Federal appeals court hears arguments in case of BC oral history project on ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland
By Martine Powers
APRIL 04, 2012
Attorneys representing the US government and two researchers debated in federal appeals court today whether the potential danger of releasing confidential interviews with former members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army should trump the need to comply with an international treaty on criminal investigations.
The taped interviews are part of the Belfast Project, a Boston College oral history project to document the period of conflict known as The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Researchers Anthony McIntyre and Ed Moloney guaranteed interview subjects that the recordings would remain secret until each interviewee had died, but in July, federal prosecutors asked BC to turn over the records to aid in an investigation by the British government into the death of Jean McConville, a Belfast mother of 10 who disappeared in 1972 and whose body was recovered in 2003.
In December, US District Judge William G. Young ordered Boston College to turn over the interviews to the government.
At issue in court today was whether the order for the tapes’ release should stand, and also whether the two researchers have legal standing to argue their case separately from Boston College.
Eamonn Dornan, an Ireland attorney representing the two researchers, contended that his clients and their families would be in great personal danger if the tapes were released to the British government.
Dornan also argued that his clients had the right to defend their research from subpoena in court — a right that has previously been denied to them in lower court.
“Boston College has institutional concerns, but the stakes for my clients are unimaginably higher,” Dornan said.
The future of academic research projects like this one, he said, was also at risk.
“Why should a foreign government have more freedom to access confidential, sensitive information here in the United States more than a US citizen?” Dornan said.
Barbara Healy Smith, the attorney representing the US government, argued that the researchers are not guaranteed the right to keep their research private — just as journalists are not exempt from naming a confidential source if subpoenaed.
Smith’s arguments were frequently interrupted by the three judges, who asked why the need to comply with an international treaty on criminal investigations trumps the US government’s responsibility to protect the safety of the researchers and their families.
After the hearing, McIntyre’s wife, American-born Carrie Twomey, said that she lives in fear that a member of the paramilitary group will take vengeance against herself or her family.
“It’s been a complete nightmare, one that we don’t ever seem to be able to wake up from,” Twomey said.