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John McDonagh (JM) and Martin Galvin (MG) interview Gerard Hodgins (GH) via telephone from Belfast about the Boston College tapes case against prominent Irish Republican Ivor Bell. (begins time stamp ~ 36:35)
MG: We are talking – we had an appropriate lead-in because somebody who knows what it’s like being inside a prison – former hunger striker, former political prisoner in Long Kesh, Gerard Hodgins, is on the line. Gerard, are you with us?
GH: Good Day! Good Morning, Martin! How are you?
MG: Well, it’s Good Afternoon now with the five hour time difference. Gerard, we have a number of things we want to cover with you and we can think of no better man to cover them with but first of all – there is an historic trial or legal proceeding moving forward. We’ve had trials of people from decades-old offences. We had the trial of Gerry McGeough, who was the first person brought back for a decades-old offence for a Republican, we had Seamus Kearney and we now have a trial – well we’re not yet at the trial stage – but we have a legal proceeding charging Ivor Bell, a very prominent Irish Republican from the Belfast area, that case was in court last week. I saw the BBC footage. You were in court with him. Could you tell us a little bit about this case and why it is so important to our audience?
GH: Well, Ivor is being charged in connection with the disappearance and the killing of a lady called Jean McConville in 1972. Part of the evidence against him is based upon tapes that the British security got from Boston College. These were tapes, oral histories, of participants in the struggle here which were given under, they believed, under conditions of confidentiality that they would never be released until their death. However, the British security services went on a plundering fishing expedition through the Boston College archive and as a result they have a tape of a man they believe to be Ivor Bell. They haven’t conclusively proved that it is Ivor Bell but they call him ‘Witness Z’, or Witness Zed as we say in this part of the world, and they’re saying in this tape he talks about events that happened around that time and he has been charged with being involved in the killing of Jean McConville. Now, although the British have charged him with this offence, they know that Ivor Bell had nothing to do with it. Yes, Ivor Bell is a lifelong Irish Republican. He has been active in Republican politics from the 1950’s and he was a senior leader within the IRA in the early 1970’s and at the time of Jean McConville being kidnapped and disappeared Ivor Bell wasn’t in Belfast on that day and so he had no part in neither the commission of it, the ordering of it or anything else to do with it.
MG: Alright. Why do you think the British are moving in this case? Is there a political agenda behind it?
GH: The political agenda I would see behind it was about two or three years back, John Larkin, the man who was the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, he came up with the proposal that a line be drawn in the sand into all inquiries into the past and everybody just move on which in itself sounds reasonable. However, the ‘line in the sand’ would cover many atrocities like the Bloody Sunday killings, the Loughinisland massacres and hundreds of other massacres and killings by British state agents on mainly Irish civilian people. They killed very few actually IRA members but they they orchestrated a ‘dirty war‘. They imported arms for the Loyalist paramilitaries. They gave the Loyalist paramilitaries intelligence about Nationalist people and sent them off to kill us. So drawing a line in the sand would cover the British lovely from all those investigations that are coming down the road. But at the last minute that proposal – most of the political parties agreed with it – once it was pointed out to the Shinners (Sinn Féin) and the Shinners were criticised over having to give amnesty to the British they withdrew their support from it. So I would suspect that the political ramifications behind Ivor Bell is that the British are clearly sending the message to the upper echelons within Sinn Féin that if they don’t come to an agreement on the past then the future could be a bit messy for them.
MG: Ivor Bell is accused, as you say, under the tape – if you believe that it is him on the tape – and by the way it’s ironic that he’s there as the letter ‘Z’. There was a famous political movie, Z, years ago that dealt with Greece and that was supposed to be a classic miscarriage of justice (inaudible) at the time it was known. But who is he accused of soliciting, aiding or abetting in this incident that happened in 1972? How can he be accused of that if no one else is charged or there’s no one else as identified that he was aiding, soliciting, abetting – getting somebody to take some action against Jean McConville?
GH: That’s the amasing thing about the case, Martin. As you rightly say, that there is nobody else who has been arrested and actually charged with either kidnapping that woman, holding her against her will or killing her. Yet Ivor, who wasn’t in Belfast on the day that this happened, is somehow charged with soliciting it and arranging for people to do it. It just doesn’t follow. The trial should be interesting to see what way the – if they go the whole way with the trial – to see what way the British try to present it and present the case of blame on a man who is clearly blameless. But as I said just before there there’s more of a political implication behind this and, in my view, it’s aimed more at the leadership of the Shinners to bring them back on board for the British sort of analysis here.
