Fintan O’Toole’s amnesia over Paul Bew in the Irish Times
The forgetful Fintan O'Toole
In Saturday’s Irish Times, that scion of democracy Fintan O’Toole sprang to the defence of Paul Bew who has been heavily criticised for his role in the Boston College fiasco. Anyone who has the temerity to question Bew’s political motives, he wailed, is an opponent, not only of scholarship, but democracy itself. In other words the people who question Bew are the enemies of democracy. They are also, readers will note, "insidious":
"Insidious suggestions that he was part of a political conspiracy are not just wrong in themselves but are an attack on academic and intellectual freedom."
That’s some statement.
This surprisingly slipshod article can be read here:
In this article, Fintan O’Toole follows the trend set by Paul Bew himself in a Sunday Independent article the week before by being more interesting in the things he leaves out.
For example, just like Paul Bew, O’Toole rightly quotes Boston College’s statement distancing itself from the oral history project, but he omits to mention that, amongst many others, Peter Weiler, Professor Emeritus and Chair of the college's history department until 2003, issued a statement saying that there had been no attempt at balance in the project and that interview questions had been “leading”.
"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.”
Why would O’Toole ignore this statement? Or the statement from BC academic Kevin O’Neill in 2002 saying the project was “corrupted” because of that same bias and lack of voices from mainstream republicanism?
Fintan O’Toole writes an article that sees fit to lecture us on academic and intellectual freedom but omits to mention that it was Paul Bew’s project that had curtailed that very freedom. It’s no use claiming that Paul Bew had no influence on the project. Bew chose Ed Moloney and Antony McIntyre to operate it, even though he was well aware of their fierce opposition to Gerry Adams. Like it or not, the Sinn Féin president was a vital part of the peace process, so Bew made a decision in choosing Moloney and Antony McIntyre that many would see as reckless given the tinderbox nature of the project, and now more especially given what we know about the type of interviewees that were used and the biased nature of the interview process.
Just to rubberstamp Bew's central involvement in this failed oral history project, Bew acted as a witness to Anthony McIntyre's employment contract with Boston College.
is it not legitimate to question Bew's motives for picking Moloney and McIntyre? Of course it is.
O’Toole also forgets to mention another key aspect to Bew’s role in the Boston College debacle and that is Paul Bew’s long term role as a guru in the Official Republican Movement, which morphed into the Workers Party. O’Toole must be aware of this because he too is a former Workers Party supporter, a movement that has always detested Sinn Féin. So much so that the ORM’s armed wing (that wasn’t supposed to exist) was still shooting Sinn Féin members in the 1990s. I know this because I made a film for the BBC about it.
It seems that full and unfettered discourse suddenly falls silent when the Stickies are mentioned. For some reason, former WP members and supporters very rarely mention this membership or support on their CV as they rise through the professional and media classes (as most of them have).
In Bew’s case, his former role as a WP guru is important because it nails O’Toole’s attempt to portray Bew as an impartial observer. In fact, whilst Bew’s impressive record as an academic and historian is undoubted, he has never been regarded as an impartial figure in Irish affairs. Along with his present day academic colleague and former Workers Party comrade Henry Patterson, Bew has made no secret of planting his philosophical and political flag in the neo-Unionist camp. In his role as a political adviser, meanwhile, Bew has always sought to diminish the influence of the South in general and Sinn Féin in particular on the lives of Northern Unionists. Bew has moved effortlessly from the Stickies to being a guru for David Trimble to becoming Baron Bew of Donegore. Are we supposed to pretend that this implies impartiality where Ireland is concerned? If I may use street parlance, O'Toole is having a laugh.
I have already quoted Bew as describing Gerry Adams as smelling putridly in his 2002 review of Ed Moloney’s book on the IRA. Thus:
“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."
See Cic Saor Lord Paul Bew tries in vain to whitewash his Boston tapes and "Sticky" past - http://www.fadooda.com/index.php?itemid=624
Bew's "rotten cabbage" article can be read here:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/3582298/At-last-we-know-the-human-cost-of-Gerry-Adams.html see here
So instead of histrionics at the very idea of criticising Paul Bew, it’s important to accept that he has questions to answer, precisely because of his clear political leanings, and Bew's own bias against Gerry Adams.
It is not Lord Bew’s critics that are trying to curtail debate Fintan, it’s yourself and the Irish Times - our country’s alleged Paper of Record.
A poor article by a writer with a brilliant mind.
Carrick, Gaoth Dobhair
Mí Bealtaine 2014