Editor’s Note: This story is part of an ongoing series about the subpoena of the Belfast Project.
In the most recent development regarding the Belfast Project, an oral history project held by the Burns Library chronicling a period known as “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland that lasted from 1969 to 1998, a federal judge ruled Tuesday, Dec. 27 that Boston College must turn over tapes relevant to the investigation of the disappearance of Jean McConville, who was killed by the IRA in 1972. BC will not appeal the ruling, according to University Spokesman Jack Dunn.
Judge William G. Young made the ruling based mainly on a treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom that asserts full compliance between the two countries during criminal investigations.
Because the interviewees were promised confidentiality until death, many activists have claimed that turning over the tapes could set a precedent that would discourage further oral history projects from being undertaken, and jeopardize the well-being of those who did participate.
The interviews, which were conducted from 2001 to 2006, chronicle the activities of former IRA members during The Troubles, which ended with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
“We recognize that the U.S. government has a compelling interest in responding to a treaty obligation regarding a criminal investigation in the United Kingdom,” Dunn said. “We have asked that the judge consider our compelling interest in protecting academic research and the enterprise of oral history.”
Dunn emphasized that the University had no interest in interfering with a criminal investigation, but reserved the right to appeal the ruling at a later date.
“We did not appeal Judge Young’s ruling because we felt it represented the best legal option at our disposal,” Dunn said.
Young stated in his ruling that he would not immediately turn over the tapes to federal authorities, but would review all of the interview transcripts, and decide which tapes were relevant to the investigation of the disappearance of McConville specifically. Upon reviewing all of the tapes, Young will decide which must be turned over to British authorities for investigation. A timeline for the review has not been released.
Tapes of particular interest are those of interviews with former IRA member Dolours Price, who announced last spring that during her interview she revealed information relating to the disappearance of McConville that may implicate high ranking Sinn Fein politician Gerry Adams.
Other tapes of interviews with a deceased former IRA member, Brendan Hughes, were already handed over. In the tape, Hughes alleged that Adams ordered the murder of McConville, a widowed mother of 10 who was believed to be an informant for the British security forces.
However, the University holds 24 other interviews with living former members of the IRA that may or may not be of use in the investigation into McConville’s disappearance.
“Our hope is that Judge Young, upon reviewing the remaining 24 interviews, will determine that they, in light of their benefit as academic research, will remain protected in Burns Library until the death of the participants,” Dunn said.
The subpoenas that were brought to the attention of BC last summer were initiated by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the successor to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The U.S. Department of Justice acted on behalf of the UK in subpoenaing the tapes and has represented the interests of the UK in the intervening months.
Irish journalist Ed Moloney and former IRA member Anthony McIntyre, who participated extensively in researching the Belfast Project, appealed for a stay on Young’s ruling. McIntyre and Moloney also filed a formal complaint against the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which will be heard on Tuesday, Jan. 24.
McIntyre and Moloney both expressed their displeasure with BC’s decision not to appeal the ruling, and asserted that the University should have fought the ruling or destroyed the tapes entirely.
“If they weren’t prepared to fight to the bitter end like us, then why did Boston College get involved in this kind of project at all?” Moloney told reporters for The Associated Press.
In a recent interview with RTE News, McIntyre said he fears revenge attacks against his home and family if the tapes are released to the British security forces.
The appeal issued by Moloney and McIntyre will likely not be heard by an appeals court until March, and Young has not yet released information about which tapes will be made available to British authorities.