Boston College: Disaster by Design or, The Family Doesn’t Shelter Orphans

Disaster by Design
or, The Family Doesn’t Shelter Orphans
Chris Bray

Tomorrow, at the latest, Boston College will give a federal judge a complete set of every interview in its archives from an oral history project that cataloged the secrets of republican paramilitaries which were active during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. (Another set of interviews, those conducted with former members of loyalist paramilitaries, is still in play, but has not been turned over. See my last post here for background.)

After a pro forma review, those interviews will most likely go on, in full, to the federal government, and from there to the British government. In effect, Boston College has allowed itself to be turned into a police agency of the United Kingdom, securing extraordinarily sensitive information with a promise of confidentiality that was then abandoned.

No one can predict the future, but two outcomes are at least likely: First, the British government will use material gathered by an American university to attack and embarrass an important group of political enemies. Second, interviewees who were promised confidentiality but not given the protection they were guaranteed will be subjected to bitter, and possibly violent, personal recrimination.

In previous posts, I’ve focused on the recent failures that have led to this moment. But there’s another story to tell: Boston College failed, and failed horribly, from the beginning.

First, the Belfast Project interviews were conducted and managed by outsiders, with little to no institutional investment. BC professors and grad students with expertise in Northern Ireland did not participate. That means that when the subpoenas began to arrive, there was no institutional investment. No one on campus needed to be protected. For BC, nothing was at stake but integrity, and that problem could be fudged by pointing at the subpoenas and claiming helplessness (even though, as I proved in my last post here, BC turned over material that was outside the boundaries of those subpoenas).

Second, the project had little formalized institutional management, which means that the Belfast Project had no established forms of protection built into the structure of the university. An oversight committee was conceived, but not convened. Inside BC, the oversight of the project was essentially ad hoc. A formal oversight committee could have served some of the functions of an institutional review board, policing the establishment of confidentiality and establishing a set of insiders with a direct investment in the project. Again, the absence of a formal organization in the university with narrow and particular responsibility for the Belfast Project means that there was little institutional investment. The Center for Irish Programs broadly sponsored the project, and Executive Director Thomas Hachey made promises about the university’s commitment to the confidentiality of the interviews, but those promises were personal, ad hoc commitments founded on sand. The project needed an IRB.

Third, BC lacks a culture of faculty governance. Faculty tried to establish a faculty senate, several years ago, but failed. A narrow group of administrators exercise considerable decision making authority, with little accountability or transparency. This structure of authority means that institutional controls over a project are narrowly distributed, and critics have nowhere to go. Bad decisions come down from the clouds, and they stick.

This third problem applies to this post, as well. For me, BC is a black box: things happen inside, and results emerge, but the process that led to those results are not clear. I’ve found a few ways to get a very limited look inside that box — which I can’t explain, for obvious reasons — but I don’t claim to have all the evidence I would want as I try to understand how BC failed so horribly.

So I invite more evidence from people inside BC, who can post comments here or send email to me. I use Yahoo mail; my user name is chrisabray.

More seriously, BC’s Board of Trustees has a duty to find out why the institution they oversee has just released an entire set of extraordinarily sensitive interviews that the university promised to protect. The trustees should hire their own lawyers and commission an independent investigation.


BC is ordered to turn over IRA materials

BC is ordered to turn over IRA materials
By Travis Andersen |
Boston Globe
DECEMBER 29, 2011

A federal judge has ordered Boston College to turn over recorded interviews of a former member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army to federal prosecutors in Boston, who had subpoenaed the material on behalf of British authorities investigating crimes during the sectarian fight for control of Northern Ireland.

In his three-page ruling issued Tuesday, Judge William G. Young of federal court in Boston directed the school to turn over the materials by tomorrow. They include recordings, transcripts, and other items related to the former IRA member, Dolours Price, who has acknowledged being involved in numerous crimes committed during the era.

