Jude Collins

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Dead men, tale-telling and history

Dead men, they say, tell no tales. But if they’re part of the Boston College oral history project, they do. The project, you’ll remember, was the series of interviews organized by Ed Moloney  and Anthony McIntyre with a selection of former combatants in our Troubles.  The promise was that these would be recorded and kept under lock and key until after the interviewee had died. Now, however, a federal US judge has ordered Boston College to let him have access to those recordings . Having heard them, he’ll decide if the US government will turn the interviews over to the British authorities in connection with the killing of Jean McConville. Boston College has said they’ll pass the tapes over tomorrow.

There are a number of problems with this whole affair, starting with the description of it as “oral history”.  The implication behind such a description is that the people speaking are telling the truth, which they may or may not be. Besides that, any historical account if it’s to be taken seriously has to include as much evidence, oral or otherwise, as is available. This includes particularly testimony or evidence that runs counter to the historian’s own loyalties. That hasn’t happened here.

Another and more pressing problem is that the people who contributed to the project did so on the clear undertaking that their words would remain confidential until after their death.  The US federal judge’s ruling and Boston College’s acceptance of it show that undertaking to have been either naïve or a sham. The US authorities claim they’re looking for information about Jean McConville’s death; when and if they listen to the tapes, they’ll surely find statements about other people and maybe other killings. This, of course, may be the whole idea – a fishing expedition.  But is this what we mean when we talk about “dealing with the past”?  Those who contributed to the Boston College project, as far as I know, were to a greater or lesser extent critical of Sinn Féin and its present leadership.  It’s an odd idea of research, let alone justice, that allows the voices on one side of the argument only to be included.

In fact there’s a touch of pantomime about the whole thing: heroes and villains, secrets and surprises. Any minute now, Miriam O’Callaghan is going to jump from behind a curtain and ask everyone mentioned in the tapes if they go to confession.


  1. Laughed at the end! However, on a more serious note, you would have thought that rather than gamble with people's freedom that Mackers and Moloney would have tried to withdraw the tapes. But maybe once they had signed off and been paid [in Mackers' case, quite handsomely] they had no more rights to the incriminating evidence. Love the way they blame everybody but themselves and that they are now very worried that the sacroscanct Good Friday Agreement might now be placed in jeopardy - the same GFA they have spent 13 years ridiculing and in Mackers' case actually describing it as the death knell of Irish Republicanism. If these two boys could bottle chutzpah they'd be millionaires!

  2. Anthony McIntyre's, inability to realise any combatant or person making any confession, not of or under a brit prerogative, in full or part thereof, regarding destruction of person's or property, during the Northern Irish conflict would upon their refection, leave themselves open to investigation from any quarter of the law! In effect McIntyre has done a better job of extracting combatants statements, than the RUC interrogators ever did!

  3. Miriam O Callaghan seems to be your pantomime villain for all seasons.Perhaps she will never be forgiven by yourself for daring to ask awkward questions of St Martin during the Presidential campaign.I dont think you can blame her for all the inadequacies of R T E.

  4. Im sure Anthony Mc Intyre can respond adequately to Danny Morrisons comments in an appropriate forum but can Danny give us his views on the article in todays Belfast Telegraph ,suggesting that a good proportion of the senior I R A leaders were state agents.Surely that couldnt be true,could it?Men of high principle and all that!

  5. @anon,21 dec 20.21,why would you want danny to respond to stories emanating from the belfast telegraph of all papers,some journalists are well known to have worked closely with special branch,and possibly still do,the past should only be judged on the quality of the battle that took place,and i am sure that politically and militarily,there was and is ever going to be one IRA.

  6. Anon 02 33.Because as a very articulate spokesman for Sinn Fein,he is bound to have something interesting to say.He seems to be quite happy to post on Judes blogsite but thats possibly because he feels more comfortable there.