MG: Alright. One of the parties who gets no credit for its conduct during this incident is Boston College. Apparently during the hearing, which you were at the judgment last week and we’ll get to that – what that judgment was, Boston College had submitted testimony that was given from the United States and it was admitted that they had – agreements were given to anybody who gave such an interview that the interview would not be made public until, without specific permission, until the person’s death. And yet the British, as soon as they got a subpoena from the British government, sent tapes over and in Ivor Bell’s case I’m told there were only two tapes that were mentioned in the initial subpoena but they gave additional tapes over to the Crown which could be used for the prosecution of Ivor Bell. What is the reaction to Boston College’s conduct and involvement in this prosecution?
GH: Well, in a way I was surprised that they rolled over so quickly. They have a bit of a reputation as a standard of academic excellence in research and stuff and the sort of people you could put your trust in. But they rolled over with precipitous haste and handed everything over lock, stock and two smoking barrels without putting up any sort of a concerned face, a concerted challenge against the British to say no, this is academic privilege. So from a personal point of view, I mean if a researcher or a reporter came along from Boston College to ask me about opinions on the past as some people do, I wouldn’t have any dealings with them because I wouldn’t feel safe having any dealings with them because it seems when it comes to Boston College you run the risk of revisiting historic charges upon yourself from many years ago. So no, I…Boston College rolled over too quick and the cynic within me would wonder: Was the whole thing a long-term strategy made by MI6 or MI5 within the British security establishment cooperating with by elements within the American security establishment and Boston College obviously.
MG: Alright. One of the ironies of this case: The decision whether to prosecute, and this is a charge that goes back to 1972, the decision to prosecute is made by a Director of Public Prosecutions, like a District Attorney in the United States, is made by an individual named Barra McGrory whose father, PJ McGrory, was an extremely well-known fighter for Irish civil rights and Irish justice. He was one of the people, the first people that if you got arrested as an Irish Nationalist or Republican or person arrested by the British that you would go to and now Barra McGrory is the person making the decision as to whether prosecutions would be had. Do you see an irony in this?
GH: Oh! Big irony, Martin! I mean you’re right! Paddy McGrory cut his teeth fighting against the injustices of the British state, fighting against the injustices of partition and defended many thousands of people in the courts throughout his life. And his son is now the top legal official of the partitioned Six County state and is the main legal officer who is pursuing people like Ivor Bell, people like Gerry McGeough and also, everyday in the courts here there are good human rights lawyers here from some good companies, like the Kevin Winters and that, and they are constantly trying to access documentation on the past, on the sins of the state, and Barra McGrory, as the main legal officer of the state here, is actively opposing them and using a thing they call ‘closed material procedures‘ which, in effect, a closed material procedure is a secret court where there’s only the prosecution and the judge – you are not allowed to be there, your legal representatives are not allowed to be there and you’re not allowed to be told anything whatsoever what is discussed in that and that’s how rotten and much more rotten the legal system here has become. Even though we’re in the post-Good Friday Agreement era and the levels of conflict, armed conflict, are gone and there is a patina of peace about the place but underneath the laws have become much, much more draconian and repressive and anti-human rights.
JM: Gerard, John McDonagh here. I want to talk about just what’s going on now – the re-writing of the history or the erasing of history in the Six Counties. Martin Galvin just talked about a movie that’s debuting down at the Galway Film Festival, 66 Days Bobby Sands – he did an interview. He was taken out because at this stage of history he’s not aligned with Sinn Féin. I’ve been looking at pictures, some photo journals, of Long Kesh how that is crumbling into the ground while in Dublin I was on the Kilmainham tour just a couple of weeks ago, you even said you would be afraid to give an interview. So not only maybe you’re afraid to give an interview and talk about The Troubles but the history that’s being written now and the movies that are being written – they’re writing you out. They’re writing Galvin out. So there’s a whole new history that’s coming in about the Six Counties with Gerry Adams – the head of the civil rights movement!
GH: John, it’s good to talk to you. Yes! You’re right to point out – because pathetic Gerry’s been consistent all his life – he was never in the IRA but he created the CRA (Civil Rights Association) which was a bit amasing!
