Anthony McIntyre in cell 15, H Block 4, Long Kesh prison, where he spent two and a half years of his 18 years in detainment. (Photo by Carrie Twomey)
The idea was simple enough: interview paramilitaries from both sides of the The Troubles, record their testimonies and release the interviews sometime after their deaths. For researchers Anthony McIntyre and Ed Moloney, the hope was that the Boston College-funded oral history initiative known as the Belfast Project would bring clarity to what was a particularly murky conflict.
Unfortunately for McIntyre, a journalist and former IRA member who was imprisoned for 18 years, and Moloney, a journalist best known for his coverage of Northern Ireland, shit got complicated. But then it usually does when you mix lawyers, cops, terrorists, academics, politicians and murder.
The researchers now find themselves in a convoluted legal battle where they are pitted against law enforcement authorities on both sides of the Atlantic. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) want tapes of interviews with paramilitaries that, they believe, relate to the murder and disappearance of Jean McConville. The Belfast mother of ten was abducted and murdered in 1972 by the Provisional IRA after they suspected that she was a British informant.
The PSNI's request was passed on to the British authorities, who are now trying to exploit an obscure international agreement known as the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty to gain access to the interviews. Due to the terms of this treaty, it now falls to the US Department of Justice to wrest these tapes from Boston College, who are the legal owners. However, McIntyre and Moloney are vehemently opposed to this. They say that any breach of privacy could hinder academic research they want to conduct in the future, given that they'd made agreements with the paramilitaries that they wouldn't release the tapes till after they'd died.
The complicated legal saga has dragged on since 2011. The matter is still in federal court and there has been much wrangling over how many of the 11 interviews – conducted with seven paramilitaries – are even pertinent to the McConville murder. One that was deemed to be was conducted with Dolours Price – a former IRA member who was convicted of a London bombing in 1974 and spent more than 200 days on hunger strike in a Brixton prison. Price died in Dublin last January, and earlier this year, her interview transcripts were handed over to the PSNI.
Gerry Adams. (Photo via)
So why are the PSNI so keen to get their hands on these tapes? McIntyre has speculated that the pursuit of the tapes may be a political ploy intended to somehow damage Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. Adams has never publicly admitted to being in the Provisional IRA, despite plenty of allegations that he was an integral member of the group’s leadership for decades. The Sinn Fein leader has also been linked to ordering the McConville disappearance, but has vehemently denied his involvement. Now, McIntyre suggests the lawsuit may be a case of old score-settling.
“Certainly it was, in my view, an attempt to cause problems for Gerry Adams. They may believe that there could be information linking him to a number of things he has done that he hadn’t been linked to,” McIntyre tells me. “So I suspect there are people out there to make trouble for him.”
In a statement sent to me, the PSNI bat away such assertions, stating it's all part of the process of investigating a murder:
“Police have a duty in [sic] investigate murder, a duty in law and a duty under the European Convention. This is an explicit duty to investigate and to explore every available investigative opportunity; political considerations play no part in the decision-making process. Detectives from Serious Crime Branch are currently assessing the materials authorised for release by the United States Appeal Court as part of the investigation into the murder of Jean McConville. As police inquiries are continuing, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
But McIntyre and Moloney believe that there's hypocrisy at work. What about all the unsolved murders allegedly carried out by British security forces during The Troubles? Why, they ask, isn’t the PSNI releasing info regarding those? Specifically, Moloney says, they are pursuing crimes that are thought to have been committed by paramilitary outfits like the IRA and the loyalist UVF, while outright ignoring alleged misdeeds of forces like MI5, the Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch and the British Army.
“That’s really a declaration by the British that the war with the IRA is still ongoing and that the peace process, in that regard, is a bit of a sham,” says Moloney. A genuine peace process, he continued, would have done one of two things: established a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate everyone or wiped the slate clean of past atrocities in the hope of progressing toward a "greater good". Neither of those things, he says, is currently happening.
Anthony McIntyre, with his young son, standing in the room where Bobby Sands died after 66 days on hunger strike. (Photo by Carrie Twomey)
Some of the outstanding question marks, according to McIntyre, include Paddy McAdorey, an IRA member who was killed by a British Army sniper in 1971; Michael Donnelly, who was killed by a plastic bullet in 1970; and Sadie Larmour, who was killed at her home by a UVF gunman in 1979. Information regarding all three of those murders is being withheld by the government, according to McIntyre. That shows the PSNI is motivated by politics, not justice, he says.
Ironically, McIntyre and Moloney are trying to pry information from the very government that is pushing for the release of segments of their own work. The duo have filed Freedom of Information requests seeking war diaries of a British regiment that was stationed in West Belfast for three years during the early 70s. The diaries aren’t scheduled to be made public for decades.
McIntyre says the government wants to control the history of conflict in Northern Ireland.
“Law enforcement wants to be in charge of all information pertaining to the past,” he told me. “They can’t stand for intellectual pluralism. They want a sort of a monopoly over everything and that would mean law enforcement would be investigating law enforcement, which simply doesn’t work.”
Asked if he fears for his safety should the paramilitary interviews be released, McIntyre says, “There’s nothing specific, but one has a general feeling of foreboding of this process, that’s there’s not going to be a good end-result. I think, objectively, it enhances the risk not only to me, but also to the people who participated in the project."
Follow Danny on Twitter: @DMacCash
More stories about the IRA: