Kerry wades into BC tapes dispute
By Brian Fitzpatrick
In a recent letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) urged the State Department to “work with the British authorities” in the hope that they will “reconsider the path they have chosen” with regard to Boston College’s Belfast Project. At present, sensitive interview tapes relating to former IRA operative Dolours Price lie in the hands of US prosecutors, with a Boston appeal hearing set to decide in March if they should be handed to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
The Belfast Project has been in the spotlight since last summer, when US authorities working on behalf of the PSNI 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. The PSNI request forms part of an investigation into the murder of Jean McConville by the IRA in 1972.
In a recent conference call with a number of Irish-American organizations, it is understood Senator Kerry indicated he would speak personally with British Foreign Secretary William Hague on the issue. On the same call, he is said to have not ruled out the possibility of a hearing on the matter in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he chairs.
Saying the subpoenas had “implications for the confidentiality of other research projects of this nature,” Senator Kerry also said in the letter that he is “obviously concerned about the impact that it may have on the continued success of the Northern Ireland peace process.”
The letter also sees Senator Kerry point out how he spoke with Attorney General Eric Holder on the matter late last year.
Speaking with The Irish Emigrant, Boston-based attorney John Foley, who has been actively lobbying on behalf of the Belfast Project’s directors McIntyre and Moloney, said a lot of hard work had gone into getting Senator Kerry on board, and hoped that “we can finally end this waste of time and effort.”
“Drew O’Brien at Senator Kerry’s office has been instrumental in getting things to this stage,” Foley said. “He’s been a great help in terms of getting on top of the issues at hand, and getting us the political response we need.”
In total the Belfast 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.
The summer subpoenas zoned in on interviews given for the project by Price and the late Brendan Hughes. Both have in the past accused Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams 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, having been suspected of informing to British authorities. Price has previously admitted driving McConville to her death, and there has been speculation that her interviews indicate that Gerry Adams ordered the killing.
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.
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 BC that the release of the material could place academic freedom in peril, and said only relevant files would be passed on.
Subsequently ruling to hand over the Price tapes, he agreed with prosecutors that a US-UK Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) compels both countries to share vital information.
In a January 20 ruling, Judge Young further ordered BC to hand over interviews conducted with seven additional paramilitaries to US prosecutors, saying they were also of relevance. The college has said it is weighing up its legal options, which could include an appeal.
“We are disappointed with [Judge Young’s] ruling in light of the effect it will have on the enterprise of oral history,’’ BC spokesman Jack Dunn told The Boston Globe of the most recent order. “We will take the time allotted us to review our legal options, which include the right to appeal this decision.”
The college did not however appeal the initial Price tapes ruling, leading to a bitter war of words between the researchers and the college over exactly what should have been done to protect the archive. McIntyre and Moloney say they have been betrayed by BC; the college in turn says that although it is not happy with developments, it is obliged to follow valid court orders relating to a criminal investigation.
McIntyre and Moloney were given some breathing space by the US Court of Appeals when it deemed that the Price tapes should not be given to the PSNI before further review. The next hearing on the matter is set for March, and Judge Young has said that the seven more recent orders will fall due three business days after the hold on the Price tapes is lifted, if that happens.
Meanwhile at a separate hearing Tuesday – conducted coincidentally at Boston College Law School owing to an education program aimed at bringing the court system to legal students – Judge William G. Young dismissed a complaint brought by McIntyre and Moloney against the US Government.
At the hearing – which Boston College was not a part of – the pair argued through their lawyer James Cotter that Attorney General Holder did not properly consider the implications for those involved before issuing the subpoenas, and did not follow certain safeguards agreed between the two governments with regard to MLAT, which included provisions for crimes committed before the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
The pair also claimed the release would be in violation of their First Amendment rights, and could endanger the fragile peace in Northern Ireland. The personal safety of all involved in the project was also raised, given heightened dissident activity in Northern Ireland of late.
McIntyre’s wife Carrie Twomey, herself an American citizen, had outlined in a previous court affidavit how she feels her family is in danger over the release of the tapes. The couple lives with their two children in Drogheda, Co. Louth, having moved from Belfast two years ago.
“My husband is being classified as an informer,” she told The Irish Emigrant. “There is definitely that distinct rustling in the undergrowth. When Voices from the Grave was released, our neighbor’s house was attacked.
“I wouldn’t be here in the US spending money I don’t have, if I didn’t feel my life was in danger. We’re trying to get the grown-ups to step forward and do the right thing. This case goes completely against US foreign policy and leaves a lot of US citizens open to potential pitfalls.”
As expected, however, Judge Young dismissed the complaints at the brief hearing, and all involved must now wait until March before a ruling on any handover of the tapes to the PSNI is made.