Judge won’t unseal records in Belfast Project case

Judge won’t unseal records in Belfast Project case
Milton J. Valencia
Boston Globe
June 03, 2014

Police in Northern Ireland last month arrested Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams for questioning in connection with the killing of Jean McConville. He was released and has denied being involved.

A federal judge decided today to keep records related to the controversial Boston College Belfast Project case under seal, saying they relate to an ongoing criminal investigation in Northern Ireland.

The decision was, in part, a response to a request by NBC News to unseal transcripts of the controversial project, which has made international headlines.

US District Judge William G. Young said he did not have most of the transcripts in his possession. He had only reviewed copies of them, and then returned them to Boston College.

He refused to unseal the few transcripts that he did have, but agreed to turn over other records that had been sealed. Those records mostly consisted of legal arguments.

The request had been opposed by researchers involved in the Boston College project.

Young had first ordered Boston College in 2011 to turn over certain interviews collected under the Belfast Project, an academic project on the Troubles, the decades-long conflict between those who would unite Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland and those who want it to remain within the United Kingdom.

The United States government sought the interviews on behalf of the United Kingdom, which continues to investigate crimes committed at the time of the Troubles, including the murder of Jean McConville, whom the Irish Republican Army suspected of being an informant.

Some of the interviews were with former members of the IRA, who agreed to speak to the journalists under the condition of anonymity, under an agreement that the interviews would not be released until after they died.

US Department of Justice officials had also opposed the unsealing certain records, such as affidavits and characterizations of the investigation, saying the investigation is ongoing. Police in Northern Ireland last month arrested Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams for questioning in connection with the killing of McConville. He was released and has denied being involved.

“It is critical to the United States that we be able to work with our partners abroad, that we can obtain information for them without compromising the integrity of an investigation,” John McNeil, the First Assistant US Attorney in Massachusetts, said. “There is an ongoing investigation in the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom has asked us to maintain the integrity of that investigation.”