Editor’s Note: This story is part of an ongoing series about the subpoena of the Belfast Project.
Due to recent developments in the Belfast Project, Richard Keeley, interim director of the Office of International Programs, and John King, director of public safety and chief of the BCPD, sent a letter dated Jan. 30 to Boston College students studying abroad in Ireland and England, cautioning them from overtly displaying BC paraphernalia during trips to sensitive areas in Northern Ireland, and informing them on the details of the case.
The Irish media has been heavily covering the subpoena of the Belfast Project, an international legal drama that could threaten the delicate peace in Northern Ireland. Though participants signed contracts that promised them privacy “to the extent that American law allows,” project supervisors Ed Moloney, an Irish journalist, and Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA member, have been harshly critical of the University’s stance in international media.
“While Boston College clearly informed the project director that confidentiality could be guaranteed only to the extent that American law allows, [Moloney] and one of his interviewers have chosen to attack the University in the media for complying with the government subpoenas,” the letter to students abroad read. “We wanted you, therefore, to be aware of the situation and to follow the same common sense guidelines that we recommend to all students who study abroad.”
The letter went on to list several recommendations for BC students to follow while abroad on the British Isles.
“Specifically, we suggest that you: avoid political discussions regarding Northern Ireland in public settings such as restaurants and pubs, avoid wearing clothing that overtly depicts American or Boston College logos during trips to sensitive areas such as Belfast,” the letter read. “Do not feel compelled to discuss the matter with those who may raise it. This case is a complex legal issue further complicated by the politics and history of Northern Ireland, and it is best to simply decline to discuss it.”
University Spokesman Jack Dunn pointed out that letters to international students studying abroad in sensitive areas are not uncommon, and serve to alert students to conflicts they might not be aware of. For example, the University sent letters to students in Chile and Japan when earthquakes struck those nations, and in Egypt when nationwide protests against Hosni Mubarak were underway.
“The letter was our way of reminding students to follow common sense guidelines for an issue that is likely never to materialize,” Dunn said.
The letter emphasized that the students studying abroad were not in danger, but that they should be aware of the difficult political situation in Ireland.
“Please know that we do not believe that you are at risk in any way, and that we fully expect that your semester abroad will be an exciting and rewarding experience,” the letter read. “Our intention in writing is to alert you to an ongoing issue so that you will continue to use good judgment in all of your dealings overseas.”
In an e-mail, Keeley commented on the motivations of the letter.
“Boston College students are rightly proud of the University and not reluctant to show their colors or voice their pride,” Keeley said. “Since we know that students on the continent travel widely and that the controversy wasn’t on the radar screen of most students, we thought it prudent to advise them to conduct themselves with discretion.”