The U.S.-based journalist whose project records were subpoenaed amid British police efforts to arrest Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the legal action may threaten an important effort to preserve the voices of those involved in the conflict in Northern Ireland – as well as the cause of peace there.
British police this week arrested Adams in Northern Ireland over his alleged ties to the infamous 1972 kidnapping and murder of Jean McConville, a widow and mother of 10 who was killed by the Irish Republican Army over claims that she had passed information to the British government.
For more than a decade, Irish journalist Ed Moloney and a former provisional IRA member turned journalist Anthony McIntyre have run the Belfast Project, an oral history of the decades-long Northern Ireland conflict known as the Troubles,seen through the eyes of many of participants including IRA members.
In exchange for lending their voices to chart the particulars of a long, bitter conflict, it was agreed that any interviews would not be published until after the participants’ death, and that the contents would be kept by Boston College, the partnering academic institution.
“The opportunity came along in an offer from Boston College to provide us a cast-iron, legally safe so we were told, way of collecting these interviews and storing them in a safe place in Boston, well out of reach of the British,” Moloney told Al Jazeera’s John Siegenthaler in an interview on Friday.
“I think there is a responsibility on journalists and also on historians to try … to record as best you can the experiences of those who took part in a conflict such as the one that we had,” Moloney said, referring to the Belfast Project, which started gathering testimony in 2001.
“Normally, the stories of conflict are written by the leaders and also by the winners; they’re rarely written and told by those who took part in them,” he said. “If this was not done … the opportunity was going to be lost forever.”
But since 2011, the Belfast Project has been caught in a complicated and protracted legal morass after the British government contacted the U.S. Department of Justice to file subpoenas requesting the contents of interviews, including those alleged to have anything to do with McConville’s abduction and murder.
Moloney has opposed efforts by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) – the British police force with authority there – to gain access to the documents. He also feels Boston College should have done more to protect the code of confidentiality upon which the interviews were based.
He told the New York Times on Thursday that the school “didn’t put up the fight they should have to protect the archives and the principle of confidentiality.”
With local elections happening this month in Northern Ireland, many have questioned the timing of the arrest of Adams, who has long maintained his innocence in McConville’s murder. Whether it was related to the election or not, Moloney finds the PSNI’s decision to arrest Adams this week curious.
Moloney described to Al Jazeera how a book he published in 2002 – “A Secret History of the IRA” – had already publicly revealed his assertion that McConville had been “abducted and disappeared by a special unit of the IRA which was under the command of Gerry Adams.”
That point was echoed by the only person besides Moloney and McIntrye to have read the entirety of the interviews, U.S. Federal Court Judge William Young. In a 2012 legal ruling in favor of granting the subpoena, Young wrote: “[The] references made are at such a vague level of generality that it is virtually inconceivable to this Court that the law enforcement authorities within the requesting state do not already have this information.”
“At that stage the police showed absolutely no interest in following up my allegations at all,” Moloney said, referring to the PSNI’s apparent lack of interest in pressing the case after his revelations a decade ago. “It’s only in recent years that they have shown any interest first of all in solving the Jean McConville murder.”
Moloney suspected that may have something to do with the fact that there “are elements of the police who disliked Gerry Adams and saw this as an opportunity to go for him … this chance to do him damage.”
Moloney said he also worries that this week’s developments may poke a hole in the very rationale that led to the end of the Northern Ireland conflict with the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998, and the subsequent power-sharing agreement.
“You have the man (Adams) who was, I suppose, more responsible than any other single individual for persuading, maneuvering, cajoling, tricking, duping – whatever word or verb you wish to use – the IRA into laying down its weapons, surrendering its weapons, and calling a ceasefire and ending its conflict and recognizing the state which it had been set up to destroy. And his reward for that is what has happened in the last four days or so,” Moloney said.
From the perspective of some Irish Republicans, the Adams arrest could suggest that "the only thing that the British understand at the end of the day comes from the barrel of a gun,” he said.
“And that’s been an age-old argument in Irish nationalism. And the effect of what the PSNI has done in the last week or so has been to strengthen that argument and to undermine the peace process in a very damaging, and I think almost permanent, way.”