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Pól Ó Lorcáin
Paul Larkin

Chroniclers are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time and place.
Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge, Chapter The Ninth

My response to a counter terrorism expert's article on the Belfast oral history project

Regarding Timothy Hoyt’s article on the Belfast oral history project for the "War on the Rocks" website

Timothy D. Hoyt is Professor of Strategy and Policy and John Nicholas Brown Chair of Counterterrorism at the U.S. Naval War College, and his article can be read here -
-----------Paul Larkin’s response:

Professor Hoyt has written a quite fair and interesting article on the Belfast oral history project, particularly for a non-Irish audience. However, I'm surprised that there is no mention of the fact that Boston College has completely disowned the Belfast oral history project.

In so doing College elders made a direct reference to the highly questionable selection of IRA members interviewed - i.e. the overwhelming majority being anti-Gerry Adams "dissidents". There was no attempt at balance in other words. This, for example, is what Professor Emeritus and former chair of Boston College’s history department Peter Weiler had to say:

“The project didn't observe normal academic procedures into projects of oral history. Questions asked were often very leading, and there was no attempt at balance.”
See for example:

Professor Hoyt further compounds this oversight by making a clearly incorrect statement when describing the former IRA activist Brendan Hughes thus:

"Brendan Hughes, the latter a close friend, ally, and confidante of Adams throughout the Troubles."

It is a matter of record that Brendan Hughes, whilst being a close ally of Gerry Adams for a large part of the Troubles, became his bitter, not to say vituperative, opponent in the late 1990s. In fact, until his death in February 2008, Hughes would sometimes publicise his anti-Adams views in a website called "The Blanket", which was operated by none other than Anthony McIntyre who was the oral history project’s interviewer for IRA activists. It was McIntyre, in other words, who interviewed Brendan Hughes for the Boston College project. McIntyre is himself a longstanding and bitter critic of Gerry Adams. (See Boston College's critique above regarding balance and academic procedures.)

In other words, Brendan Hughes fiercely opposed Gerry Adams for a decade or more. That is some oversight on the part of Professor Hoyt.

The article is also incorrect is saying that Ed Moloney initiated the oral history project. The records show that the person who proposed the project in the first instance, whatever about his subsequent role, was Lord Paul Bew. Lord Bew was Anthony McIntyre's PHD adviser at Queens University Belfast

I might say finally that, whilst few commentators doubt that Gerry Adams was a senior member of the IRA, what happened to Adams during his arrest (where police sought to pin general blame on him for offences as a "manager" of the IRA) gives Adams a clearly explicable reason for not making such an admission of IRA membership. I am not a lawyer or attorney, but I believe that citizens in the United States still have the right not to incriminate themselves.

Is the 5th Amendment not a cornerstone of US law?

Paul Larkin



Thank your for your kinds words and thoughtful comments. Allow me to respond to them.

First, I agree with you on the shift in Brendan Hughes' political opinions. The sentence does read "...during the Troubles", which I hope you will not think is too semantic. His public split with Adams became apparent after the Good Friday Agreement. The point I was trying to make - and again was writing for a general audience - was that Hughes was extremely close with Adams throughout the conflict, and therefore is likely to have had particular insight into his role or non-role in the McConville execution and disappearance.

Your point on the apparent (because I do not know who all the interviewees were) anti-Adams slant in the BC interview process is a very good one. It may be the result of elements of bias (certainly some Republicans have accused Ed Moloney and Anthongy McIntyre, who did many of the Republican interviews, of a hatred of Adams). It may also be the result of a small sample of people who were willing to talk - those with the biggest grievances may be willing to speak up earlier. I am not connected with any in the BC project, but reading Moloney's book (as I pointed out in the article) and even its revised edition I do not see evidence of a stark bias against Adams.

More importantly, though, I am not sure that irrevocably taints whatever evidence is available in the interviews (at least for the general reader). Even if the interviewers and the interviewees hate Adams, the testimony they offer is important (and deserves careful review) simply because they were there at the time. I doubt the evidence will lead to formal charges - Price and Hughes are both dead, and the way the evidence was acquired is probably very problematic from a legal perspective (I am not a lawyer). Still, it may be an important part of the truth - and that was a major prompt for me to venture into this discussion. How much truth and how soon is an issue that haunts historians, Ireland, and students of conflict termination.

On Boston College's disowning of the project - I originally had a much longer section on that issue in the first draft, but for reasons of length and word count I had to edit it out. In addition, I am not sure I fully understand all the details and ugly elements of the rise and fall of the Oral History Project. Given those constraints, I instead raised the issue briefly and linked to the Chronicle of Higher Education article, which provides a fairly detailed account of the issue.

You are correct thta Lord Paul Bew originally proposed the project (this is noted in the Chronicle article). Moloney took it on as a project, oversaw the researchers, and published portions of the interviews. To the best of my knowledge, Lord Bew played no further role in the project. My intent was to highlight Moloney's role (since he was the face of the project), but in this case I clearly did not adequately express that distinction.

Thanks again for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate feedback, especially from Ireland.

Tim Hoyt
by: Timothy Hoyt (contact) - 15 May '14 - 14:40
Dear Tim - thanks for responding so promptly. As you will see from my recent blogs, my view is that Lord Bew holds a greater degree of responsibility for the Boston fiasco than he would care to admit. You are right the material gathered from the IRA side, as it were, is indeed of interest, but as Kevin O'Neill's 2002 memo shows (after he reviewed the material), the interviews were "corrupted" because of leading questions and a lack of academic care and impartiality. If Lord Bew did indeed pick Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre for the project as Burns Library staff have stated, it was incumbent upon Lord Bew, in my view and given their trenchant anti-Adams views (of which Lord Bew was aware) to ensure that voices from mainstream Irish republicanism were also represented for this potentially explosive project. This is precisely the point made in Kevin O'Neill's 2002 memo - see

Best regards and thanks once again for enlightening the Cic Saor readership with your response.

(I might say that American academics, of whatever opinion, are far more democratic and responsive to debate than their Irish and British counterparts in my experience).

Paul Larkin
by: Pol (contact) - 15 May '14 - 15:27


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Title:  My response to a counter terrorism expert's article on the Belfast oral history project
Date posted: 15 May '14 - 11:44
Filed under: General
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