But no, you’re right. Sometimes a history can be sort of condensed down into a single narrative to suit a political purpose and people will re-invent roles for themselves or invent roles that they never, ever had. But the conflict that raged here over those thirty years was a conflict which was waged for Irish freedom to finally bring about the creation of the Irish Republic pertaining to 1916.
We failed. We failed in our objective – we didn’t get it. So we didn’t win so we were defeated. But the sort of historical nonsense that’s being spouted out by Adams and Co. that it was really for civil rights and it all worked out brilliant and sure everything’s great now. It’s not. We live in a system which has much worse – far less legal protections than we had at any time during the conflict. And also we’re living in a system of neo-liberalism where practically every safeguard we once had in terms of health and social security is disappearing before our eyes. (crosstalk) And that’s the Ireland we got. Sorry, John?
MG: Well, this is Martin Galvin again and we’re talking to Gerard Hodgins – Gerard, we’re coming to the end – you won’t expect much more in that direction when you get a new Conservative Prime Minister but how and ever. What happened last Thursday – there was a preliminary hearing, there was evidence taken, a judgment was rendered – you were in court for that judgment. Could you tell us what happened in that preliminary hearing and what happens next to Ivor Bell?
GH: Well, in the preliminary hearing Ivor’s legal team argued that it should not be returned to the Crown court for trial because there’s insufficient evidence and they were arguing that on the, mainly on the point, that Ivor had nothing to do with the offence. It was a magistrate who heard the case…(telephone connection is lost)
MG: Have we lost?…this was – you know – we talked about censorship! In any event if we can’t get Gerard back…
JM: …No. There’s only two or three more minutes left.
MG: The Magistrate, he (Gerard) was about to say, the Magistrate ruled that the case could go ahead and no one was surprised because if she wanted to get to a higher court judge and get promoted in the system by the British Crown if she had done the right thing, the correct thing, the just thing and said the case should end here she wouldn’t get too much further. So she ruled the case could go ahead. Gerard and Ivor Bell walked out of the court. The case will proceed. We will have more information. One of the things we didn’t get to ask him was how much money the British government has in the part of the budget which says that they can come to Boston, get tapes like this, prosecute people like Ivor Bell but they don’t have any money for the inquests or anything like that which would show British troop involvement in killings. So we are coming to the end. We deliberately made a decision not to talk about July the Twelfth because we wouldn’t have time to cover this important case on Ivor Bell, to go all through it – it’s the next real case that should be a concern for anybody in the United States, particularly, there’s groups like the Brehon Law Society and others who are about legal justice – I know Frank Durkan would have been the type of person who would have been on top of this case, who would have been very concerned about it and bringing American pressure for justice for a person like Ivor Bell. John?
JM: Well, this should be more of an American story really than an Irish story because it really has to do with Boston College. And you know, colleges around this country now have to re-assess – any conflict in the world, you really can’t tape the combatants – particularly if you lost. If you won then it really doesn’t matter because the government that gets into power – they won – they’re not going to prosecute their own. Just like the ANC (African National Congress). When the ANC got into South Africa they didn’t go after their own and say: Oh, what did you do twenty or thirty years ago? So when you lose a conflict like the IRA did and Sinn Féin did then you have to suffer the consequences and the British are going to go back into history and say: Now we’re going to try you for this. So now there’ll be nobody speaking to anyone because you don’t want to be brought up on charges thirty or forty years later.
MG: John, one of the tragic things is Boston College, they had this agreement they represented to people and those who trusted them and believed them – and some of them did not – others trusted them and believed what was on the agreement and now you find Ivor Bell in this position. But one of the things that saddens me and concerns me is what the British are really doing. They seem to be criminalising the struggle. They couldn’t make criminals of Bobby Sands, of Patsy O’Hara, of Francis Hughes and the others who died on hunger strike but they seem to be criminalising the struggle because what you can do is have Barra McGrory decide that people like Gerry McGeough or Ivor Bell or Seamus Kearney should be treated as criminals, tried as criminals, brought before courts as criminals and you will have a Sinn Féin involvement endorsing that part of the system, approving of Barra McGrory, part of the system making these men criminals.
Ivor Bell’s seventy-nine years of age. He’s a respected and prominent Republican. He shouldn’t be on trial for these charges dating back to 1972 – shouldn’t be charged for soliciting, aiding and abetting when the others who supposedly he solicited, aided and abetted are never going to be named or charged for a political agenda. This case is wrong. America should pay attention and get behind it. (ends time stamp ~ 55:08)