Judge orders Boston College to hand over IRA secret tapes
Major setback in effort to protect IRA oral history interviews
By JOHN O’BRIEN, IrishCentral.com Staff Writer
Published Saturday, December 17, 2011, 7:47 AM
A federal judge has ordered Boston College to turnover oral histories of IRA interviews requested by British authorities.
In a 48 page ruling, Judge William Young ordered the handover but did not say they had to be given over immediately.
Federal prosecutors working at the behest of the British government have sought the tapes to see whether there is incriminating evidence against former IRA members on them.
Boston College had moved to quash the federal subpoena in search of access to confidential interviews with the former members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).
The motion sought to prevent British authorities from using the oral tapes to investigate kidnappings and killings during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Conducted between 2001 to 2006 and known as the Belfast Project, the goal of the college’s academic project was to interview members of the IRA and other Irish paramilitary organizations about their activities during the Troubles. It was not, however, intended to become a tool of a wider government investigation.
All participants were assured their identities would remain confidential and that the interviews would only be released after their deaths. All of the transcripts are currently maintained by Boston College.
According to lawyers for Boston College, releasing the interviews would break the IRA’s so-called code of silence and could lead to punishment by death, according to their court filing.
“Our position is that the premature release of the tapes could threaten the safety of the participants, the enterprise of oral history, and the ongoing peace and reconciliation process in Northern Ireland,” said Jack Dunn, a spokesman for Boston College, in a statement to The New York Times.
The case is being monitored closely by oral historians at the college, who are concerned that it could erode the trust between historians and interviewees, making it much more difficult to get people to speak unguardedly in the future.
“I think it’s wonderful that Boston College is fighting the subpoena,” Mary Larson, first vice president of the Oral History Association, told the Times. “What all of us in the oral history community are afraid of is this is going to have an incredible chilling effect on what we’re able to do.”