen would be
handed over. The total was 85 interviews; in Belfast the police were undoubtedly licking their
lips. It was a disaster directly caused by Boston Colleges cowardice.
ONeill and Hachey then wrote an Op-Ed piece for the Irish Times blaming McIntyre for this
mass handover.
Shifting blame away from the college onto ourselves for everything that had happened had by
this stage become the hallmark of the colleges approach to the subpoenas.
Leading that offensive was the colleges ack, an extraordinarily aggressive individual by the
name of Jack Dunn, whose attitude towards the truth was that it was an inconvenient obstacle
in his way, to be discarded, ignored or shaped to t whatever narrative was necessary. Nor did
he bother too much with due diligence.
Not long after the District Court hearing, Dunn gave an
interview to the Irish state television station RTE, alleging that
a book I had written, Voices From The Grave, based on the
interviews given by Brendan Hughes had been inspired by
financial greed. (The truth was that the book was written to
fulfill a promise given by McIntyre: when Hughes was
interviewed he knew he was dying and he asked that his
account be published after his death.)
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ONeill and Hachey were excited by the prospect. Faber agreed to publish it and the two
academics asked to share the byline with myself; I was agreeable but Faber baulked, preferring
a single byline by an author who was known in Ireland and the UK for his coverage of the IRA.
Instead the two academics agreed to write the foreword.
They also asked that Boston College share the royalties equally with myself; 50 per cent for me
and 50 per cent to be given to ONeills library and Hacheys Irish Institute. I happily assented
to the deal and the only extra payment I received was an advance of some $13-14,000 to write
the book.
The problem was that neither man had told Jack Dunn, or it seems anyone else in authority at
Boston College. Dunn went on RTE to announce: I think quite frankly that Mr Moloney was so
excited about this project and quite frankly so eager to write a book from which he would prot
that he chose to ignore the obvious statements that were made to him including a contract he
had signed expressing the limitations of confidentiality.
Unfortunately for Dunn there was an email record to substantiate my account; this showed that
ONeill and Hachey had asked my agent and through him Faber, to share the byline and had
then cut a deal to share royalties equally with myself. RTE broadcast a corrected version and on
the programme Dunn was forced to admit that he had only learned the truth from ONeill the
day before.
The story didnt end there. The royalties were supposed to go into BC accounts but didnt; the
money instead ended up in the private bank accounts of Hachey & ONeill and I have the bank
records and emails to prove it. Even so, Dunn is still repeating this canard about the book and
my role in it. Extravagant lies about myself and Anthony McIntyre have characterised Boston
Colleges campaign against ourselves for compelling the college to fight the subpoenas even to
the limited extent they did.
Getting a bang for its buck was, with hindsight, always a priority for Boston College and this
explains why the folks there were so happy at the prospect of having a book published and so
eager to bask in the reflected glory after it was published. It also explains why and how the
project ended.
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Towards the end of the academic year in 2006, I received a phone call from Tom Hachey. Do
you think, he asked, that there might be a chance that the interviewees would agree to change
their contracts, so their interviews could be made public while they were still alive? The
significance of that question is that it demonstrates that Boston College had no evident legal
worries about interviewee confidentiality. While that served to reinforce our condence in the
projects safety, I refused on the grounds that we had given our word and that breaking it would
mean participants facing a vengeful IRA.
Hachey then traveled to Belfast and met the two researchers who gave him the same response.
A few weeks later we were told the college was ending its funding; the project would be closed
down. Would the response have been different if we had agreed to Hacheys request? I dont
know but I suspect the answer is yes.
After the District Court setback, we and the Irish-American groups lambasted Boston College
for their cowardice in refusing to take the case to appeal. A shamed college eventually
announced it would challenge Judge Youngs decision to hand over so many interviews but not
his ruling to accept the subpoena. It was rather like the condemned man arguing with the
hangman over the length of the rope; he would still die but perhaps a little slower. Boston
College won that appeal, thankfully; but it was all so unnecessary. We took our claim to enter
the case to the doorstep of the Supreme Court but failed to get a hearing. Last Fall, the
remaining interviews, reduced from 85 to eleven were handed over.
I have always believed that if Boston College had thrown its full weight behind the campaign to
resist the subpoenas we might well have won; at the very least the message would have gone out
from American academe that US colleges were ready to ght to guard the condentiality of their
research subjects, especially from a foreign power. Instead the signal has been sent that they
will in all probability be abandoned. Who now in their right mind would agree to participate in a
controversial research project in America, especially any dealing with its recent conicts and
wars?
Ed Moloney
Go to top
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Ed Moloney (http://o!therecordni.com
/author/moloneyed/)
Ed Moloney is an Irish journalist who now lives and works in New York
City. For most of his professional life he covered the Troubles in
Northern Ireland, writing for the Irish Times and the Sunday Tribune.
Moloney is the author of three books dealing with aspects of the Irish
Troubles, A Secret History of the IRA (2007), Paisley: From Demagogue
to Democrat? (2008) and Voices from the Grave: Two Mens War in
Ireland (2010)
More Posts (http://offtherecordni.com/author/moloneyed/) - Website
(http://thebrokenelbow.com/about-ed-moloney/)
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AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT
Ed Moloney
(http://o!therecordni.com/author/moloneyed/)
Ed Moloney is an Irish journalist who now lives and works in New York City. For most of his professional life
he covered the Troubles in Northern Ireland, writing for the Irish Times and the Sunday Tribune. Moloney is
the author of three books dealing with aspects of the Irish Troubles, A Secret History of the IRA (2007),
Paisley: From Demagogue to Democrat? (2008) and Voices from the Grave: Two Mens War in Ireland
(2010)
Also by Ed Moloney (60) (http://o!therecordni.com/author/moloneyed/)
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August, 2014
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Brian John Spencer | By
failing to encourage
diversity of opinion and
idea, unionism
disempowers itself
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by-failing-to-encourage-
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by Brian John Spencer
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