US court blocks handover of secret IRA tapes

US court blocks handover of secret IRA tapes
Journalists and historians have argued that PSNI’s attempt to seize material violates principle of source protection
Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
The Guardian
Thursday 18 October 2012

Lawyers for journalists and historians behind an oral history project involving former IRA and loyalist paramilitaries have won a court case in the US that temporarily stops the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) from seizing their highly sensitive material.

The PSNI is seeking tape recorded interviews connected to one of the most notorious murders of the Troubles – the kidnapping, killing and secret burial of west Belfast woman Jean McConville.

The police have gone to the US courts to force Boston College to hand over tapes from the Belfast Project, an archive of interviews of former IRA and loyalist activists.

But three lawyers acting on behalf of the Belfast Project’s director Ed Moloney and one of its interviewers, the former IRA prisoner and writer Anthony McIntyre, scored a victory over the PSNI.

The supreme court granted the legal team a stay to hand over the taped archive to the PSNI. This measure will remain in place until the court decides whether to hear the case advocated by Moloney and McIntyre’s US legal representatives.

Award-winning journalist Moloney described the decision as “a fantastic victory” at the supreme court. Moloney and the Belfast Project researchers have argued that the PSNI action violates the principle of source protection. They contend that no historian or researcher will ever get to the full truth about what happened in the Troubles because a key set of actors in the conflict – the republican and loyalist paramilitaries – will never speak frankly again if the PSNI gets its way.

In addition their lawyers have claimed that allowing the police to obtain the material would, in particular, put McIntyre’s life in danger as he had given assurance both to his former IRA comrades and Ulster loyalists that their interviews would only be made public once they had died.

The PSNI wants access to interviews given to the Boston College/Belfast Project by former IRA Old Bailey bomber Dolours Price. They claim Price gives a detailed account of how McConville was targeted, abducted from her 10 children, driven across the border, murdered and buried in secret late in 1972.

However Moloney and the Belfast Project deny that Price gave any details about the McConville disappearance and murder in her interviews.

Price though has since spoken publicly to both the Sunday Telegraph and US broadcaster CBS confessing her role in the kidnap as well as driving the mother of 10 to her death.

The Guardian revealed last week that the PSNI had started legal moves to obtain interviews and film footage from both the newspaper and the American television station relating to their stories on Price.