Boston College said it is disappointed by Judge Young’s ruling, arguing it “could have a chilling effect because people could be reluctant to participate in oral history projects moving forward,’’ said spokesman Jack Dunn.

But he said the school would not appeal the decision.

Young’s ruling is the first to a number of requests by the British government for materials that were collected for the Belfast Project, a BC oral history project about the Troubles, a tumultuous period in the latter half of the 20th century when more than 3,000 people were killed in the struggle for control of Northern Ireland.

The Belfast Project’s organizers had promised their subjects they would keep their identities and the material they provided confidential until the person had died.

While he provided no explanation for his decision yesterday, in a preliminary ruling two weeks ago Young acknowledged the school’s concerns about academic freedom. But he also noted that a treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom requires the two nations to share information that is relevant to ongoing criminal investigations.

“These are serious allegations, and they weigh strongly in favor of disclosing the confidential information,’’ Young wrote.

Assistant United States Attorney John McNeil, who is arguing the case for the government, said, “We appreciate Boston College’s thoughtful decision in this case by deciding not to appeal.’’

Prosecutors had asserted in court filings that the material they are seeking is relevant to an ongoing investigation into the death of Jean McConville, a Belfast mother of 10 who disappeared in 1972 and whose body was recovered in 2003.

The IRA has admitted it killed McConville because she was suspected of being an informer. Price and another former IRA member, Brendan Hughes, have said that her abduction, execution, and burial was ordered by Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, which had served as the political arm of the IRA, which ended military operations in 2005.

Last year, Price admitted in news reports in Northern Ireland that she was involved in McConville’s murder, according to court documents.

Adams has repeatedly denied the allegations that he ordered the killing.

Price, the former IRA member, was convicted in 1973 for her involvement in several car bombings in London, court records show. She has also admitted involvement in the unsolved killings and disappearances of at least four people, according to court filings.

Boston College has already provided federal prosecutors with materials from Hughes, who died in 2008. His interviews were used extensively by Belfast Project director Ed Moloneyin his 2010 book about the Troubles. The Hughes recordings – as well as those of a former member of the Ulster militia who is also dead – are the only materials Belfast Project has made publicly available, Dunn said.

The school also gave Young – at the judge’s request – about 180 transcripts of interviews with more than 20 former IRA members or associates that he is now reviewing.

Young wrote in Tuesday’s ruling that he will issue more orders after further review but did not elaborate.

In addition to the former IRA members, Belfast Project also interviewed former members of the Provisional Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the Catholic militia, and ex-fighters in the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Protestant paramilitary group.

The school is working with prosecutors to determine which interviews with non-IRA members, if any, it will submit to Young for review in the matter of McConville’s death, records show.

In an interview in Dublin in May, a former senior member of the IRA told the Globe that many former members believe the subpoenas being issued by police in Northern Ireland are aimed at embarrassing Adams, who was elected earlier this year to the Republic of Ireland’s Parliament.

He has always denied he was an IRA member.

Young had previously rejected a bid from Moloney and a Belfast Project interviewer, Anthony McIntyre, to intervene as parties in the case opposing the subpoenas.

A lawyer for the men, Eamonn Dornan of Long Island City, N.Y., said in an e-mail that the men will appeal that decision.

Dornan said they are “determined to employ every legal means available to them to prevent the disclosure of any and all information contributed in the strictest confidence and in good faith to the Boston College archives.’’

Boston College: Time for Resignations

Boston College: Time for Resignations
Chris Bray

Boston College has done something disgraceful, and everyone involved should lose their jobs. I’m willing to be talked out of that position, but the evidence that follows sets a high bar for that possibility.

Now. This post will be long and difficult to read, with a large set of embedded documents (that you can enlarge to full screen, if you have trouble reading them). But when you make it to the end, you’ll clearly see two things:

1.) BC has shamed itself as an institution, and has unnecessarily broken a set of extraordinarily serious promises, and

2.) You don’t have to take my word for it, because the evidence speaks clearly, and the documentary evidence appears right here on the page.

