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The Unionist Hand Behind The Boston Tapes?

Members of the Ulster Society (supporters of “Ulster-Britishness”) in the British parliament with Lord Bew of Donegore (Paul Bew), 2008
Members of the Ulster Society (supporters of “Ulster-Britishness”) in the British parliament with Lord Bew of Donegore (Paul Bew), 2008

As the fall-out from the arrest and detention of Gerry Adams TD continues to rumble on (“coinciding” with moves by the minority Conservative Party government in Britain to seek the possible support of Unionist parties in the north-east of Ireland post the 2015 British general election) here are some more views on the Boston Tapes controversy. The first piece is from Paul Larkin, journalist and TV documentary-maker, with an exposé of the rarely discussed hand behind the Boston College Oral History Project, none other than Baron Bew of Donegore aka. Paul Bew, the well-known Unionist historian and activist (and lately the president of the Airey Neave Trust, the “anti-terrorist” think-tank named for the Tory politician assassinated by Irish Republicans in 1979). This is followed up by another article by Larkin on the early concerns expressed within Boston College about the project, including detailed excerpts of the relevant criticisms. Then there is Tim Pat Coogan, former newspaper editor and writer, with more questions about the current crisis and the motivations of those involved. Finally we have historian John Dorney with some pertinent observations on how past conflicts in Ireland, great and small, have been brought to an end. It is hard to disagree with this:

“There appear to be many anomalies in how this question is being approached within Northern Ireland. Only a few months ago it was revealed, to the fury of unionists, that the London government was giving assurances to former IRA members that they were no longer being actively sought for offences committed prior to 1998 and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Furthermore, under the terms of that agreement, all paramilitary prisoners (republican and loyalist) whose political organs had signed up to the deal were freed, regardless of how long they had served of their sentence.

To make Adams’ situation stranger still, it has been made clear that although the identities of British soldiers who shot and killed civilians in Derry on Bloody Sunday in 1972 are known, they will not be prosecuted. In November of 2013, a BBC documentary retraced the steps of an undercover British Army unit charged with assassinating republican paramilitaries in the early 1970s, who were responsible for at least ten killings of unarmed civilians[1]. No calls were made by Police to the journalists in question to force them to hand over their interviews, nor to reveal the identity of their interviewees.

So it appears that Gerry Adams and Ivor Bell (the latter charged with the McConville killing) both of whom were reputed to be senior figures in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional IRA in the early 1970s, have been singled out for special treatment.  Why this is and who is behind it this article does not know and cannot speculate. Suffice to say that the killing of Jean McConville; a mother of ten, shot and secretly buried by the IRA as an alleged informer; has a particularly high emotional resonance and that both Bell and especially Adams were and in the latter case still is, an extremely senior member of the republican movement.”

While I have been quite critical of Sinn Féin and others in their responses to all this it is only by hearing the views of all sides that we may arrive at a balanced judgement. Not something you are likely to find in Ireland’s national news media.

15 comments on “The Unionist Hand Behind The Boston Tapes?

  1. ‘Our’ Gerry referred to Paul Bew in his (brilliant) party election broadcast – billed as a press conference by the Beeb after his release. But I’m not sure Bew’s involvement is that significant although it doesn’t help Ed and Ant defend the project. Having read the criticism above of the boy Ant’s interview techniques, again, I’m not sure how significant that is either – sticking strictly to academic guidelines on interview technique may not be the best way to get to the heart of the matter – I’m not sure Vincent Browne does that either. Academics can get bitchy about such matters and engage each other in advanced and prolonged pin-head dancing competitions.

    But what remains for me the significant criticism is that Ed and Ant (and Paul) have facilitated the arrest of one or more the alleged ‘combatants’ and that sinks the whole project in my book and as queried previously what legal advise did they have that the evidence collected would not be used in court?

    • @sammymcnally, Given Bew’s politics and background I wouldn’t discount the significance of his involvement in the project though I’d question the whole “conspiracy” theory that some put forward (hence the question mark in the heading of the post). There is something not right about the whole thing though perhaps more by accident than design.

      While having sympathy with both Moloney and McIntyre (and I hope I have given fair space to both their views in links and excerpts featured on ASF) I tend to agree with yourself. I would also point out that Ed Moloney does himself no favours when he focuses on Gerry Adams refusal to acknowledge his membership of the (P)IRA when he knows that such an acknowledgement would lead to his arrest and charging. It is a disingenuous argument to say the least. Hughes and Price were certainly aware of the political and legal realities of Adams’ position on his history as a Volunteer. I doubt they seriously objected to that beyond some occasional rhetoric. Their real motivation was their opposition to the overall strategy of SF under Adams and McGuinness and the outworking of the Belfast Agreement (not to mention the abandonment or persecution of former Republican activists). They wanted both their personal and political histories and views recorded – including their own interpretations of what happened 1970s-1990s. Which is fair enough.

  2. Sharon Duglas

    I cannot speak to the motivation of those who initiated the Boston project. As for the individuals who gave their stories, there may have been one or two who had ulterior motives and wanted to exact some sort of revenge. It is my considered belief, however, that the majority participated out of a genuine desire to contribute to understanding and history. It worries me they may all be painted with the same brush.

