Brooke speaks with Jack Dunn, the Director of the Boston College News and Public Affairs office about what Boston College has done to protect the tapes from the Belfast Project and the future of academic oral history projects.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jack Dunn is the director of the News and Public Affairs office at Boston College. He says Boston College did everything in its power to protect the interviews.
JACK DUNN: We hired the best lawyer available to fight the subpoenas, and we won a significant court case that reduced the number of recorded materials from 85 to 11 interviews that were ultimately required to go over to the Police Services of Northern Ireland.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: McIntyre says that rather than lobbying politicians to protect the manuscripts, the College, instead, set about undermining him and Moloney. Now, you claim, I think, that the comments by McIntyre and Moloney hurt your efforts to protect the manuscript.
JACK DUNN: Oh, they did. What happened is the first subpoena occurred shortly after Ed Moloney published his book, Voices from the Grave, and after his video of the same name was released in Ireland. There’s no doubt in our mind that the M - children of Jean McConville, who were victims themselves in this, they heard that there was a university that had, that had in its archive recordings of conversations with IRA members that could shed light on their mother’s murder, so they apparently sought the help of the Police Services of Northern Ireland to issue a subpoena to the United States.
And then, to our astonishment, Ed Moloney said in interviews in American newspapers that Boston College had burned the tapes. And that sort of rhetoric that we might somehow burn materials, which is something no university would ever consider, no doubt prompted the second subpoena.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: McIntyre says that the loss to history of this whole episode is very grave. It irreparably harms the possibility that people will really know what happened during the Troubles, and Boston College should have had the courage to stand up and engage in an act of civil disobedience.
JACK DUNN: It’s just a clash of cultures between an American University that’s obviously going to be respondent to a US court subpoena and an individual from Northern Ireland with a long criminal record who just seems to have a utter disregard for the legal process and a suspicion of any authority.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What about the issue of the loss to history?
JACK DUNN: The shame of it is that Anthony conducted the interviews with the IRA members, and those who’ve heard the tapes said that his work was very weak. Kevin O’Neill from Boston College said that he was stunned by how leading the questions were.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You feel he conducted shoddy interviews?
JACK DUNN: A lot of critics, such as Danny Morrison, a former IRA member himself, had been critical of Anthony McIntyre, suggesting that he interviewed only people who held the same viewpoint that he did, people who would be critical of Gerry Adams.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: McIntyre’s pushed back and said that the efforts by the Irish police to get the tape is part of a campaign against Gerry Adams, so everyone is charging this is a campaign against Gerry Adams, but perhaps not admissible as evidence, right?
JACK DUNN: Probably not. I think Mr. McIntyre and I would agree on that, that the information would probably not have value in a court of law. As we all have pointed out, one of the great ironies is that Boston College, in this very Burns Library, holds the recordings of conversations that led to the various paramilitary groups laying down their arms, and the condition is they will not be available to anyone for 30 years. The Police Services of Northern Ireland have gone after the tapes of the IRA members, but never requested tapes of the UVF members.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Has Boston College changed its procedures for gathering oral histories?
JACK DUNN: I think everyone in the world will change the way they undertake oral histories. When this project began in 2000, everyone followed the Columbia University model, which said oral histories really wouldn’t be subject to institutional review board. I, I think that has changed. There would certainly be a heightened scrutiny today. All of the participants entered into this agreement with good intentions. Some good came of it. Clearly, mistakes were made on all four of the, the parties involved. And the reality is the promise of the Belfast Project has been lessened. The political reality clearly got in the way, and now I think we have all learned a need for heightened caution, as anyone embarks on such a project.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jack, thank you very much.
JACK DUNN: Thanks for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jack Dunn directs the News and Public Affairs office at Boston College.
WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820 are New York's flagship public radio
stations, broadcasting the finest programs from NPR, PRI and American Public Media, as well as a wide range of award-winning local
programming. WNYC is a division of
New York Public Radio.