From IRA militant to Troubles historian … and now living in fear after Adams arrest

Anthony McIntyre's taped interviews led to questioning of the Sinn Féin leader by police investigating the murder of Jean McConville. Now he fears for his safety

Anthony McIntyre, the former IRA life sentence prisoner-turned-writer, whose unprecedented and candid interviews with former comrades have put Gerry Adams in the frame for one of the most notorious killings of the Northern Ireland Troubles, is no stranger to hostility from within the republican movement.

He has previously faced angry protests outside his home for highlighting IRA activities in the 2000s, despite the group's ceasefire, including the murder of a dissident republican in west Belfast. But now McIntyre fears for his safety after some of the material he recorded from former IRA men and women prompted the Police Service of Northern Ireland to arrest Adams for questioning about the 1972 murder of Jean McConville, wrongly accused of being a police informer by the republican movement.

As the backlash against Adams's detention builds across republican redoubts in Northern Ireland, McIntyre said that hatred against him and others involved in the project among Sinn Féin supporters is intensifying.

McIntyre was the lead researcher who interviewed dozens of former IRA members for the Boston College Belfast Project, an oral history of the Troubles from those who were actively involved in violent loyalist and republican armed campaigns. Those taking part in the project, which began in 2001, were all promised that none of the taped material, much of it candid confessions of their own role in violence, would be released until their deaths.

But a landmark legal judgment in the US supreme court has resulted in the Boston College authorities handing over 10 taped testimonies of IRA activists that included material about the kidnapping, killing and secret burial of McConville, it was confirmed this weekend. The 10 are believed to mention Adams as an IRA commander involved in the decision that she be killed and then secretly buried for being an informer. Adams denies any involvement in the killing, and says he was never a member of the IRA.

The 10 tapes have played a critical role leading to Adams's arrest – a move that is now threatening to undermine Sinn Féin support for policing and with it endangering the entire power-sharing settlement in Northern Ireland. McIntyre, known as Mackers to friends, moved from the stormy atmosphere of west Belfast nearly a decade ago to a quiet housing estate in the seaside town of Drogheda across the border in Co Louth. He lives with his wife and two children.

McIntyre told the Observer: "The hate has been ratcheted up since the Adams arrest." He added that he and his family had already been the target of mainstream republicans after a tape from the former hunger striker Brendan Hughes was published as part of a book in 2010. Voices from the Grave by journalist Ed Moloney included Hughes, the former Belfast IRA commander, alleging that Adams gave the order to have McConville "disappeared" for allegedly being a British army agent. On the tape Hughes said Adams did not want to cause the republican movement political embarrassment by being seen to murder the mother of 10 children. Hughes also claimed on tape that Adams set up a covert IRA unit called the Unknowns, tasked with weeding out informers from the organisation and the wider republican community in the early 1970s.

One of their orders, allegedly from Adams, was to "disappear" or secretly bury informers, Hughes said. Up to 16 people were buried in unmarked graves across Ireland and, as in Jean McConville's case, the IRA later put out bogus stories about them abandoning their families and fleeing to England.

As pressure builds on McIntyre over the Adams arrest, he is bitterly critical of the role Boston College has played in the controversy. "I believe Boston College was not fully committed to the protection of its research participants. Its lack of resolve has put both me and the research participants in a position that is close to precarious.

"Martin McGuinness [Sinn Féin deputy first minister of Northern Ireland], has been accusing us of being in consort with the 'dark half' of the PSNI. Danny Morrison [Sinn Féin former publicity director] has been labelling us touts [informers]. The former mayor of Derry, Sinn Féin's Kevin Campbell, has been tweeting that the Boston College project is a touting programme. The home next door to me was smeared with excrement after extracts of Voices from the Grave were published in 2010," he said.

Asked why he did not envisage the legal arguments that would have led to the seizure of the Boston College Belfast Project tapes by the PSNI, McIntyre replied: "Obviously we did not see the pitfalls. Had we done so we would never have engaged. Boston College, with its phalanx of lawyers, failed to warn us or warn the people we interviewed that there were pitfalls. They persistently and adamantly claimed to have covered all bases." The PSNI successfully used a UK-US agreement, the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, to argue that they were entitled to examine those tapes on which IRA members allegedly talked about the McConville murder.

But Boston College has claimed that McIntyre, Moloney and Bob O'Neill from the Burns Library on the American campus were all aware of the treaty and its implications for material that focused on the commission of a crime in the UK, namely the McConville murder.

A spokesman said: "Boston College's attorneys did everything in their power to oppose the subpoenas. Once the US federal courts issued their final decision, Boston College had no choice but to comply. The reality is that the first subpoena was issued when Ed Moloney released his book and subsequent documentary, Voices from the Grave. The publicity surrounding their release, coupled with the Dolours Price interview in the Irish media in which she implicated herself and [allegedly] Gerry Adams in the abduction of Jean McConville, led to the PSNI's decision to seek the first subpoena."

A Boston College spokesman claimed that a subsequent Moloney interview with the Boston Globe "undoubtedly led the PSNI to seek the second subpoena for the remaining IRA tapes".

Speaking in New York on Friday night, Moloney expressed his own concern over McIntyre's safety. "I have a degree of protection by virtue of being a journalist but I am deeply worried about Mackers's position and his family. I know the sort of people who are making the threats, and they can be dangerous when spurred on by spin doctors," he said.

Moloney challenged McGuinness and others in the Sinn Féin leadership to condemn those "inciting hatred" against McIntyre and his family. He also criticised Boston College for handing over the tapes and claimed it would have implications globally for any historical project about conflicts.

One person in favour of handing over the tapes to the PSNI is Helen McKendry, Jean McConville's eldest surviving daughter. Last week the British government ruled that there would be no judicial inquiry into the deaths of 11 civilians, including a Catholic priest, in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast at the hands of British troops in August 1971. McKendry said she supported the families of the Ballymurphy victims in their quest for truth and justice.

"If British soldiers involved in the Ballymurphy massacre or Bloody Sunday gave taped testimony about what they did back then, I would support moves by police to get at that material too. Victims deserve the truth, and if the police, whether if it's in the case of my mother or the victims of the British army, need that kind of testimony then justice says they should get it," she said.

Despite the vitriol heaped on him, McIntyre said their project still offered an alternative to the "political and legal fiction constructed for its ability to facilitate the peace process rather than produce accuracy".


Henry McDonald

The GuardianTramp

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