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Boston College has undermined all researchers and journalists who rely on confidential sources

(Liam Clarke, Belfast Telegraph)

The Boston College imbroglio undermines the assurances journalists and researchers can give to confidential sources.

Briefly Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre persuaded several former para militants to tell their stories under guarantees of anonymity until death. Some talked candidly about their crimes and pointed the finger at others.

Brendan "the Dark" Hughes, the IRA commander, for instance, talked freely of the murder and secret burial of Jean McConville.

Other contributors chose to reveal their testimonies before they died. Richard O'Rawe, former PRO of protesting republican prisoners in the Maze, went public with his account of a secret British offer to end the 1981 hunger strike first given to the archive. As a result he lived to see himself vindicated by subsequent releases of government papers and the diary of Brendan Duddy, the go between who brokered the deal.

Dolours Price, former bomber and IRA activist gave an interview rehearsing much of what she said in the archive. She accused Gerry Adams the Sinn Féin President, of involvement in the murder of Jean McConville, something Mr Adams has always denied.

This interview is what did the damage. The Historical Enquiries Team, who were reviewing the McConville murder, referred the matter to the PSNI who then issued subpoenas in the US to get the Price and Hughes tapes as well as anything bearing on the murder.

Boston College hadn't foreseen Ms Price breaking ranks like this, and, going by court papers, naively and stupidly believed that nobody would be prosecuted for troubles offences anyway. The College was only bound to maintain confidentiality to the limit of US law and folded at the first judgement against them. Shouldn't Mr Moloney and Mr McIntyre have known? That is what the media commentator Roy Greenslade and Danny Morrison, the former Sinn Féin press officer argue.

My sympathy is with the researchers because I have been that solider. When I worked for Sunday Times I gave assurances to confidential contacts, like the military intelligence officer Ian Hurst, that their identities would not be revealed without their agreement.

As it turned out the paper honoured my guarantees to the letter, sometimes it fought long legal battles to do so. However it if had decided not to there is not much I could have done except protest.

That is the position Mr McIntyre and Mr Moloney are in. They have discovered the hard way that big institutions can turn their backs on you.

January 25, 2012

This article appeared in the January 18, 2012 edition of the Belfast Telegraph.

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