Kevin Bean on The ESRC Irish Republican ‘Dissident’ Project: Setting the Record Straight
I have been asked by Kevin Bean if I’d put up the following statement by him in relation to the Economic and Social Research Council taking a research project he was involved in and making material from it available to the repressive forces of the British, six-county and twenty-six county states:
The ESRC Irish Republican ‘Dissident’ Project: Setting the Record Straight
This statement is a summary of a conference paper that was presented at an academic conference at the University of Bath in June 2015: it also draws on papers and contributions to conferences in Galway, Maynooth, Liverpool and Dublin in 2014-2015.
In 2012-2015 I was a co- investigator, along with a number of other academics, on an ESRC-funded project into the politics of so-called ‘dissident’ Irish republicanism. The aims of the project were clear: to investigate the ideologies and strategies of those republicans opposed to the post-1998 status-quo, and to contribute to public understanding of the significance of these strands in political life throughout Ireland.
As an academic project supported by four British universities and a reputable independent research council, the project was subject to various ethical and peer-review procedures to ensure it met the highest standards of academic integrity. Furthermore, given the controversy surrounding the Boston College oral history project, the researchers were determined to ensure the confidentiality and security of any republicans who were interviewed and recorded as part of the ESRC project. Thus, strict security precautions were taken with these recordings. In particular, researchers were interested only in political and ideological positions: participants were particularly not asked questions about organizational matters and were advised not to talk about
current or past activities that might leave them open to criminal charges. Participants were also told that they would be supplied with a written transcript that would be agreed and signed off by the interviewees.
Moreover, these recordings were not deposited with any university or the ESRC, and still remain in the hands of the individual researchers (Marisa McGlinchey and Kevin Bean) who conducted the interviews.
In August 2014 the ESRC placed the project’s Impact Statement in the public domain on their website. This document stated that the project would be used to provide on-going briefings to the security forces including the Gardaí, the PSNI, MI5, MLAs, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
I wish to state my response to this statement and subsequent comment in a few propositions”
i. The first time that I became aware of the content and nature of the Impact Statement was following its on-line publication in August 2014.
ii. I did not write, or agree at any point to, the project’s Impact Statement.
iii. The premises of the Impact Statement fundamentally contradict not only the safeguards and assurances of confidentiality outlined above, but also run counter to the general ethical principles of informed consent and transparency that underpin the integrity of all academic research.
iv. At no point, either before or during the project, were there any meetings or briefings between me, and the various state and security agencies. I did not attend a conference at the University of St Andrew mentioned in the Impact Statement. Furthermore I did not envisage that any such ongoing briefings would take place upon the completion of the project. In my view such activity would not only be ethically dubious, but would also fatally compromise my individual integrity as an independent researcher.
v. I believe that academic research into contentious politics, if it is to be of real and lasting value, must be both genuinely critical and independent of the state and its agencies.
Whilst we have an acknowledged duty to make our research findings publicly available through books, articles, conference papers and discussions, and other open media, the only legitimate ways that we can really inform public understanding is through public, transparent dissemination and debate, not secret briefings.
vi. These questions are of major importance for the future of research into sensitive areas and have excited considerable discussion in the past year. They also raise wider questions about the influence of the ‘Impact agenda’ on the research culture of British universities and the broader threats to academic integrity and intellectual freedom.
Consequently I will continue to address these issues in a series of forthcoming academic articles, conferences, and other public fora, including the Political Studies Association of Ireland conference to be held in Cork this October coming.
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