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BC Awaits Ruling on Irish Archives

01/19/12
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By Ed Hayward | Chronicle Staff

Published: Jan. 19, 2012

Boston College is awaiting the decision of a federal appeals court in Boston that will determine its obligation to turn over to the US Attorney’s Office an interview with former IRA member Delours Price, which was conducted as part of the University’s oral history archive on The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The oral history project, which was directed by author and former Irish Times journalist Ed Moloney, and overseen by Executive Director of Irish Programs and University Professor of History Thomas E. Hachey and Burns Librarian Robert K. O’Neill, contains dozens of personal accounts of individuals from the predominantly Catholic nationalist movement and the largely Protestant loyalist cause in Northern Ireland.

Last spring, Boston College was served a subpoena by the US Attorney’s Office on behalf of an undisclosed law enforcement agency in the United Kingdom requesting the interviews of two individuals who participated in the project.
The subpoena requested audio recordings of former IRA members Brendan Hughes, who died in 2008, and Dolours Price, both of whom were interviewed for the project by republican Anthony McIntyre under the assurance that their interviews would not be released until after their deaths to the extent American law allows.  Following Hughes’ death in 2008, Maloney authored a 2010 book, Voices from the Grave, based on Hughes’ interviews. Following the release of the book, Price conducted a newspaper interview where she made a number of statements incriminating herself and others in criminal activity.

Many in Irish media have speculated that Price’s comments, in which she alleged Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams played a role in the abduction and murder of Belfast widow Jean McConville in 1972, may have prompted British law enforcement to seek the subpoenas. Adams has denied such allegations. A second round of subpoenas was issued in August requesting any materials within the Belfast Project interviews that referenced McConville’s disappearance.      

At issue in the case, which has drawn considerable attention among Irish, British and Irish-American media, are the limits of confidentiality agreements when pitted against an active criminal investigation. The University asked to the court to consider potential harm — including the risk to those involved in the project — caused by a premature release of the materials.

The University won a partial victory when US District Court Judge William Young, recognizing the University’s legitimate interest in protecting oral history, agreed late last month to review transcripts of the Price interviews in chambers, despite the US government’s argument that the court had no discretion in the face of an international treaty. Upon doing so, Young determined that the Price materials were relevant to the criminal investigation and ordered that BC turn over the materials to the US Attorney’s office for transfer to Northern Ireland, stating that the international treaty on criminal investigations took precedence over the bounds of confidentiality agreements.

Boston College did not appeal Young’s ruling on the Price materials in light of the judge’s decision to personally review each of the remaining 24 interviews with former IRA members in camera. The University remains hopeful that these interviews will not have to be turned over to British authorities and will remain in the Burns Library as a resource for journalists and historians in the future.  

“From the outset, Boston College has asked the court to weigh the competing interests of a criminal investigation in Northern Ireland with its desire to protect academic research and the enterprise of oral history,” said University Spokesman Jack Dunn, director of the Office of News & Public Affairs. “Judge Young has agreed to weigh these interests in this case. Our hope moving forward is that in reviewing the materials in camera, he will uphold our position that they should remain confidential until the deaths of the participants.”

As US prosecutors were preparing to send the Price interviews to Northern Ireland, Maloney and McIntyre appealed Young’s decision and the First Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay, pending its review of the appeal. The appellate court’s review remains underway at this time, with a ruling not likely until March, at the earliest.

Boston College has played a longstanding and significant role in the Northern Ireland peace process. Most recently, Boston College was chosen as the repository for the archive of Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, which oversaw the disarming of the Irish Republican Army and other paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland.