Judge: BC must hand Price tapes to prosecutors

Judge: BC must hand Price tapes to prosecutors
By Brian Fitzpatrick
Irish Emigrant
3 January 2011

Boston College (BC) has been ordered by a federal judge to hand over oral history interviews given by former IRA operative Dolours Price as part of its so-called Belfast Project. The order states that all transcripts and recordings, written notes and computer records relating to Price must be handed over to federal prosecutors, who had subpoenaed the tapes on behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). Though expressing disappointment, BC has said it will not appeal.

The increasingly acrimonious tale has run since last May, when US authorities demanded access to 26 interviews given to BC by former IRA members for a project on Northern Ireland’s Troubles, undertaken by former IRA man-turned journalist Anthony McIntyre and Bronx-based journalist Ed Moloney. In total the project included interviews with around 50 republican and loyalist paramilitaries gathered between 2001 and 2006, under the condition that they would not be released until the interviewees had passed away. Significantly, there have been no calls for tapes relating to loyalist paramilitaries, leading to claims that the subpoenas are a politically motivated move against Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

To date, the PSNI investigation has focused on interviews given by Price and the late Brendan Hughes, another former IRA member. Both have in the past accused Adams – who denies ever being in the IRA – of running a secret death squad which conducted the kidnappings and disappearances of at least nine people during the early 1970s, including Jean McConville. A mother of 10, McConville was abducted, killed and buried on a beach in the Republic by the IRA in 1972, having been suspected of informing to British authorities.

Voices from the grave

BC has previously handed over tapes relating to Hughes – who passed away in 2008 – and parts of his testimony were also published in Ed Moloney’s book Voices from the Grave. Price, however, remains alive, and it has been speculated that her interviews may accuse Adams of having a part in the McConville killing. After an initial blanket request for access to the IRA tapes in May, an August subpoena was more targeted, asking for “any and all interviews containing information about the abduction and death of Ms. Jean McConville.”

On the back of this, BC was recently ordered to hand over some 170 transcripts to Judge William G. Young, who said he would review the materials in-camera before deciding which parts, if any, should be handed over to prosecutors. Judge Young agreed with the college’s assertion that the release of the material could place academic freedom in peril, and said only relevant files would be passed on.

Ruling Tuesday to hand over the Price tapes, Judge Young agreed with prosecutors that a US-UK treaty compels both countries to share vital information. “These are serious allegations, and they weigh strongly in favor of disclosing the confidential information,” he wrote, adding he will decide on further orders after he reviews the full set of 170 transcripts, which include testimony from a further 24 former IRA members.

Irreparable harm

Moloney and McIntyre had sought leave to intervene on their own merits in the court action, but Judge Young declined this request. In a recent request for a stay on the release of the Price tapes, the pair claims that, “if the Tapes…are released to the Police Service of Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom…they will suffer irreparable harm.”

In an affidavit lodged by Carrie Twomey, McIntyre’s wife, she says that, “As a result of Anthony being labeled an informer because of his previous work at Boston College, I live in constant fear of some form of [Improvised Explosive Device] IED being lobbed into the house or of him being shot in the street.”

BC, however, said it hopes that upon further review, Judge Young will deem the remaining materials irrelevant to the ongoing investigation. Speaking with The Irish Emigrant, college spokesman Jack Dunn said BC chose not to appeal as the ruling was the best outcome they could have expected. Acknowledging Judge Young’s agreement to hold his own in-camera review before making further decisions, Dunn pointed out that the initial government request had asked that the college hand over everything in its possession.

“Upon review, Judge Young concluded that the Dolours Price materials were relevant to a criminal investigation, and therefore they needed to be handed over,” Dunn said. “We’re obviously disappointed the ruling didn’t go in our favor, but our hope is that, having previously recognized our interest in protecting research and enterprise in oral history, the court will determine that the other materials should not be made available.”

Responding to accusations from Moloney and McIntyre that they have been betrayed by BC over the tapes, and that the college should have appealed but has instead gone back on its commitment to defend the archive, Dunn said the pair, “seem to lack an understanding of the American legal process.”