Boston College IRA tapes saga: Schumer steps in

Boston College IRA tapes saga: Schumer steps in
The Irish Emigrant

On Thursday Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-New York) waded into the Boston College Belfast Project controversy, when he urged US federal officials to block a subpoena that would divulge the secrets of the college’s confidential oral history project which featured many former IRA operatives.

Senator Schumer said in a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the request from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) for tapings raised “significant issues of journalistic confidentiality and academic freedom”. On top of that, he said, the Northern Ireland peace process itself could be put in peril.

The increasingly acrimonious saga has run since last May, when US authorities acting for the PSNI demanded access to 26 interviews given to BC by former IRA members for the 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.

The PSNI investigation is focusing on interviews given by Dolours Price and the late Brendan Hughes, both former IRA members. Both have in the past accused Sinn Fein president 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 mother of 10 Jean McConville.

A Boston court previously ordered that all information from the interviews of Dolours Price be handed over to US authorities, with a final decision on whether or not these are given to the PSNI set to be made next month. Boston College has lodged an appeal against a ruling that it hand over testimony from seven other paramilitaries, which is set to be heard in June.

Boston College IRA tapes: Sen. Schumer has his say
The Irish Emigrant
Open letter from Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) to The Honorable Eric Holder, Attorney General and The Honorable Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State.

Dear Attorney General Holder and Secretary Clinton:

I write to express my concern regarding the ongoing efforts on behalf of the United Kingdom to obtain documents and recordings from Boston College Oral History Archive on the Troubles in Northern Ireland pursuant to provisions of the US-UK Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT). There are significant issues of journalistic confidentiality and academic freedom that are called into question as a result of this legal maneuver that make it dubious.

One issue that is implicated in this case is freedom of the press. I have always been a champion of protecting sensitive source material that is gathered by researchers – journalists and academics alike—and I am concerned that this action presents an infringement on that underpinning of the First Amendment.

But I am also deeply concerned at the implications this effort has with regard to the peace process. The ongoing success of the Good Friday peace process, facilitated and encouraged by the Clinton administration, has changed the course of history in Northern Ireland, and is laying the framework for a functioning civil society where mutual respect and equality is slowly-but-steadily replacing the polarization and violence of the past.

But this is a sensitive and delicate process that we should all be mindful to protect. As you are aware, the actions by the United Kingdom in their request to obtain documents have rightfully caused considerable trepidation among leaders in international affairs including my colleague, Senator Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, as well as among other members of Congress.

There is concern that some former parties to the conflict may perceive the effort by the UK authorities to obtain this information as contravening the spirit of the Good Friday Accords. Many have taken enormous risk in the name of moving Northern Ireland away from war and towards peace, and requests like this can have the effect of undermining that effort. I am proud of the role the United States played to bring about that peace. It would be a terrible mistake if this process were to upset the sensitive balance that has kept the peace and allowed for so much progress in recent years.

During the ratification of this treaty we in the United States Senate made clear that provisions of this treaty, and other with the UK, should not be invoked pursuant to political goals related to Northern Ireland. In particular, the Senate resolution that accompanied the ratification of the extradition treaty in 2007 states that “The Senate understands that the purpose of the treaty is to strengthen law enforcement cooperation between the United States and the United Kingdom by modernizing the extradition process for all serious offences and that the treaty is not intended to reopen issues addressed in the Belfast Agreement, or to impede any further efforts to resolve conflicts in Northern Ireland.”

Given the close relationship we have with the United Kingdom and our deep commitment to a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, I urge you to work with the British Authorities to have this MLAT request withdrawn. Thank you for your attention to this important matter, and if you are in need of any additional information please feel free to contact my Washington office at 202-224-6542.


Charles E. Schumer, United States Senator