Some background: Boston College sponsored the Belfast Project, an effort to secure interviews with former members of paramilitary organizations on both sides of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Because such a project would require people to speak frankly about their participation in acts of unlawful violence, the project’s researchers promised participants that their interviews would be embargoed until their deaths. Each tape and transcript of an interview with a former member of the Provisional IRA, for example, or the Ulster Volunteer Force, would be closely held in BC’s Burns Library, securely locked away from historians and journalists until the contents of the material could no longer cause legal harm or political retribution to the interviewee.

BC and its researchers took the sensitivity of their work very seriously, shielding their work from disclosure just as they shielded the content of their interviews. For example, in a discussion over Skype on Dec. 27, Irish journalist and Belfast Project director Ed Moloney told me that he discussed interviews with his researchers only by encrypted email, using PGP to protect their messages. I’ve confirmed that claim with other participants.

At BC, the academics responsible for commissioning and managing the project shared that commitment to secrecy. For example, in a March 23, 2010 email message sent at 2:50 PM, BC Professor Thomas Hachey, the executive director of the university’s Center for Irish Programs, reassured Belfast Project researcher Anthony McIntyre that “B.C. is firmly and unconditionally committed to respecting the letter and intent of what is a contractual agreement never to release any of the material to anyone unless given permission in writing (notorized) beforehand by the participant, or until the demise of a participant.” (McIntyre recently forwarded the message to me.)

Then, in March of this year, the British government asked the U.S. Department of Justice to subpoena some of the embargoed Belfast Project materials, pursuant to an investigation of the 1972 murder of Jean McConville by the Provisional IRA.

For more background, see my posts at Cliopatria, starting with this one, or see this at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Now, this is very important: Even if you believe that BC’s promise could not reasonably protect interviewees from a government subpoena, what follows will show you that BC has behaved with unconscionable neglect and recklessness. You can believe that BC has an obligation to hand over subpoenaed material and still see that the university has failed in its responsibility to protect its Belfast Project interviewees.

I’m going to start backwards, to immediately show you the posture that BC has adopted in the face of this government effort to secure embargoed and confidential academic research materials. Immediately below is an extraordinary Dec. 27 letter, hand-delivered to the federal district court in Boston, from Jeffery Swope, BC’s outside counsel for the Belfast Project subpoenas. Look at the paragraph on pg. 2 that begins, “The Clerk’s notes of the Court’s order…”

Dec 27 in Cam Receipt

The DOJ is pursuing two sets of subpoenas: First, they have successfully subpoenaed interviews with two specific Belfast Project interviewees, Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes. Second, they have obtained subpoenas for “any and all interviews containing information about the abduction and death of Mrs. Jean McConville.” (I’ll show the evidence for that subpoena language in a moment.)

The Provisional IRA has admitted to that abduction and killing — and told the police, in 2003, where to find McConville’s body — and a subpoena for information about McConville’s death is necessarily a subpoena for interviews with members of that organization. The court has acknowledged as much, as BC’s lawyer writes in this letter. There is no reason for a subpoena of material relating to McConville’s murder to cause BC to produce interview material with members of loyalist paramilitaries, the enemies of the organization that killed McConville.

But here’s this remarkable occurrence in which the government “asked” BC to review the loyalist interviews in its confidential collection and see what it should turn over, and “Judge Young stated that the Court was eager to have, but not ordering, Boston College to do so.”

The government has “asked,” the court is “not ordering”…and “Boston College is working with the United States Attorney’s Office to obtain a list of search terms for Boston College to use in searching the pdfs of the non-IRA transcripts for information that relates to the abduction or death of Mrs. McConville, which transcripts, if any, will then be submitted to the court for review in camera” (emphasis added).

