Boston researchers fight against seizure of IRA interviews

Boston researchers fight against seizure of IRA interviews
Academics appeal against judge’s ruling that they must pass alleged evidence of killings to police in Northern Ireland
Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
The Guardian
Monday 23 January 2012 14.29 EST

American researchers will appeal on Tuesday against a US court decision forcing them to hand over alleged evidence of IRA killings to police in Northern Ireland.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) wants access to a taped interview with Old Bailey bomber Dolours Price as part of its historical investigation into the murder and disappearance of Jean McConville in 1972. Abducted from her family, shot dead and buried secretly, McConville was the most famous of the IRA’s “disappeared”.

On Friday, a US federal judge ordered Boston College to turn over interview transcripts and recordings of former IRA members gathered as part of an oral history archive involving IRA and loyalist activists.

The court will now hear appeals from academic researchers and journalists that if the interview material is given to the PSNI it will endanger their lives and prevent ex-paramilitaries revealing all they knew about IRA and loyalist activities during the conflict. They claim that if the confidential information is given to the PSNI it will deter former terrorists from co-operating with historians and even any future Northern Ireland truth and reconciliation process.

McConville’s family claim that the disclosure of interviews touching on the case could shed vital new light on her disappearance and potentially even implicate the president of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams.

Price’s evidence to the Boston-based Belfast Project contains a claim that she drove the car that took McConville, a mother of 10, across the Irish border to her death and secret burial. Price is understood to have claimed on tape that Adams – allegedly second in command of the IRA in Belfast at the time – set up the covert anti-informer unit that “disappeared” a number of suspected informers, including the west Belfast woman.

The former IRA woman also told the Boston College researchers that Adams gave the order for McConville to be buried in secret in an unmarked location on the County Louth coast. Rather than admit they had murdered a mother of 10 children, the IRA later put out a legend throughout west Belfast that McConville had abandoned her family and run away to England.

At the full court hearing on the case, which opens in Boston on Tuesday, researchers will be fighting to keep the archive closed until the participants die. They have vowed to appeal against the judgment if it goes against them.

At the weekend, Adams, now a member of the Irish parliament, said he had nothing to fear from the PSNI getting access to the Boston College tapes and again denied any involvement in McConville’s murder and disappearance.

“They have been saying this for years, for decades. I am the leader of the Sinn Féin party, I have a job of work to do, that’s what I am focused on. I learnt a long time ago not to worry about things you have no control over,” Adams said. The former West Belfast MP has also always maintained he was never a member of the IRA.

But McConville’s daughter Helen and son-in-law Seamus McKendry told the Guardian that they welcomed the potential release of the Dolours Price material. They rejected claims that by seeking to seize the tapes the PSNI were putting the peace process at risk.

“We want the tapes handed over forthwith. It is utter hype and tripe to say it’s going to damage the peace process,” they said.

Helen McKendry was barely a teenager when she witnessed her mother being dragged out of their home by local IRA members in the Divis Flats complex in December 1972. She and her husband had fought a three-decade campaign, firstly to locate the body of McConville, whose remains were found on a beach in County Louth in 2003, and latterly to bring those who ordered, organised and carried out the murder to justice.

“These tapes can shed light on what happened to Jean back in 1972. We would hope that it would lead to the full truth behind what happened to her. If it could end in prosecutions in court we would definitely welcome it.”

On the alleged role of Adams as an IRA commander, Helen and Seamus McKendry said: “I would say most definitely he is named by Dolours Price and we have always firmly believed Gerry Adams gave the order for her to be taken. That is why this tape needs to be heard.”

They added: “Jean McConville has had no voice for herself. To our dying days we want to give her one. She is the ghost of the Troubles who will not go away.

“Dolours Price has already admitted this and surely that is enough for both him and her to be arrested and questioned about it. He should most definitely be arrested over this. Just because he [Adams] is a member of the Dáil does not mean he has any special status in the world. The Geneva convention says disappearance is a war crime. We have always believed what was done to Jean was a war crime.”

Boston College’s Belfast Project took place over five years from 2001 and involved academics, historians and journalists conducting interviews with former republicans and loyalists. All the interviewees were promised their accounts would remain confidential until after their deaths.

The researchers are appealing against a five-page ruling issued last Friday by the US federal judge William G Young, ordering the college to turn over transcripts from seven interview subjects to prosecutors who had subpoenaed the items on behalf of the PSNI.

Project director and award-winning journalist Ed Moloney and former IRA member turned writer Anthony McIntyre have argued in the court papers that the release of this material could endanger the safety of McIntyre and his family.