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Dec-29-2011 15:45printcomments

Judge orders Boston College to hand over IRA tapes

The saga surrounding the so-called Belfast Project has rumbled on since May, due to the interest of US authorities...

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

(BELFAST) - Boston College (BC) has been ordered by US district court judge William G. Young to hand over selected contents from its controversial Northern Ireland oral history project. Before deciding whether or not the tapes should be passed by the US Government to British authorities, however, the judge will review the transcripts in question.

Granting BC’s call for an in-camera review of the transcripts, the judge agreed with the college’s assertion that the release of the material could place academic freedom in peril. The college then agreed to hand certain tapes over to the court by Wednesday last (December 21), the Boston Globe reported.

According to Courthouse News Service, Judge Young then conducted a review of several responsive transcripts, and in a bench order Thursday, he gave BC until December 27 to turn over a total of 192 transcripts for review.

The saga surrounding the so-called Belfast Project has rumbled on since May, when US authorities on behalf of the PSNI demanded access to interviews given to BC by former IRA members in the project undertaken by former IRA man-turned journalist Anthony McIntyre and Bronx-based journalist Ed Moloney.

Prosecutors first asked a judge to order that the college hand over interviews given by Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, two former IRA members who had in the past accused Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams of running a secret IRA cell which conducted the kidnappings and disappearances of at least nine people during the early 1970s. Adams famously denies ever being an IRA member.

A second set of subpoenas filed in August then sought access to the full set of 26 IRA interviews, looking for “any and all interviews containing information about the abduction and death of Mrs. Jean McConville.” McConville, a mother of 10, was abducted, killed and buried on a beach in the Republic by the IRA in 1972, having been suspected of informing to British authorities. Significantly, the subpoenas do not request any interviews given by loyalist paramilitaries, leading to concerns for the peace process given the biased appearance of the requests.

BC had opposed both sets of subpoenas on the grounds that the premature release of the tapes would threaten the safety of the participants, the enterprise of oral history and the ongoing peace process. In total the tapes are said to include some 50 interviews with republican and loyalist paramilitaries gathered between 2001 and 2006, under the strict condition that they would not be released until the interviewees had passed away.

The tale took another turn when Moloney and McIntyre filed papers seeking to put their case forward separately to the one lodged by BC against the subpoenas. In filing to intervene, the pair had requested that US Attorney General Eric Holder abide by his obligations under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the UK and the US. The judge rejected the pair’s appeal.

In a written response to the judge’s decision, Moloney and McIntyre expressed disappointment but stressed there was still some way to go in the process.

“One way or another this fight will go on,” they said. “There are very important issues at stake – legal and political – that could adversely affect vital and essential US interests, both domestic and international.

“It would be an event of extraordinary irony that a decision of a court in a country which expended so much political capital to secure peace in Ireland could threaten all that was achieved over so many long and difficult years.”

However, despite calls from the pair for BC to take the judge up on his offer of an appeal, the college has thus-far complied with the judge’s deadlines.

BC spokesman Jack Dunn told the Boston Globe that although the college had fought the subpoenas, it was pleased with the compromise ruling, saying that, “While the motion to quash the subpoenas was denied, the court, in agreeing to review the research materials…granted [the college] what it was seeking by promising to determine what materials, if any, are relevant.”

Special thanks to: The Irish Immigrant

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