Of course, “non-IRA” interviews are not likely to contain information about an IRA-conducted killing. But whatever the likelihood, BC is offering to turn over material that has not been subpoenaed, that the DOJ is only requesting and that the court is “not ordering” that they turn over.

I’m repeating myself, but here’s Thomas Hachey, executive director of BC’s Center for Irish Programs, on March 23, 2010: “B.C. is firmly and unconditionally committed to respecting the letter and intent of what is a contractual agreement never to release any of the material to anyone unless given permission in writing (notorized) beforehand by the participant, or until the demise of a participant.”

How do you square that statement with BC’s offer to review and possibly hand over material that the court has “not ordered” them to provide?

But this is just a hint about BC’s attitude. Look farther, and it gets so much worse.

The first subpoenas BC received, the ones for interviews with two specific people, were served in early May. The second set of subpoenas, the broader set seeking “any and all interviews containing information about the abduction and death of Mrs. Jean McConville,” were served on BC in early August. The court order giving permission for the subpoenas (formally issued by a DOJ lawyer acting as a “commissioner” under the terms of an international treaty) is sealed, but the response from BC’s lawyer is available on the federal court system’s document website, and is embedded immediately below.

Motion to Quash New Subpoenas 8-17-11

See pg. 2: “A second set of subpoenas, each dated August 3, 2011, were served and by agreement accepted by counsel for Boston College on August 4, 2011.” Remember that date.

Both times it received subpoenas for Belfast Project materials, BC filed motions to quash. On December 16, the court rejected those motions and ordered BC to produce the subpoenaed material for in camera review. (More about that review later.) Here’s the court’s memorandum and order, with the order appearing on pg. 48:

Bc Decision

The relevant portion: “This Court ORDERS Boston College to produce copies of all materials responsive to the commissioner’s subpoenae to this Court for in camera review by noon on December 21, 2011, thus allowing time for Boston College to request a stay from the Court of Appeals.”

Below, BC’s response.

Receipt for in Camera Filing

See especially Items # 5 and 6, which describe affidavits filed under seal regarding BC’s knowledge of the Belfast Project material in its collection. Robert K. O’Neill is the Burns Librarian at BC, the person who has held these materials since their delivery to the university.

The good news is that we can tell what information these affidavits contain, even though they’re filed under seal. First, and I apologize for being tedious, go back up to the first document embedded in this post, “Dec 27 in Cam receipt.” Look at the longest full paragraph on pg. 2 for this statement from BC’s lawyer, describing the university’s “responsibility to identify specific interviews that it has determined to be germane” to the broad second set of subpoenas: “As I stated in the conference held on December 20, 2011, and Dr. O’Neill stated in his affidavit dated December 21, 2011, Boston College has not made such a determination as to the individuals formerly associated with the IRA.”

Nor did Anthony McIntyre, who conducted the IRA interviews, help BC to determine which interviews were germane to the subpoena. BC’s outside lawyer, Jeffrey Swope, first asked McIntyre to help BC to identify which interviews were germane to the August 4 subpoenas in an email sent to McIntyre on the evening of December 20. I know this because McIntyre forwarded Swope’s email to me. Here’s how Swope’s December 20 email request for help ends: “Judge Young directed that Boston College file an affidavit in response to his order by tomorrow, December 21, at noon EST. I would be grateful to hear from you as soon as you can contact me.”

So BC got a set of subpoenas, for material in its possession, on August 4. Ordered on December 16 to turn over the materials relevant to the subpoena, BC tried on December 20 to make a first effort to find out what materials in its collection were germane to the August 4 subpoena, with a hearing scheduled on the matter before a federal judge the very next day.

August 4 to December 20: 139 days, including December 20.

