The latest twist in the Boston Oral History project occurred last week when former republican activist Ivor Bell, who has opposed the Sinn Féin leadership for over two decades, was arrested and subsequently charged in relation to the killing of Jean McConville. The PSNI claim that Bell was one of those who gave interviews to the Boston College Oral History project in which it is alleged that he talked of his part as an IRA activist. According to the media this is the basis for the charges levelled against him. Bell, through his lawyer denies any involvement in the death of Jean McConville.
Media reports following this said that the PSNI are interested in speaking to me. There has been a persistent campaign by some elements of the media and by political opponents to try to link me to Jean McConville’s killing and secret burial by the IRA. I have said before and do so again that what happened to Jean McConville was a terrible injustice. I was not involved in any part of it. I instructed my solicitor to contact the PSNI and to make it clear to them that I am available to meet at any time on this issue.
The basis of these allegations have been the false accusations and spurious claims of a small number of embittered former republican activists who are hostile to the Sinn Féin peace strategy, to the Sinn Féin leadership and to me in particular.
All are avowed opponents of the peace process. They believe the IRA was wrong to call its cessations and to take the initiatives for peace that it did. These people have campaigned against the Good Friday Agreement and want it destroyed. Until recently many argued for a return to war. They have gone to great lengths to attack the republican struggle, the peace process and the political process through lies, distortions and personal attacks.
It is precisely because of their opposition to Sinn Féin that these individuals were deliberately selected by those who ran the Boston Oral History Project. It is no co-incidence that those the project spoke to are all oppositional voices. This project was flawed and biased from the outset. It was an entirely bogus, shoddy and self-serving effort. It was not a genuine or serious or ethically based history project.
The idea for it originated with Paul Bew, an advisor to David Trimble, and was taken up by Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre who conducted the interviews. Both men are relentless and vitriolic critics and opponents of the Sinn Féin leadership and peace strategy and of me.
McIntyre has availed of every opportunity to ridicule Sinn Féin and has accused us of having sold out. The title of his book is ‘Good Friday - The Death of Irish Republicanism’. Moloney has been equally venomous in his comments. In his antagonism toward Sinn Féin he has even accused other journalists of failing to challenge and confront us.
Moloney’s criticism of how others report the political situation does not extend to his own failings. He and McIntyre told those they interviewed that the tapes would not be released until after their deaths. It was a promise they could not keep and they knew it.
It is also reported that the interviewees spoke at length about their time as IRA volunteers. Some went further by naming other republican activists. Of course, there is also no guarantee that the interviewees told the truth. All are disgruntled former activists who may have hoped, like Brendan Hughes, that their words from beyond the grave would damage Sinn Féin.
This was acknowledged by historian Professor Thomas Hachey from Boston College who in March 2010 told the News Letter; ‘It's a catharsis for some of them when they've suffered so much...I'd like to think in most cases they were motivated by wanting to tell their story but some of them it was probably to settle old scores and they would give a very jaundiced account.’
Nor is it just Irish republicans who have been critical of Moloney and McIntyre. According to political commentator and writer Roy Greenslade some US academics have described the Boston college debacle as “at best, naive and, at worst, manipulative, to give interviewees a guarantee of confidentiality.”
The issue of the past does need to be dealt with. Sinn Féin is committed to doing this. We want to bring closure to victims and their families. That is why we have argued for an independent, international, truth recovery process. However, if this cannot be agreed then we are seeking the implementation of the Haass compromise proposals. These include the right of families to choose whether to pursue legal action or to seek maximum truth recovery.
The Boston Oral History Project was never about achieving any of this. It was a politically contrived project with a clear anti Sinn Féin political agenda.