Editor’s Note: This story is part of an ongoing series about the subpoenas of the Belfast Project.
Last Wednesday, an unnamed 56-year-old man was arrested for questioning in connection to the abduction and murder of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10 who disappeared from her apartment in December 1972 and was later revealed to have been shot by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). The suspect was detained in west Belfast and transported to an Antrim police station for questioning, according to statements released by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and reported by the Irish Independent. He was released hours after being taken into custody at the Antrim police station, according to The Guardian, and upon his release, a spokesman said that inquiries were continuing.
Reportedly shunned by her neighbors for suspicion of being an informant for the British army, 37-year-old McConville was taken from her home in the Divis Flats of west Belfast by a group of about 12 IRA members, and subsequently shot in the back of the head, according to a report by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Having been secretly buried by the IRA following her execution, McConville’s remains would not be discovered until August 2003 in Shelling Hill Beach, approximately 50 miles from her home.
One week prior to the latest arrest related to McConville’s death, alleged former IRA commander Ivor Bell, 77, was also charged with aiding and abetting the murder, according to BBC Northern Ireland.
Bell’s arrest is being linked to the Belfast Project, an oral history initiative started by Boston College in 2001. According to the same BBC report, the case against Bell is based on an interview he allegedly gave as part of the Belfast Project.
The project was dissolved in 2011 after the U.S. Department of Justice issued subpoenas on behalf of the PSNI ordering the University to release the tapes of interviews conducted with Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, two former Northern Irish Republican militants.
Organized by Executive Director of the Center for Irish Programs Thomas Hachey, then-Burns Librarian Robert O’Neill, Irish journalist Ed Moloney, and former IRA member and project interviewer Anthony McIntyre, the Belfast Project was begun as an oral history project that would document the severe political conflict in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles” by interviewing former members of the IRA and other paramilitary groups.
By recounting the series of terrorist acts and sporadic outbreaks of riotous violence between the IRA, other paramilitaries, and the British army from the late 1960s until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the Belfast Project chronicled the activities of ex-IRA members through taped interviews conducted by McIntyre-a former IRA member who spent more than 16 years in prison himself for killing a loyalist paramilitary soldier.
The audiotapes of interviews were housed in BC’s John J. Burns Library. Contracts signed by the interviewees stipulated that the tapes would be sealed until each individual’s death due to their sensitive nature. The legal salience of those contracts was called into question in a Jan. 26 article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, which reported that “no lawyers vetted the [contracts’] wording, and no one at Boston College other than Mr. O’Neill and Mr. Hachey reviewed Mr. Moloney’s contract or the one drawn up for interviewees.”
The four project organizers received an initial subpoena for the tapes on May 5, 2011. While initially able to maintain possession of the Dolours Price recordings, the University was required to turn over the interviews involving Hughes given his death in 2008, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Three months later, U.S. federal judge William G. Young issued another subpoena, which ruled that BC had to turn over all tapes relevant to the death of Jean McConville to the Police Service of Northern Ireland on the basis of a mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) between the U.S. and the United Kingdom that maintains both countries act in full compliance with each other during criminal investigations.
Audiotapes of particular interest to the PSNI were those of Price, who reportedly divulged information about the death of McConville and attributed her planned execution to Gerry Adams-the current leader of the Sinn Fein political party, who denies having ever been a member of the IRA, according to The Guardian. The tapes were presumed to implicate Adams for coordinating McConville’s murder.
On Jan. 23, 2013, Price was found dead at her Dublin home at 61 due to unknown causes. Several months after her death, BC released Price’s tapes in full to the PSNI.
Due to inconclusive details on the case as disclosed by the PSNI, the University has declined to comment on the most recent arrest made in the McConville case.
“Boston College is not privy to any details of the ongoing investigation being conducted by the Police Services of Northern Ireland, and is not commenting on the matter,” said University Spokesman Jack Dunn in an email.