Echoes of Erin: Irish American Unity Conference President interviewed about Boston College subpoena case
Echoes of Erin (Program 1264)
WEDO Radio 810 AM
McKeesport, PA USA
Sunday 10 June 2012
Host Diane Byrnes (DB) interviews via telephone Thomas Burke, (Mr.B) President of the Irish American Unity Conference about the Boston College Oral History archive.
(Interview begins 1:30 PM EST)
Diane Byrnes (DB): Ladies and gentlemen: it gives me great honour to welcome to Echoes of Erin Mr. Thomas Burke. He is an attorney of law by profession and he is the National President of the Irish American Unity Conference.
And we’re talking to Mr. Burke today about the Boston College Oral History archives. And this is a project that was commissioned by Boston College between 2001 and 2006. Its objective was to enhance awareness of The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Republican and Loyalist activists gave insight into this history. They were promised that all material archived would be securely deposited in Boston College where it would remain inaccessible in all circumstances unless prior approval was given by the donor or the storyteller died.
In May of 2011 the Police Service of Northern Ireland applied through the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty to the US authorities to subpoena part of the archive as part of a 1972 killing investigation.
Mr. Burke, welcome to Echoes of Erin! This is so wonderful to have you speak to us today.
Thomas Burke (Mr.B): Well, thank you Diane. Thank you for inviting me.
DB: I read your emails as part of the IAUC group and boy! You really put some good thoughts out there.
Well look, on this topic, Mr. Burke, can you give us an update on the status of where everything stands?
Mr.B: Yes. The subpoenas from the British, and I won’t go into how they ever got across the ocean and served by the Department of Justice, but they were. The issue is now before the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
Boston College has been very cooperative in turning this material over but it’s now in the chambers of Judge Young in the US District Court in Boston. While the right of the people who established and maintained the archive, Anthony McIntyre and Ed Moloney, a long-time journalist, are fighting out whether they had the right to intervene in opposition before Judge Young to turning these over.
There have been briefs and oral arguments and now I understand there’s still some more manoeuvring in writing that’s going on but we’re waiting for a decision; we were by June 6th but the government got an extra thirty days to turn in its final brief on the subject.
So that’s where we are right now and and we’re awaiting action by the Court of Appeals.
DB: Now there have been many Congressmen that have written to Hillary Clinton and requesting her support in not submitting to this subpoena. So many of them and yet our government really isn’t moving on that. Eric Holder– What’s with him?
Mr.B: Well, we really don’t know. The subpoenas arise from a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between Britain and the United States, we have almost identical treaties with many, many other nations, which was designed to help each other locate evidence of drug laundering and international criminal conspiracies and things of that kind; not to go on political witch hunts, which I think this is.
I think the Justice Department and the State Department are kind of frozen in their tracks. We’ve made representations to both of them.
I’m happy to say Pennsylvania has been very good in the United States Congress about making representations requesting that the State Department ask the British simply to withdraw these subpoenas.
DB: Of course all of this probably would not have happened if it were not for the Irish American Unity Conference, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and The Brehon Law Society. You three organisations have really worked very hard in pursuing that this doesn’t happen.
Mr.B: We have. And the thing we’ve been really pleased about is we haven’t ever worked together as well as we have now and I think probably that was just the result of everybody wanting to work on their own schedule and we’ve made an effort to coordinate our effort and seems to be paying off somewhat at least.
DB: You’re three very influential groups and it just goes to show that when people work together for one goal what can be accomplished. So what’s your next step? What’s going to happen next? Do you know?
Mr.B: Well, we have to wait for a decision.
And then we have to re-double our efforts in the Congress and before the State and Justice Departments to seek our goal of an ultimate withdrawal of the subpoenas.
It came about in the Northern Ireland Police Force when the Historical Enquiries Team, which is part of the police force, was put together and assembled in an effort to find out what, during The Troubles, happened to people; no prosecutions or anything like that, but just what happened to the people who disappeared in that ugly war.
And the Historical Enquiries Team ran out of people to do it with so they hired one of these outfits that brings in extra people, a little bit like Manpower, except in this case they brought in all of the former retired RUC men who really had axes to grind so we’ve got some people trying to stir up trouble, take revenge and that’s really the source of the subpoenas and that’s what we’re combating.
DB: And of course, from much of the material that I’ve read it looks like it is a witch hunt to get to Gerry Adams.
Mr.B: Oh, I think that’s certainly informed speculation.
Mrs. McConville, who was in fact murdered after being warned several times not to inform the British anymore on the IRA and its doings has a daughter surviving her, one of many, who is absolutely convinced beyond all reason that Gerry Adams is personally involved in her mother’s murder.
So that’s really what’s going on…and that’s forty years ago.
So that’s what we’ve got– is some people trying to settle some old scores with evidence that really doesn’t exist.
DB: And isn’t it amazing that forty years ago the police service did not pursue this line of investigation? They just let it go. It wasn’t important and now it is.
Mr.B: It was worse than that- they didn’t have any evidence.
The Department of Public Prosecutions, which is kind of like our Attorney General’s office here, I think on many occasions was asked to chin up a prosecution and they always turned it down because they really didn’t have any evidence that would hold water. And they still don’t.