Here comes the big finish. Not having figured out what material in its possession was germane to the second set of subpoenas, BC lost the ability to hand over only those portions of the IRA interviews. From the court clerk’s notes of a December 22 hearing:

Filed & Entered: 12/22/2011
Hearing (Other)
Docket Text: ELECTRONIC Clerk’s Notes for proceedings held before Judge William G. Young: Hearing held on 12/22/2011. After addressing counsel and hearing from counsel, the Court Orders the following: Boston College is to deliver all remaining 192 transcripts of IRA interviewees to the Court for in camera review by Noon, Tuesday, December 27, 2011. Copies are acceptable to the Court. The Court reminded Boston College of its responsibility to identify specific interviews that the Burns Library and Boston College have determined to be germane, per the hearing on Dec. 20, 2011 and accompanying clerk’s notes.

Go back up to the first embedded document in this post, “Dec 27 in Cam receipt,” to see BC’s statement that it has now handed over its entire collection of interviews, in full, with IRA members.

So: Boston College now offers to review, and possibly turn over, material that the DOJ has “asked” for and that the court has “not ordered” that it produce, while the university has also turned over complete transcripts and tapes of interviews that the DOJ did not subpoena in full, because they didn’t bother to figure out — in 139 days — what material was germane to the subpoena.

Thomas Hachey, executive director of BC’s Center for Irish Programs, March 23, 2010: “B.C. is firmly and unconditionally committed to respecting the letter and intent of what is a contractual agreement never to release any of the material to anyone unless given permission in writing (notorized) beforehand by the participant, or until the demise of a participant.”


I have invited BC to respond. If they do, I’ll post their response in full. I did ask BC spokesman Jack Dunn, in a Dec. 19 email message, what course BC was planning to take as it decided what material to hand over to the court. Dunn replied, “At this stage I cannot answer your question. We intend to cooperate with the Court, but no specific process has yet to be determined.” You can see for yourself how well that turned out.

Meanwhile, a final note about the significance of the judge’s in camera review of these materials. A few days ago, BC gave the court the transcripts and tapes of the interviews in its collection with Dolours Price. The judge has already completed his in camera review, and ordered on December 27 that the DOJ be given Price’s full interviews “on or before” December 30:

Young Dec 27 Order

By the standard the court has so far adopted, anything BC turns over to the court will end up at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and from there to the British government. Everything anyone said to BC: right to the British government.

Britain May Get Ahold of Secret IRA Interviews

Britain May Get Ahold of Secret IRA Interviews
Courthouse News
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Last Update: 10:50 AM PT

(CN) – Boston College must hand over confidential interviews of Irish Republican Army paramilitary fighters, a federal judge ruled at a Thursday hearing in Boston, saying he will review the 192 transcripts before deciding whether to release them to the United Kingdom.

The school has until noon, Dec. 27, to turn over the germane documents from a 2001 oral history project that culled interviews with people involved in a civil conflict known as “the troubles” that took root in Ireland around 1969.

Belfast Project researchers spoke with members of the Irish Republican Army IRA, the group’s political party Sinn Fein and other paramilitary organizations. Each interviewee was given a contract guaranteeing confidentiality “to the extent that American law allows,” and the interviews were coded to preserve their anonymity. Only the project director had access to the key identifying the interviewees.

“The interviewees conditioned their participation on the promises of strict confidentiality and anonymity,” according to a Dec. 16 order that declined to quash the subpoena of a U.S. attorney acting as a commissioner under a treaty with the United Kingdom.

Earlier this year, the United Kingdom subpoenaed the interviews of Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, two former IRA volunteers, as well as “any and all interviews containing information about the abduction and death of Mrs. Jean McConville.” McConville was abducted and killed by the IRA in 1972 for allegedly informing on Republican activities to the British.

Price participated in a 1973 car bombing that injured more than 200 people. She spent more than 200 days on hunger strike during a 20-year prison sentence before she was pardoned on humanitarian grounds in 1980.

In recent years, Price has reportedly helped investigators retrieve the bodies of those thought to have been murdered by the IRA, including McConville in 2003. Though she has told the public little about her activities in the 1970s, she is thought to be the first woman sworn into the IRA, where she rose through the ranks and allegedly transported victims like McConville to the places they were killed.

