Unearthing the past may endanger peace process

Unearthing the past may endanger peace process
In light of the appealment of the Belfast Project case, The Heights supports Boston College’s stance
By The Heights Editorial Board
Boston College Heights
Published: Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Today, oral arguments will begin at the United States Court of Appeals in Boston in the latest legal case surrounding the Belfast Project, BC’s oral history project regarding the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

This particular case deals with the subpoena of seven interviews with former IRA members, conducted by Belfast Project researchers, that allegedly relate to the investigation of the disappearance and murder of Jean McConville, an Irish woman killed in 1972. In court, BC will argue that the tapes have “limited probative value” in the investigation, and will attempt to keep the tapes out of the hands of British authorities. The Heights fully supports this decision by the University.

In an editorial published on Nov. 16, 2011, The Heights editorial board wrote, “The Belfast Agreement of 1998, which the U.S. worked to facilitate, assured that offenses that occurred during ‘the Troubles’ would not be reopened for trial … The office acted without regard for the agreement. Many basic questions, including the origination of the subpoena in Northern Ireland, were left unanswered as the subpoena was sealed. Considering the facts of the case, the U.S. and Northern Ireland officials appealed to by the activist groups should heed their concerns.”

In addition, in an editorial published on Jan. 18, 2012, The Heights editorial board wrote, “The Heights believes that releasing tapes unrelated to the murder of McConville would be a mistake, and would endanger the lives of those involved and the reputation of oral history as a whole. It is imperative that [Judge William G.] Young exercise extreme caution when reviewing the Belfast Project.”

We continue to stand by these opinions, and support the University’s appeal against the release of the seven subpoenaed tapes. The Troubles in Northern Ireland were a violent period of conflict that resulted in the deaths of thousands of men and women. The release of interviews relating to the Troubles risks reigniting old tensions and shattering the fragile peace in Northern Ireland. In addition, releasing tapes considered confidential by interviewees greatly threatens oral history as a whole, and may inhibit participation in such projects in the future.

While The Heights recognizes that the death of Jean McConville is a tragic event, the story of McConville is, unfortunately, not unique during the period. Thousands of people on both sides of the conflict were killed throughout the Troubles, and risking an entire peace process for merely a chance at finding the answer to one case appears irresponsible. After all, it remains unclear whether any of the tapes would provide answers to the questions being asked by McConville’s children, or whether testimony in the tapes could even be entered as evidence in a legal case.

In light of the threat that releasing the tapes poses to both Irish peace and oral history, The Heights truly believes that, in this case, the past should remain the past, and the seven Belfast Project interviews being appealed in this case should be kept under lock and key.