Lord Paul Bew tries in vain to whitewash his Boston tapes and "Sticky" past
Believe it or not – Lord Bew is Chair of the UK’s Committee on Standards in Public Life.
In the Sunday Independent today, Lord Paul Bew has issued a poor apologia for his role in the Boston College oral history debacle. It neither befits his role as one of Ireland’s leading academics nor his position as Chair of the UK’s Committee on Standards in Public Life, whose principles he has clearly breached. If this story, indeed this scandal, becomes a public issue in the UK, I cannot see how Bew can continue in his £500.00 per day role as the UK’s primary guardian of ethics for public officials.
In today’s Sunday Independent article, Lord Bew presents himself as a moderate but, from an Irish nationalist perspective (held by the vast majority of people on the island of Ireland), his long political record shows not only that he was clearly a protagonist for the union with Britain but also, as we shall see below, an aggressive opponent of the Sinn Féin leadership. Bew’s article can be read here:
Below – I deal with Bew’s apologia in the sequence of points as they appear in his article. Bew’s comments from the article are in italics:
• Last week Boston College announced the final collapse of its archival project which had been designed to store interviews with loyalists and republicans for the use of future scholars who wanted to deepen their historical understanding of the Troubles. Presumably, Boston has now learnt the bitter lesson of that well-known aphorism, 'No good deed goes unpunished"
So for Lord Bew, the Boston oral history was a “good deed” that failed. There are approximately three people who believe this read of events – Lord Bew, Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre. But Bew is being disingenuous here. Boston College did not just announce the “collapse” of the archival project, which he instigated, Boston College disowned the project and he knows it. Last week the college issued a strongly worded statement to the US’s Chronicle of Higher Education saying Bew’s project had never been part of the history department’s remit:
“Successive department chairs had not been informed of the project, nor had they or the department been consulted on the merits of the effort or the appropriate procedures to be followed in carrying out such a fraught and potentially controversial venture.”
In my view, the above statement by Boston College Hierarchy captures the recklessness inherent in the way Lord Bew set up this project.
• Its [Boston College’s PL] prestige has grown in recent years and a good part of the growing reputation was down to the beautiful new Burns Library, in particular its acquisition of archives of an Irish or Catholic significance.
Neither the academics at Boston College, nor indeed the world generally, will find Bew’s soothing blandishments credible. Lord Bew has helped to tarnish not enhance the college’s reputation. I use that word deliberately because Peter Weiler, Professor Emeritus and Chair of the history department until 2003, told the Irish Independent a few days ago that the project has "tarnished the reputation" of the History Department. Weiler went on 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. Where was the academic oversight? Was it a good idea to be interviewing people who were involved in actions considered to be criminal? Serious errors were made.”
• As the Visiting Professor in the Burns Library 1999-2000, it was part of my duty to recommend new archives.
This is an admission, effectively, that Lord Bew launched the now infamous oral history project but Bew then makes a statement that flies in the face of evidence that he has never previously denied. Until today.
• As a visiting scholar I did not appoint Ed Moloney, Anthony McIntyre, or indeed Wilson McArthur who covered the Loyalist archives. However, I was an admirer of Moloney's detailed knowledge of republicanism which was widely respected in Ireland.
Why would Bew mention what he sees as Ed Moloney’s attributes if he had no part in selecting him to run the Boston project? His denial of any involvement in selecting Ed Moloney smacks of political backtracking following the mess that he helped create. All other sources including Ed Moloney and Boston College say different. Look at this article written in January this year by journalist Beth McMurtrie “Secrets From Belfast” – where she highlights Paul Bew’s role. Boston College clearly assisted McMurtrie with this article and to my knowledge Bew has never thus far challenged it:
“So it was not surprising when, in the spring of 2000, a visiting scholar from Queen’s University Belfast, Paul Bew, suggested to Mr. O’Neill that he consider documenting the recent history of Northern Ireland. Mr. Bew recommended Mr. Moloney, an intense and seemingly fearless journalist who was not averse to risky projects. Having spent decades getting to know people on both sides of the conflict, he was in the process of writing A Secret History of the IRA, a behind-the-scenes look at how the organization had shifted from the gun to the ballot box in its quest for influence.”
Can we be clear about this - Mr. Bew recommended Mr. Moloney.
The strong feeling that Paul Bew has effectively dumped Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre in today’s apologia is confirmed when we have been given clear evidence from Ed Moloney himself that Lord Bew was indeed the man who selected him for the Boston tapes project This key information is provided in Ed Moloney’s own book Voices From The Grave, which was published in 2010. It is unthinkable that Paul Bew did not read this book, nor see its clear statement in the introduction that he, and I quote, assisted in an assessment of the information contained in the recorded interviews.
“Paul Bew, politics professor and senior political adviser to a Northern Ireland first minister, together with two historians who remain anonymous, assisted in an assessment of the information contained in the recorded interviews.”
Moloney goes on to thank Paul, now Lord, Bew for his "crucial" support at the outset.
• Strangely, McIntyre became my own personal peace process with the provisional republican movement, which he left only in 1998. McIntyre got a first class degree at the Open University in prison and then a PhD when he got out.
