Boston Appeals Court Hears Case Of IRA Interviews
BY DAVID BOERI Apr 5, 2012
WBUR Radio 90.9 FM
Thursday 5 April 2012
BOSTON — The oral history project at Boston College that sought stories of former participants in the paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland has landed in the lap of the Federal Appeals Court in Boston.
And it has come with a dramatic warning.
The Irish journalist who directs the project and its lead researcher want to prevent the release of confidential interviews to British police.
Their attorney warns that releasing those tapes would put people at risk of retaliation and even murder.
David Boeri reports from Boston, MA about the appeal filed by former The Belfast Project Director Ed Moloney and the researchers involved in the project concerning the lower court’s order to turn over confidential interviews from former combatants in The Troubles.
In this report, with the exception of Carrie Twomey, (CT) all quotes in this report are taken from the recording of the hearing held yesterday in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, MA.
Legend: Reporter David Boeri (DB)
Appellants Moloney and McIntyre’s attorney, Eamonn Dornan (ED)
US Assistant Attorney Barbara Healy Smith (BS)
and Appeals Court Judges, the Honourable Juan Torruella and the Honourable Michael Boudin.
Announcer: The fate of the Northern Ireland Oral History collection at Boston College has landed in the lap of the federal appeals court in Boston. The Irish journalist who directed the project and it’s lead researcher, want to prevent the release of confidential interviews to British police. Their attorney warns that releasing the tapes would put the people who did the interviews at risk of retaliation. WBUR’s David Boeri has the story.
David Boeri (DB): The stakes couldn’t be higher. Project Director Ed Moloney and his Lead Researcher, Anthony McIntyre, who’s wife Carrie Twomey, spoke for him outside the courthouse.
Carrie Twomey (CT): This was about lives! This is not just the papers in the library. This is my life, my children’s lives, my husband’s life, all of the people that bravely participated in this project, are at risk.
DB: At risk, Twomey says, because of the effort by the United States on behalf of the British government and its Mutual Assistance Treaty to turn over some of those Oral Histories to police in Northern Ireland who are probing a murder there by the IRA in 1972. But in a culture, history and conflict riddled with and haunted by informants, to be called a tout, or informant, or to reveal confidences promised for life, as the Oral History Project promised, is to be marked.
Attorney Eamonn Dornan is representing Moloney and McIntyre.
Eamonn Dornan (ED): The threat as outlined is all too real because Mr. McIntyre has been branded as an informer, in some parts, for his role in putting into archive information from IRA operatives in breach of the IRA’s strictly and sometimes brutally enforced Code of Silence.
DB: McIntyre himself was absent. After being convicted of murder and serving eighteen years in prison, the former IRA Volunteer is not allowed to enter the United States. His authenticity as an academic has gone unquestioned, however.
In any event, he and Moloney, the Director of the Oral History Project, were denied standing in the case by the judge, William Young. Young ruled last Winter that their interests would be adequately protected by Boston College, where the project is based. Eamonn Dornan:
ED: We’ve said all along that our interests are of a much higher stake than those of Boston College. Boston College has institutional interests.
DB: Whereas his clients, Attorney Dornan said, have interests in protecting the confidentiality and the lives of those on both sides of The Troubles who told their stories. When Judge Young last January ordered Boston College to turn over those archival interviews and BC chose not to appeal, the school was accused of betrayal and cowardice; of being chickens instead of eagles in defending academic freedom in its own project. One of the Appeals Judges, Michael Boudin, had this to say about BC at yesterday’s hearing:
Judge Boudin: It’s a little odd to be hearing how well Boston College represents these interests (scoffs) if they’re not seeking to appeal the order to turn over the documents!
DB: In opposition to the appeal, the government attorney, who restricted her statements to the court room, argued that any First Amendment rights in this case are trumped by the criminal investigation. She also argued that the US has a treaty obligation to assist Britain.
Assistant US Attorney Barbara Healy Smith downplayed the possible danger to people in the Oral History Project or their privilege:
Barbara Healy Smith (BS): Our constitution does not protect non-citizens outside of the country from unnamed third parties who might bring them harm as a result of testimony.
DB: Which is to say those in Northern Ireland who talked on condition of confidence until death have no expectation of protection by a US court ordering academics to turn over the confidential interviews to British police. Now came push-back from Judge Torruella:
Judge Torruella: But they’re claiming that the actions of our government are going to put them at risk.
DB: The court is expected to rule within the next three months. This Friday is the fourteenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement which brought peace to Northern Ireland. A peace that the experience of the Oral History Project suggests is still fragile. For 90.9 WBUR, I’m David Boeri.