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Archive on Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’ Faces Federal Subpoena


By Office of News & Public Affairs |

Published: Feb. 21, 2011

Boston College has been served a subpoena by the US Attorney’s Office on behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) requesting two tapes that were recorded 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 from individuals on both sides of the violent struggle that engulfed Northern Ireland between 1970 and 1998, including former members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). The subpoena requests tapes of recordings of former IRA members Brendan Hughes, who died in 2008, and Dolours Price, who were interviewed for the project by republican Anthony McIntyre under the assurances of confidentiality. 

Tapes of conversations with former UVF members in Northern Ireland recorded by loyalist Wilson McArthur were not requested in the subpoena.     

“Boston College is reviewing the subpoena from the US Attorney’s Office and is requesting additional information in light of the ramifications it poses regarding the safety of those involved, the impact on oral history projects, and the effect on the peace process in Northern Ireland,” said University Spokesman Jack Dunn.  

“As an international leader in Irish programs and a trusted broker by all sides in the Northern Irish peace process, our sole intention with this project has been to help preserve the testimony of the participants and to promote peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland,” he said.  

Boston College has played a longstanding role in the Northern Ireland peace process. Faculty member and theologian Raymond Helmick, SJ, has served as a mediator in the conflict negotiations, Political Science Professor Marc Landy instructed members of the fledgling Northern Irish Assembly on power sharing, BC faculty have offered courses on peace and conflict resolution studies at universities in Northern Ireland, and former Alumni Association Director Kathleen O’Toole, a 1976 graduate, served on the Patten Commission that oversaw the reform of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which had long been criticized for its treatment of Ulster’s minority Catholic population. 

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.    

In addition, since 1997, the University’s Irish Institute, with the support of the US State Department, has sponsored programs that bring together professionals from government, education, non-profits and business from both the Republic and Northern Ireland, to promote peace and reconciliation by advocating cross-border and cross-community cooperation.   

Since 2000, the Center for Irish Programs has served as the organizational umbrella for the University’s Irish initiatives and resources, including the Irish Studies Program, the Irish Institute and the Dublin-based Centre for Irish Programmes facility on St. Stephen’s Green.      

Dunn said the common thread throughout all of these programs has been to promote peace on an island whose history is inextricably linked to that of Boston College and the United States. 

“Our overriding concern regarding the subpoena is the threat the release of the tapes may pose in derailing the peace initiatives that we as a University have long supported and helped to achieve,” he said. “So we will consider all of our legal options as we determine how best to address the subpoena in weeks to come.”