Whatever’s in that archive is manifestly hearsay; not under oath and it wouldn’t be admitted in a court either in this country or in Britain.
DB: Now Mr Burke, what is the implication if in fact the subpoena does get carried though? What does that mean to us Americans?
Mr.B: Well, if it’s turned over then we just have to see what the British decide they want to do with it; whether they want to bring up a prosecution.
What I’m afraid it will do is act as a further unraveling of the 1998 peace accords consisting of: the Belfast Agreement, the Hillsborough Agreement and the one that’s specifically applicable here, the Weston Park Agreement.
So I think what we could look at on this side of the water is possibly unraveling of the agreement that brought about an end to the war and for no particularly good reason.
The United States government needs to pay closer attention to this issue because the British are acting almost instinctively, as they always have, to try to get a leg up on this whole situation.
And it was only because the Americans were in there and standing with the British and looking them straight in the eye that we got what we got. And now I’m afraid it’s at risk and this is just one of the manifestations of it.
DB: Well, it doesn’t seem like the Obama Administration is real keen to pursue Irish issues, but yet other people in the world we’re gonna help 1-2-3 lickety-split, but not the Irish.
Mr.B: Well, that’s certainly how it seems. We all know that the American government has alot on its plate but they need to leave some room for really preserving one of the government’s great victories.
DB: Oh, absolutely. Now Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre. Anthony lives in Belfast or Northern Ireland.
Mr.B: He does.
DB: And Ed Moloney lives in here in New York…
Mr.B: He’s (Anthony McIntyre) living in Dundalk in The Republic but he works every day up in Belfast.
DB: What implications are there for him personally should this…
Mr.B: Oh my! There are all kinds of things that can happen.
If enough of this stuff got out, I think alot of people, not just Anthony but alot of others, would have their lives put directly at risk.
DB: My goodness! Now what can we as Americans do?
Mr.B: We can directly write or contact Hillary Clinton at the State Department and Mr. Holder at the Department of Justice and contact their own members of Congress to reinforce those requests.
Your own state has been exemplary in getting its elected representatives and Senators to contact the Congress but it wouldn’t hurt to get more.
I think ultimately this is going to be settled in a political way and not in a legal way. So the best foot we can put forward is to put our own elected representatives on notice that we’re watching them and we need them to do what the government promised to do.
DB: And I would think Hillary Clinton is the key here because Eric Holder doesn’t seem to be moving at all and Obama’s not… he’s sort of mute on this.
Mr.B: Yes. His (Attorney General Holder’s) obligation under the treaty is to serve the subpoenas and to provide the lawyers, if there’s resistance as there has been, in the courts.
And he takes a very shall I say short-sighted view of what his job is: and it’s simply to be the lawyer under a treaty and do what the British have asked him to do.
I think Secretary Clinton has been a better about this but not good enough.
We would like very much to have her get out in front as she once did in 1998.
DB: Well then let’s bombard her with letters!
Mr.B: Yes! I agree completely.
DB: And ask her to do something. This is really important, I think. And we just can’t let the Brits do this to us. If this happens, what are the long-range implications of other things happening like this? Not good!
Mr.B: That’s what everybody is worried about, Diane. If they can do this they can do other things. And as I say, it’s almost an instinct for the British to beat up on the Nationalists in Northern Ireland. And it’s almost as if they can’t help themselves but we need to be there and lend a strong hand to stopping it.
DB: I know the Irish American Unity Conference is a very instrumental group here and, as a matter of fact, you’ve got some events coming up yourselves here in a few months in October I think, don’t you?
Mr.B: We do. The weekend of October 12-13 and 14 is the national convention that will be held in Baltimore, Maryland at a beautiful hotel on the harbour. And we look to have very good participation not only from our own organisations, not only from our own IAUC but also from the other Coalition organisations, the AOH and The Brehon Law Society, and a lot of other people who have been with us before and we want them to be with us again.
It should be a wonderful time.
DB: Oh, I’m sure…I’m sure. Good luck with it. I’d might be there except that weekend I’m running a fund raiser for the radio show so I won’t be there.
Mr.B: Okay. Well, if you can get there that’d be great.
DB: Well look, you’re going to be back with us in September, I hope.
Mr.B: I certainly hope so…the Lord willing.
DB: He’ll let you. He’ll let you come back to Echoes of Erin, Mr. Burke. I want to thank you so much for taking your valuable time. I hope you feel better and I think you’ve been very informative here.
Mr.B: Thank you, Diane, I appreciate the opportunity.
DB: Good! Even come September maybe we can follow-up a little bit with what’s happening here and then with some other things you’re involved in as well. Does that sound like a date?
Mr.B: Pretty close.
DB: Alright, alright. Well look, you take care and just feel well and we’ll talk with you again.
Mr.B: Thank you, Diane.
DB: Ladies and gentlemen: I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Thomas Burke, he is the National President of the Irish American Unity Conference and what he said: we need to bombard Hillary Clinton with letters to support the AOH, the IAUC and The Brehon Law Society and not letting our government give in to this subpoena to the British. It just shouldn’t be…just should not be.
(Interview ends 1:44PM EST)