Again this is extremely disingenuous. McIntyre has not had a connection with the “provisional republican movement” for the best part of two decades and was already questioning Sinn Féin’s peace strategy before he left the movement in 1998. In other words, Sinn Féin had no connection with the “personal peace process” that clearly took place between Bew and McIntyre. Nor does Bew point out that he was McIntyre's adviser for his PHD and that it was an anti peace process tract from a dissident republican ethos. Bew shows his hand by seeking to present McIntyre as a voice of reason and impartiality but he must be aware that as early as 2000, a respected member of Boston College staff gave a damning critique of McIntyre's interviews with IRA activists in terms of their bias and leading of interviewees:
“There is a serious problem with the interviewing technique. The interviewer frequently leads his subjects not only into areas of discussion [which he should], but also into modes of analysis [which he should try to avoid], and occasionally even conclusions [which he must avoid!]”
The whole of this excoriating critique of McIntyre (and therefore Bew behind him) can be read here:
• On my return to Belfast I ceased to work for Boston College. I did not know who was interviewed, much less hear any of the tapes.
We have already noted the contention of Ed Moloney and Boston College that Bew assisted in evaluating the interview tapes but more evidence of Bew’s continued and central involvement in the project was published in the Daily Telegraph almost a fortnight ago. Again, Bew has failed to contradict this. The article clearly states that Bew and Moloney organised the interviewing of IRA “foot soldiers”.
“The chain of events that led to Mr Adams’s arrest began soon after the 1998 Good Friday agreement, which granted amnesty to all paramilitary prisoners from the Troubles. Paul Bew (now Lord Bew), the Northern Irish historian, spent a year working at Boston College in Massachusetts in 1999, where the idea of an oral history of the Troubles first took root. When he returned to Northern Ireland in 2000, he discussed the idea with the journalist Ed Moloney, and they agreed to set up the Belfast Project, secretively approaching and interviewing “foot soldiers”, as Mr Moloney called them, from republican and loyalist paramilitary organisations.”
The above article was written by the Daily Telegraph’s Chief Reporter Gordon Rayner and can be read here:
• I notice there is much talk about the alleged imbalance in those chosen to give testimony. It would have been part of the job of any future scholar to interrogate the material critically just as they do today with any other archives.
I find the above comment astounding, coming as it does from a very experienced academic. Not least because of the explosive nature of the material in question, the job of the scholars who set up the project was to interrogate their material critically before a word was spoken on tape. The fact is that Lord Bew was well aware of the imbalanced nature of the selection process not only because of who he chose to run the oral history project, but also because he refers to Moloney having interviewed IRA people with an “axe to grind” against Adams in his 2002 review of Moloney’s book on the IRA. Bew was well aware that these “axe grinders” include the very same people whom, according to many sources, Bew and Moloney picked as interviewees for the Boston project oral history project. In itself, Bew’s review of Moloney’s IRA book represents a savage attack on Gerry Adams in which Bew describes him as “smelling like rotten cabbage”. The very title of Bew’s review reveals his and Ed Moloney’s agenda – “At last we know the human cost of Gerry Adams”. Precisely.
It can be read here:
• At the very beginning in 1999-2000 I was motivated by a sense that the Troubles were over and should never be allowed to happen again and that the more knowledge and raw material was left behind for future generations to study the less chance there would be of another repeat.
Again does Lord Bew think we are fools to present himself as some sort of benign observer? He was after all an adviser to David Trimble and the Unionist Party during the peace negotiations that led up to the St Andrew's agreement in 2006 and constantly agitated against a peace agreement that might be too “green” for Unionists and cede too much ground to Sinn Féin and Dublin. Perhaps more importantly, Bew was for a long time, an influential member of the Official Republican Movement - the sworn enemy of Sinn Féin. The Official Republican Movement morphed into the so called “Workers Party”. In June 1991, I made a film for the BBC which not only revealed that the Workers Party still had an armed wing, but also raised a widespread allegation regarding this party's links to British Intelligence. Or as the widely respected political commentator Brian Feeney (who is no lover of Sinn Féin) put it in the film, the Workers Party was a "pseudo gang" run by Britain's Secret Services. Lord Bew has obviously maintained his “rotten cabbage” view of Gerry Adams but it is fair to ask, given his political antecedents, whether he has maintained those alleged links with British Intelligence? Bew’s innate sympathies with Britain’s military and intelligence services are evidenced by his role as President of the Airey Neave Trust. For while there can be no doubt that Airey Neave was a brave soldier for Britain, he had close links to the intelligence services and, on “Communism” and Ireland, Airey Neave was a hawk who continually called for an iron fist policy against the nationalist community and their agitation for an end to exclusive Unionist rule in Ireland. Bew’s profile can be viewed at the Airey Neave Trust website (as Baron Bew of Donegore):
In the aftermath of the Boston tapes fiasco, which led directly to the arrest of Gerry Adams and could have meant the end of the peace process, compounded by his attempt today to whitewash his own political history and core involvement in this “Get Adams” process, Lord Bew is surely unfit to hold the post as the UK’s leading adviser on ethics in public life?
Carrick, Gaoth Dobhair
Mí Bealtaine, 2014