    • Agreed sharon. In 100 years time when we are all gone this archive would have been a national treasure and unable to get anybody, just tell peoples stories. Building up the archive was worthy, bragging about it stupid, especially when it didn’t have any cover. same time lot of paint going up on wells in belfast mentioning boston touts and in – former republicans, poor show, shinners need to think about what they are saying. Adams is possibly facing membership charges because being a member of the IRA pre 98 in still illegal, mcgeough and kearney have been done on legacy charges with out any help from boston. Thats where shinner logic on this falls down if it was not boston it could potentially be anything else.

      in one scence i respect them for it, they are not chasing an amnesty in legislation as it would mean the brits getting it in the same legislation. Even though they have it de facto but still, the shinners do not have the right to make that deal for families who lost loved ones to the british states armed forces, it is their right to fordge their own path but shinners should be open about it and not put it down to dark forces, say this is the british state playing poker, they are going to keep lifting ex IRA combatants until we start calling for an amnesty for everyone, call it for what it is, british terrorism.

      • Agreed, Shea. Yes the wishes of families and communities must be respected. However leaders must lead and a general amnesty is the only way out of this potentially perilous mess.

        The question must be asked. When Irish young men and women see the survivors and families of the Ballymurphy dismissed out of hand by the British government while Gerry Adams is under detention (and the DUP are being wined and dined in Downing Street) what are they supposed to think? And how many will take their resentment and anger and find more direct avenues of channelling it?

        When Fitzjames Horse talks about living in an interstice between conflict you have to wonder if he has it right…

        • it appears they have taken a decision, just not one you agree with, that is leadership, they want a conviction against a british soldier. As adams said ‘i am an activist this is part of my life’ basically means so what and a signal to others to expect the same.

          the ingredients for conflict always exist. young irish men and women look at the situation you outlined and either accept their servitude or they do not, same as always.

        • General amnesty – does that mean that murderers and war criminals will walk free?

          • From 1969 to 2005 some 20,000 people were imprisoned for actions relating to the conflict in the north-east of Ireland. Of that 20,000 the number of serving British soldiers imprisoned was less than 10 (excluding the UDR militia). Of that 10 only 4 were convicted of murder. Ian Thain served two years of a life sentence for murder, was released, immediately rejoined his regiment and was promoted to become a military instructor in Britain as well as serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. James Fisher and Mark Wright were also sentenced to life for murder, they were released after three years and rejoined their regiments serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lee Clegg served two years for murder, was released and rejoined his regiment going on to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. All four were given a “hero’s welcome” upon returning home to their families and communities, and were given well-publicised receptions by the British military. In all four cases the leadership of the British Armed Forces, senior government ministers and the national news media campaigned for their releases and rehabilitation into society and the military. It is also understood that both during and after their imprisonments their families were financially cared for by the British state and all four were “compensated” by the British Army with back-pay, promotions, etc.

    • Fair point, Sharon, though unfortunately that may be the eventual outcome of the whole debacle. The loss here is potentially far greater than that of Adams’ standing or whatever. The damage here is far worse in terms of feelings within the broad Republican movement. The levels of vitriol, animosity and paranoia are terrible, within and without SF. While Republicans are busy taking chunks out of each other the real enemy can sit back and relax.

  3. posted something similar yesterday about Paul Larkin’s viewpoint

    • Apologies, I missed that one. Here is a link for those who wish to read it Ben’s take on the controversy. Someone just pointed out to me that Slugger O’Toole has posted something similar to both our features. Great minds think alike! 😉

      Or we are all inside the same information soap bubble! 😦


  4. Have just been reading some previous stuff over on broken elbow and although appreciating that Ed may fell aggrieved that his reputation has been damaged he is I think doing it more damage by not accepting that things have gone pear shaped due largely to the project being ill-conceived. There is no mention anywhere of the legal advice Ed sought before embarking on the project.

    Going to war with Noel Doran and blaming the Irish News is perhaps not either fair or sensible and accusing them of not giving him a roper right to reply doesn’t look great when he has suspended moderate commenter (such as myself) from his own public blog.

    The really personal stuff he(?) has directed at Roy Greenslade (calling him Greenslime) does not look very professional.

    • The attacks on Roy Greenslade were uncharacteristically vitriolic. I wrote something about it at the time. Totally over-the-top and a lot of political baggage was in those obvious feelings of enmity. The criticisms of the Irish News were on slightly firmer ground from what I could see. I have a few links to that here and here focusing on Anthony McIntyre’s strange experiences with the newspaper and the NUJ.

      The role of the Irish Central website in the whole Boston Tapes affair was fairly deserving of criticism. In terms of journalistic standards it is at the bottom of the pile. The headlines of the last few days claiming that “Dissidents” had attempted to “bomb” Dublin city-centre is indicative of its amateurish, sensationalist style of journalism. And accusations of cop-an’-paste reporting seem well-founded. I’ve seen numerous articles containing sentences and paragraphs lifted from other peoples works and without attribution (including bloggers). One can’t help but question the political agenda and the obsession with dramatising the activities of the “Dissidents”.


    Athbhlagáladh é seo ar Bampots Utd.

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