The Boston College Oral History Project has featured high in the media recently but for all the wrong reasons. The project consists of testimonies relating to the troubles from contributors from both republican and loyalist backgrounds and at least one member of the British Security forces. The project was carried out on the understanding that the testimonies would be released after the death of each contributor. The purpose of the project was to allow people to tell their stories and record information from primary sources.
However in an unforeseen twist the ethos of this project was compromised. This year 11 interviews were handed over to the PSNI by Boston College after a lengthy court battle to protect the integrity of the archive. These interviews are said to be significant in the inquiry into the abduction and execution of mother of ten Jean McConville. On March 18th 77 year old Ivor Bell was arrested and later charged with aiding and abetting the murder of Jean McConville, other people have since been arrested and released without charge. These people include the President of Sinn Fein Gerry Adams who went to Antrim PSNI station voluntarily for interview, and was released without charge.
They say history is written by the victors. Unfortunately all too often when history is written it is an exercise in revisionism, and is that way for a particular purpose whether it be a face saving exercise or a blatant attempt to hide the truth.
In recent times the Boston College Oral History Project has been described as a “touting programme” and participants described as being “anti Sinn Fein and “anti peace process” with the contents of the project referred to by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams as dubious. Now unless Mr. Adams was afforded the time to listen to each recording then how does he know?
These allegations are not only one-sided coming from those who have a vested and political interest but are very damaging and dangerous to the contributors involved or alleged to be involved in the project. My question to those behind such allegations is have you ever considered that contributions may be detailed in the first party without naming other people? Ultimately are these people not entitled to put their perspective on historical record? If not can someone explain why?
There are a range of historical archives that bring periods of our history to life, first hand accounts that provide insight into the motivations and actions of people involved at different stages of the conflict from the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Irish civil war through to the IRA's border campaign and the most recent phase known as 'The Troubles'.
These have been in many forms, memoirs such as those by Ernie O'Malley whose books 'On another Man's wound' his record of the war of independence and 'The singing flame', O'Malley's writings about his role in the Irish Civil war are both critically acclaimed records of a period of Irish history that we may not have the same insight into had we not had O'Malley's insightful works to read.
|From Christopher Brady's Statement|
The Free State Government's Bureau of Military History have complied an archive of primary source material for the revolutionary period in Ireland from 1913 to 1921.The Bureau of Military History Collection is a collection of 1,773 witness statements. This archive is among the most important primary sources of information on this period available anywhere in the world.
If we didn't have access to such materials how would we know that just after the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was printed that Countess Markievicz was threatening to shoot Eoin O'Neill, only to be warned off by James Connolly? Or would we know that due to the lack of type fonts that a letter 'E' used in the document had to be made from a letter 'F' and some sealing wax? If it hadn't been for the testimony of Christopher Brady who was involved in printing the Proclamation.
The recently released book 'In the footsteps of Anne' has female ex-prisoners tell their stories and give a vivid insight into life as republican prisoners. Would we have an archive of the stories of the hardship and camaraderie if those women hadn't told their stories and given their first hand accounts?
The problem with the Boston College archive is not that people have given their stories to a historical archive, the problem is one of control. It would seem that only sanitised versions of primary sources are acceptable in line with party and governmental positions.
As an outcome of the Good Friday Agreement people who were involved in certain aspects of the ' Pre 1998 Troubles' could end up with a criminal conviction and face a 2 year jail term. These people could include prominent members of Sinn Fein, the same Sinn Fein who have said if people have information on criminal activity they should contact the PSNI.
In a 2002 article, Colm Barton of Derry Sinn Fein published in An Phoblacht entitled 'Derry SDLP's policing shame' Barton questions the SDLP position on policing. In light of the mixed messages coming from Sinn Fein and their now on/off support for the PSNI Colm's article makes for interesting reading'
In the article Colm states 'Surely their own voters deserve a lucid explanation as to why, on the one hand, the SDLP leadership claims to be part of the policing board in order to effect change and, on the other hand, their locally elected group has no problem cosying up to the RUC in Derry? Which is it? The position of the local SDLP is so inconsistent it is ludicrous.'
Could it be that the wider public now deserve a lucid explanation from Sinn Fein as to why on one hand their party leadership calls on people to give information to the PSNI, but then state that the PSNI has a dark side, a cabal, is this dark side accountable to the District Policing Partnerships? Should people stop giving information to the PSNI about crime, or just anything that might involve anyone in Sinn Fein?
|What constitutes touting?|
And does the wider public deserve a lucid explanation from Sinn Fein as to why on one hand they tell people to give information to the PSNI but on the other hand cries foul and makes allegations of political policing and touting when the PSNI obtain information and use it in an ongoing investigation. If someone has information on 'criminal activity' pre 1998 and they go to the PSNI with this information, is it 'touting' or are they just acting upon Sinn Fein's advice?
This position as Colm says about the SDLP 'is so inconsistent it is ludicrous.'