Boston College complied with the requests for documents relating to Hughes, because he is deceased, but moved to quash the other subpoenas. It argued that the premature release of the tapes would break the IRA’s “code of silence” and could lead to retaliation against Price and other project members.

After denying Boston College’s motions to quash last week, U.S. District Judge William Young conducted an in camera review of several responsive transcripts on Wednesday.

That batch was ordered to contain 13 Delours Price transcripts. Boston College also produced an affidavit about 24 IRA interviewees and 192 interviews. In a bench order Thursday, Young gave the school until Dec. 27 to turn over the 192 transcripts for in camera review.

Young found that both sides had “significant interests” at stake. The United States has an obligation to assist the United Kingdom with its investigation, and “the public’s interest in legitimate criminal proceedings are unquestioned,” he said.

On the other hand, the judge recognized that there are “potential chilling effects of a summary denial of the motion to quash on academic research.”

“Boston College may therefore be correct in arguing that the grant of these subpoenae will have a negative effect on their research into the Northern Ireland Conflict, or perhaps even other oral history efforts,” Young said.

The Troubling Secret History of the Troubles

The Troubling Secret History of the Troubles
By Charles P. Pierce
The Politics Blog

Back when I was a lad, and there were no such things as blogs or Fox and Friends, Dr. Tom Hachey used to teach the introductory world-history class to freshmen at Marquette University. These courses are very large clusters of fuck on their best days, which are not many, and Tom taught his in the Varsity Theater on Wisconsin Avenue where, on weekends, he was replaced by those surreal movie double-features common to both college movie theaters and the early 1970’s. (My favorite was the one that paired up Lady Sings the Blues and Bananas. I may have brought a different date to each movie. Things are a little cloudy.) Anyway, Tom braved this undergraduate hell for many years before moving along to Boston College.

Once there, he set about building the finest Irish studies department on this side of the pond. A few years ago, his Center for Irish Studies embarked on what it called The Belfast Project, a series of extensive oral-history interviews with as many of the principal players, Protestant and Catholic, as could be found regarding the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the period from roughly 1969 to the Good Friday peace accords. Participants were assured that their contributions would be kept in strictest confidence. Many of the participants were people deeply engaged in the violence that wracked the place over three decades, and they were encouraged to talk about their part in all of it. It was considered to be an important project in the ongoing truth and reconciliation efforts that have been so vital to the peace process that finally took hold in the north of Ireland. It also is the kind of thing in which historians have been engaged for years regarding a number of different topics, an attempt to get living participants in history to set down their personal recollections before everybody involved dies off.

Which, of course, was the British government’s cue to come tromping back on stage with a club in its hand and both feet in its mouth.

The British government has issued subpoenas demanding that B.C. turn over many of the interviews. The United States government has joined in the effort. The British claim that they are looking for evidence of crimes still unsolved, but that is likely all your arse. As has been pointed out by Kevin Cullen, the Boston Globe columnist whose work during the Troubles would have won him about six Pulitzers, had the elite American press ever given a good goddamn about Ireland, the British government’s interest in this material seems rather specifically political. As Cullen reported in the Globe last June…

In an interview in Dublin last month, a former senior member of the IRA told The Boston Globe that many former members of the IRA believe the subpoenas are the work of disgruntled police officers in Northern Ireland and are aimed at embarrassing Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, the party that used to be the political wing of the IRA. Adams has always denied he was a member of the IRA. The records being sought are interviews with two former members of the IRA, Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, who were highly critical of Adams’s stewardship of the peace process. Both Hughes and Price have alleged that Adams was a senior member of the IRA, involved directly in killings, abductions, and other acts of IRA violence. Hughes died in 2008. Adams is not mentioned in the BC filings, but some BC officials privately believe the subpoenas are aimed at embarrassing Adams following his election earlier this year to the Republic of Ireland’s parliament.

