Boston College IRA tapes: Researchers seek separate review
By Brian Fitzpatrick
The saga surrounding Boston College’s Belfast Project took another twist recently when journalist Ed Moloney and former IRA operative Anthony McIntyre filed papers in US District Court in Boston, seeking leave to intervene on their own merits and have their case put forward separately to the one lodged by BC against recent subpoenas.
US authorities acting on behalf of an unnamed body – said to be the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) – are demanding access to some 26 interviews given to BC by former IRA members in the project undertaken by former IRA man-turned journalist McIntyre, who carried out the tapings, and Bronx-based Moloney, who oversaw the project.
In total the tapes are said to include around 50 interviews with republican and loyalist paramilitaries gathered between 2001 and 2006, under the strict condition that they would not be released until the interviewees had passed away. Significantly, the subpoenas do not request any interviews given by loyalist paramilitaries, leading to concerns for the peace process given the biased appearance of the requests.
In what is being seen as a move to discredit Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, prosecutors first asked a judge to order that the college hand over interviews given by Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, two former IRA members who had in the past accused Adams of running a secret IRA cell which conducted the kidnappings and disappearances of at least nine people during the early 1970s. Adams famously denies ever being an IRA member.
A second set of subpoenas filed in August then sought access to the full set of 26 IRA interviews, looking for “any and all interviews containing information about the abduction and death of Mrs. Jean McConville.”
McConville, a mother of 10, was abducted, killed and buried on a beach in the Republic by the IRA in 1972, having been suspected of informing to British authorities. Her remains weren’t uncovered until 2003.
In a recent op-ed submission to the Boston Globe, McIntyre and Moloney said they feel there is more to the tale than is being admitted, claiming the tapes only became important to the PSNI once Gerry Adams was elected to Dáil Éireann as a TD (member of the Irish parliament) for Co. Louth.
Taking a less political stance, BC has opposed both sets of subpoenas on the grounds that the premature release of the tapes would threaten the safety of the participants, the enterprise of oral history and the ongoing peace process.
The original “Motion for an Order to Compel”, seen by The Irish Emigrant, counters this argument by saying that those overseeing the project “made promises they could not keep – that they would conceal evidence of murder and other crimes until the perpetrators were in their graves…there is no academic privilege which shields the material from disclosure.”
Speaking with The Irish Emigrant about the new filings, BC spokesperson Jack Dunn said that although there was some surprise that McIntyre and Moloney had decided to intervene, in essence theirs was the same battle.
“Anthony and Ed are working towards the same goal as BC,” Dunn said. “We all want the same resolution to this case. We’re focused on our legal deliberations, and they’re free to pursue their own deliberations.”
Asked whether there was a rift in the camp over the pair’s overtly political approach to the case, Dunn replied simply: “No.”
This was echoed by New York-based Belfast barrister Eamon Dornan, representing the journalists, who said that the two groups were “all on the same page.”
“It’s fair to say that Anthony and Ed are being more aggressive politically, for sure, but what’s important is that we manage to protect the archive and the future of such projects,” he told The Irish Emigrant. “We’ll wait and se how the government responds over the next few weeks.”
In filing to intervene, McIntyre and Moloney have requested that US Attorney General Eric Holder abide by his obligations under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the UK and the US.
They will ask the Court to order the Attorney General to take into account solemn promises made by the UK government to the US Senate that it would not “reopen issues addressed in the Belfast Agreement, or…impede any further efforts to resolve the conflict in Northern Ireland.”
After his passing in 2008, parts of Brendan Hughes’ testimony were published in Ed Moloney’s book Voices from the Grave and were also handed over to the courts by BC. Ms. Price is still alive however, and the pair point out that her extradition from Ireland to the UK, which could be seen as a likely consequence of the subpoenas, would violate the terms of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty.
“The treaty clearly states that a line in the sand should be drawn under any pre-Good Friday Agreement (GFA) offences, and the subpoenas clearly violate the language of the treaty,” Dornan said.
“That treaty requires AG Holder to review the public policy implications of the subpoenas, especially the obligations of other treaties such as the GFA and the US-UK Extradition Treaty.”
Leaders of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Irish American Unity Conference and the Brehon Law Society have also joined the debate, issuing a joint statement arguing that there are valid legal and morals grounds for opposing the subpoenas.
Jim Cullen of the Brehon Law Society said Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and US Representative Richard Neal (D-MA), Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs, will now be lobbied to fight the release of any records.
“There are compelling arguments that this is little more than a political fishing expedition,” Cullen said in a statement emailed to The Irish Emigrant, “but there are [also] related issues of the potential endangerment of the lives of researchers.”
“The British government has spent nearly 40 years refusing to release records of the role of the British Army in the largest atrocity of the entire conflict, the no-warning bombing of Dublin and Monaghan, and refusing to allow independent inquiries [into] the murders of solicitors Patrick Finucane and Rosemary Nelson by the very same forces seeking the BC records,” Cullen continued.
“We are confident that American jurisprudence and/or the American political process will be sensitive to these ironies.”
Attorney General Holder is set to respond to the request from McIntyre and Moloney over the coming days, after which they would have a right to reply. On the issue of the subpoenas themselves, Judge Joseph Tauro is expected to either call for a further hearing or simply make a judgment on the matter in the coming weeks.