Response to Danny Morrison

Anthony McIntyre was the lead interviewer for the Belfast Project.

In a copy and paste of what earlier this week he had posted on his own comments-not-allowed blog. Danny Morrison reiterated his demand on Letters Blogatory that ‘Ed Moloney has some explaining to do.’ How frustrating it must be for Morrison that Moloney is not tied to a chair and therefore can happily ignore his demand for an explanation. I am not tied to a chair either but I am used to all manner of exchanges with him over the decades, ranging from the friendly to the frosty, so responding to his queries doesn’t tax me one way or the other. Had he demanded me to answer I too, like Moloney, would happily have dismissed him. I guess there is much to be said for Walter Bagehot’s maxim that ‘the greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.’ And if Danny demands to be noticed, he will be joyously ignored.

Since the onset of the subpoena against Boston College’s Belfast Project Danny Morrison has been working hard to undermine the legal and political efforts the researchers have made to thwart the British raid. His pen has been put to the use of the British Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), lashing out where space is afforded to him. His ire is directed not against those seeking to seize the Belfast Project archives but against those fighting to prevent incursion. It has not gone unnoticed, with many of his former comrades now wondering whose side Danny is really on.

On one level his lack of antipathy towards marauding British detectives is understandable but only if viewed through a political prism rather than an ethical one. Morrison seeks to avoid being even mildly critical of the PSNI for fear of inviting any awkward probing that might devalue the current policing arrangement which he supports. Although Sinn Fein leaders, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness promised to put manners on the British police it hasn’t quite worked out like that.

The elephant in the room that commentators like Morrison perform contortions in order to avoid confronting is that, courtesy of the political arrangement he gave his backing to, British police are in a position to use the present criminal justice system to police the politically violent past they helped create through their egregious policies and practices. They are able to bring ‘criminal’ prosecutions against former republican activists in respect of conflict induced actions in what is supposedly a post conflict situation. Simultaneously, they are engaged in covering up for the conflict induced homicidal activity of their own colleagues in the security services, quite a few of whom remain in the pay of the state. Through their pursuit of republicans and other non state actors they are rewriting and criminalising the history of the North’s violent political conflict in a way that exonerates state actors of any culpability. And not a word of criticism from Danny Morrison towards the British police in respect of this; just plenty of vitriol hurled in the direction of those seeking to frustrate British attempts to construct their reframing of the past.

I happen to concur with Danny Morrison in one of his earlier assertions that the outcome of the IRA armed struggle amounted to surrender. I further agree with him when he described the outcome of that surrender – a power splitting executive in the North of Ireland headed by Ian Paisley as something that could only mean that republicans ‘must need our heads examined … We would be a laughing stock.’

It is this surrender/laughing stock outcome earlier identified by Morrison that sits at the core of the current power disparity and which is potentially subversive of the peace in the North. It also helps explain why the British are off in hot pursuit of the Boston College oral history archive: because they have the power to. They don’t share power, they monopolise it.

When stripped of its protective balm of peace process film the picture is pretty clear: one key player from the violent past, the British police, has been empowered while another, non state combatants, has been disempowered. As simple as. No rocket science required to work it out. This constitutes a catastrophic systemic failure on the part of the Morrison endorsed strategy that purported to tackle the problems of law enforcement that were such an incendiary component of the Northern Irish conflagration. It also explains his silence on this salient political matter. In targeting the researchers behind the Belfast project rather than the raiders he seeks, through smoke and mirrors, to maintain a political and strategic fiction that masks the fact that real power resides where it always has: with the British state.

The PSNI, about whom Morrison is remarkably quiet, despite earlier reforms has over time become colonised by the most revanchist elements of the old RUC, ‘ex Special Branch officers, who served during the conflict and whose members have been subject to well-documented criticism.’
Determined to settle scores with erstwhile adversaries, these people – referred to as the ‘dark side’ by Sinn Fein – have embarked upon an aggressive policy of pursuing former combatants. Their behaviour is deeply corrosive of the spirit of the political arrangement that brought closure to the bloody Northern Irish conflict. Paradoxically, in what is supposedly a post-conflict environment, the PSNI is very much in a conflict mode, using law enforcement to police a past political problem that had much of its roots in a systemic failure of law enforcement. Because no law enforcement solution to the political conflict was conceivable, outside of the toxic world of British law enforcers, the British Prime Minister at the time of the Good Friday Agreement ‘said that the answer to the Northern Ireland problem required the criminal justice system to be turned upside down.’

Despite being plainly evident, none of it figures in the Morrison discourse on the Boston College affair. His public commentary projects an image of a seemingly faultless PSNI.

So where does that leave him? With more heat than light Morrison has opted to bat at the plate for the PSNI. While I do not profess to completely understand his reasoning, there is nothing that would lead me to conclude that he is guided by fidelity towards people like Gerry Adams. His entire discourse resonates with the mood music of those PSNI figures who have Adams firmly in their sights.

For the most part he has endeavoured, with negligible effect, to act as a foil to Los Angeles-based historian, Chris Bray,
who has put the British authorities squarely in the frame. In short, the British case against the Belfast Project has been argued noisily by Morrison while the case in defence of the project has been made forensically by Bray.