Also, the interest of the British in unsolved crimes seems strangely, well, limited. In August, Cullen pointed out in his column, that,

Given the hundreds of unsolved murders that took place during the Troubles, the idea that the only one of interest in those BC files happens to implicate the leader of the party that represents the majority of Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland shows what this is all about. This isn’t about justice. It’s about revenge. And if this is followed through to its logical conclusion, the power-sharing government will collapse in a sea of recrimination.

Unless the British government plans to break out the kangaroo suits again — always a possibility when dealing with Ireland — almost anything they glean from the materials under subpoena is likely inadmissable in court on a number of grounds. More likely, as the Irish American Unity Council pointed out in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the demands from the British government coincide rather too neatly with the success achieved by Nationalist candidates in the Irish election last February. (The subpoenas were issued at the beginning of March.) What is more than likely is that the British are fishing around for material that they can use to embarrass Nationalist politicians, most notably Adams, who was elected to the Dail Eireann earlier this year. Given the continuing fragility of the peace process, all of this looks grotesquely ham-handed. These dangers are not imaginary. Again, as Cullen reported in June…

Anthony McIntyre, the former IRA volunteer who interviewed former IRA members for the BC project, said in an affidavit that the home next to his in Belfast was attacked with excrement, in what he said was a case of mistaken identity, after a book based in part on the interviews he conducted with Hughes was published. “There were reports in the press of death threats to myself,” wrote McIntyre, who served 18 years in prison for killing a loyalist fighter. “I am of the view that the more the Belfast Project interviews reveal about how deeply matters of the IRA were discussed, the greater the danger that I as the primary researcher will face.”

Which is not even to mention the offense against freedom of inquiry that this represents. It would be nice to see the community of historians engaged on this issue, which seeks to make academic freedom an accomplice to sour political vengeance.

Judge rules against BC, appeal possible

Judge rules against BC, appeal possible
Irish Echo

A federal judge in Boston has turned aside a motion by the trustees of Boston College to quash subpoenas that order them to turn over recordings of former members of the IRA to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

The recorded materials must be turned over to the judge by today, Wednesday.

Last June, the Jesuit university filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Boston to, according to a statement at the time, “quash the subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s Office as to the release of certain portions of the University’s Oral History Archive on the Troubles in Northern Ireland.”

The archive, which covers the thirty years of the Northern Ireland Troubles, is stored on campus in the college’s Burns Library and is comprised in large part of interviews conducted by journalists Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre over a five year period between 2001 and 2006. Interviewees were offered anonymity for as long as they lived.

One of the interviewees, Brendan Hughes has since died but another key interviewee, Dolours Price, is still living.

The legal assault against the library’s walls began with a request to the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston from the PSNI earlier this year. The U.S. attorney’s office in turn presented the university with a sealed subpoena intended to obtain evidence linked to murders in Northern Ireland, some of them as far back as four decades ago.

In his ruling, Judge William Young did not order Boston College to immediately turn over the materials to federal prosecutors.

Instead, according to a Boston Globe report, Young said in his 48-page ruling that he would review the materials and decide on the next step, writing that the subpoenas were made in good faith, and were relevant to a non-frivolous criminal inquiry.

Last June, in its motion, BC stated: “We are asking the court to weigh the important competing interests in this matter. 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.”

When the story first broke, BC spokesman Jack Dunn said that the university was concerned over the possible ramifications for its oral history project, the safety of those interviewed for the project “and the peace process itself.”

Dunn said that Boston College’s “sole interest” in the process of compiling the archive on the Troubles was “the preservation of the truth and to support peace in Northern Ireland.”

Dunn, told the Globe that the university was, however, pleased with the judge’s ruling.

“While the motion to quash the subpoenas was denied, the court, in agreeing to review the research materials granted [the college] what it was seeking by promising to determine what materials, if any, are relevant to the criminal investigations,” he said.

Judge Young, according to the report, acknowledged some of BC’s concerns, but added that the recordings were relevant to investigations of crimes including murder and kidnapping. He also said the United States had an obligation under a treaty with Britain to turn over the materials.

“These are serious allegations, and they weigh strongly in favor of disclosing the confidential information,” Young wrote in his decision.

In a statement, Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre, whose motion to intervene in the case was rejected by the court, said: “We are naturally disappointed but we confidently expect BC to take up Judge Young’s implied invitation to lodge an appeal.

“One way or another this fight will go on. There are very important issues at stake – legal & political – that could adversely affect vital and essential U.S. interests, both domestic and international. Not least among the latter is the Good Friday Agreement in which President Clinton, Senator Mitchell and virtually the entire American body politic invested so much energy, time, effort and not least their personal and national prestige to bring a seemingly intractable and bloody conflict to an end.

“As anyone familiar with the background to this case can attest, the enforcement of these subpoenas has the real potential to create an immensely destabilizing political crisis in Northern Ireland.

“It comes at a time when the British government is refusing to properly investigate allegations of murder connived at by its own security and intelligence services. The double standards involved in all this will send a clear and unmistakable message to everyone in Northern Ireland, a message that reverberates down through the sad, tragic and bloody history of Ireland’s relationship with Britain.

“It would be an event of extraordinary irony that a decision of a court in a country which expended so much political capital to secure peace in Ireland could threaten all that was achieved over so many long and difficult years.

“Given Boston College’s long record of nurturing a resolution to the conflict, as well as the solemn assurances to protect confidentiality given to those involved in this oral history project, we therefore look forward to an early announcement of the college’s intention to appeal.”

Moloney and McIntyre are being supported in their battles against the subpoenas by a number of Irish American organizations including the Brehon Law Society and Irish American Unity Conference.

Holder In Hot Water With Irish American Organizations

Holder In Hot Water With Irish American Organizations
December 18, 2011

Philadelphia, PA & Denver, CO – The National Presidents of the nation’s two largest Irish American groups expressed their disappointment with the decision by Judge Young in the British government’s attempt to get records held in the Burns Archives of Boston College. Britain made the request through Attorney General Eric Holder pursuant to a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) in February and requested the subpoena be sealed.

“The Judge not only ignored Boston College’s arguments,” stated National AOH President Seamus Boyle, “but he refused to listen to the arguments of Eamonn Dornan that the British were misusing the MLAT treaty for political purposes.” Dornan sought to act as an intervener for Ed Moloney & Anthony McIntyre, two principals in the Oral History project. Dornan also asked the Judge to take note of the history of the Extradition/MLAT treaty ratification and Britain’s attempts to deceive U. S. Senator Kerry and others.

National IAUC President Thomas Burke registered his objection to providing the British government any records of the conflict until they meet three simple requests far more serious than the taped recollections of a dissident of the Irish peace process.

“How can Attorney General Holder,” stated Burke, “the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, turn over records to the British since it has failed to respond to requests or produce records of the murder of lawyer Patrick Finucane; a murder in which they collaborated; it has failed to respond to the unanimous Declaration of the Irish Government for British records of the mass murder of the Dublin/Monaghan bombings, and it imprisons Gerry McGough in defiance of the intent of the 1998 Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement?”

Ned McGinley, former National AOH President, commented that Attorney General Holder has failed to give any substantive response to letters from the Presidents of the AOH, IAUC & the Brehon Law Society seeking his rejection of the British request.

IAUC Board member, Mike Cummings, noted that AG Holder & Secretary of State Clinton have solid grounds for rejecting the British request which are spelled out in the Treaty documents. “To respond to this request is potentially disruptive of the peace process and their request is not related to a legitimate criminal investigation. It is not possible for the United States to turn over these records to a government that has political prisoners, juryless courts and a record of corruption and murder in Northern Ireland that gets a new chapter with every passing month.”

The parties are to decide on an appeal shortly.