Whatever Morrison’s motive, whether he is conscious of it or not, the consistency of his leanings towards the interests of the British intelligence services are not in doubt. It is indisputable that his longing to find out what Dolours Price might have said to Ed Moloney in 2010 long after the Belfast Project had wound up is indeed something British intelligence agencies would share. Without a scintilla of evidence he claims that Ed Moloney flew in from New York specifically to interview Price. In his hostility towards the Belfast Project he has thrown his big black hat into the ring alongside the slashed peaks of the British security services. As such, in seeking disclosure that would ultimately be of benefit to them, he will get no help from this quarter where the whole emphasis, unlike his own, has been on protecting the archive.

There is a substantive reason for Moloney having interviewed Price in 2010 which will become transparent in time and which Morrison is not and will not be made privy to in advance. His eagerness to amplify British objections to the researchers provides no cause for confidence that he would shield from British police any insight that he might manage to acquire.

In his regurgitated Letters Blogatory piece Morrison identifies what he sees as three main planks of our opposition to the British police action and argues that ‘on all counts they have no defence.’

Firstly, he seeks to cast aspersion on our concern for the peace. As someone who is on public record, long before the IRA stopped killing people, as having called on republicanism to ‘never again use guns in pursuit of its ideals’
– at a juncture when Morrison was silent about an IRA killing in West Belfast where he lived – my claim to have bona fide concerns for the peace is demonstrably stronger than any detraction he can make of my position.

Secondly, he claims that there is no risk to my safety. Given his enduring penchant for wrong predictions he can hardly be relied upon to have called this one right. While I agree with him that the IRA surrendered and as a consequence its members pose no threat to the British state it does not follow that they are not a danger to others. This was demonstrated when Paul Quinn was beaten to death in Monaghan long after the organisation purportedly went out of business. If I err on the existence of a threat I do so on the side of caution.

Thirdly, he alleges that we have no standing to cite risk to oral history projects and academic research. Yet in one of his extremely rare for-the-optics public utterances against ‘repatriation’ of the materials being sought by the British he argued the very point we have been making: ‘the tapes should not be returned because of the damaging effect on future, genuine oral history projects.’

Rarely are so many confusions, contradiction and clangers to be concentrated in the perspective of one person. Perhaps his novel The Wrong Man was given its title for this very reason.

As is his tendency he manages to become even more ensnared in his own loop when he argues that the purpose of the Boston College project was to ‘get (Gerry) Adams’ from the outset: Adams, the current president of Sinn Fein and erstwhile chief of staff of the Provisional IRA, is widely alleged to have been the Pinochet-type architect of the IRA’s own version of “the Disappeared”. In his endeavours Morrison fails to explain how Dolours Price in the series of interviews I carried out with her does ‘not once mention the name Jean McConville … nor that she received orders to disappear people from Gerry Adams or any other IRA figure.’ That hardly fits with his theory that we were ‘out to get Adams from day one.’ But he is right that someone is out to get Adams and that someone happens to be the British, via recalcitrant and vengeful elements in the Northern Ireland police. And for Morrison to seek to shore up the police case against ourselves over the Boston College subpoenas, is to assist them in that task.

It is further instructive that a British judge cited Morrison to buttress his ruling against me in a Belfast court this week, denying an effort to secure a judicial review of the subpoenas on the grounds that the British police action has put my life in danger if efforts to seize the archive are successful. This I suspect has been his motive from day one: to strengthen the argument of British policemen that no threat existed, that it was as the judge alluded, quoting him, a ‘red herring.’ Who could have ever have thought the day would come when a British judge, the British police and the Provisional Republican Movement’s former spokesperson would be joined in such an enterprise?

Yet, in the midst of this draining and dispiriting battle, we can be thankful for small mercies. We are fortunate to have Morrison as an adversary who unfailingly rises to his own level of ineptitude. For that reason we feel not the slightest temptation to offer him the Adlai Stephenson way out: if he stops telling lies about us we will stop telling the truth about him.

About Anthony McIntyre

Anthony McIntyre is the author of Good Friday: The Death of Irish Republicanism and the co-founder of The Blanket online magazine. He is a former member of the IRA who served a prison sentence at the Maze Prison and participated in the prisoner protests there.

5 thoughts on “Response to Danny Morrison

    1. You bet. I also encourage readers to read the piece you recently published at The Pensive Quill, though as you know I think the blame for the mistake of law about confidentiality is shared by BC, you and Ed Moloney, and the participants, and does not belong to BC alone, as your piece argues.

  1. Ted,

    I know we do not agree on this but I have never felt you joined the dots needed to give your argument the persuasive weight on this matter. As you stated in an earlier piece nobody is going to buy the BC line that it let researchers draw up a contract that bound the university. I think we took that round of the fight comfortably. True, we were aided by Jack Dunn who didn’t seem to know the difference between a contract and a con trick.

    1. I’ve never suggested that BC didn’t give you bad advice. My argument has been that it was unreasonable to accept the advice at face value. What a great example of the value of lawyers! The story might have had a happier ending if everyone had had his or her own legal advice at the outset.

  2. Ted,

    it’s certainly an arguable point. There is no one more annoyed than myself that I ever listened to them. I think it is prudent to lawyer up in some situations but it is not something we do in life as a rule. Most people would see it as wise when dealing with the cops, fewer when dealing with educational institutions. Then with the reputation you lawyers have we would need a lawyer before meeting lawyers!!!

    We certainly had two great lawyers in the US.

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