‘We’ll fight order to give up IRA tapes’

‘We’ll fight order to give up IRA tapes’
Siobhán Maguire
The Sunday Times
Published: 8 July 2012

Researchers are furious after US court rules they must give McConville interview to PSNI, reports Siobhán Maguire

RESEARCHERS for a Boston College oral history project on the Troubles have vowed to fight an American court order to hand over a taped interview with Dolours Price, a former member of the IRA.

Ed Moloney, the project director and journalist, claimed yesterday the court’s decision and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have put the life of fellow researcher Anthony McIntyre “in danger”.

“We are obviously disappointed in the First Circuit judgment but determined to continue our legal fight to stop these interviews from leaving the custody of Boston College where they belong,” Moloney said. “We will be consulting our lawyers over the weekend about our next steps.

“As Eamonn [Dornan, lawyer for the researchers] put it, the IRA could well target Mr McIntyre for having conducted these interviews and subject him and his family to violent reprisals. This action by the PSNI has put his life in danger.”

The ruling by the US First Circuit Court of Appeal supported a judgment made by the District Court last year in relation to interviews given by Price for the Belfast Project, an oral history.

Price was one of several former IRA members who gave interviews to reseachers between 2001 and 2006. The interviews were supposed to be secret until after their deaths.

British authorities, thought to be the PSNI, applied to listen to the tape following a newspaper interview with Price two years ago in which she spoke about the disappearance of Jean McConville, a mother of 10 who was killed by the IRA in the 1970s.

After the district court ruling last year, Boston College announced that it would comply with the order, but Moloney and McIntyre challenged that decision. Their lawyers argued that researchers would be branded informants if material were to be released. They said handing over the tape could have a chilling effect on academic research projects.

In the ruling by a three-judge panel delivered late on Friday, Chief Judge Sandra Lynch said the researchers had no right to interfere with the police request under the terms of a treaty between the US and Britain that requires the countries to aid each other’s criminal investigations. “The choice to investigate criminal activity belongs to the government and is not subject to veto by academic researchers,” it said.

Lynch ruled that while the researchers claim an academic privilege under their constitutional right to freedom of speech, the US Supreme Court ruled in its 1972 Branzburg vs Hayes decision that journalists do not have the right to refuse subpoenas based on their own promises of confidentiality.

“As in Branzburg, there is no reason to create such a privilege here,” Lynch said. “The choice to investigate criminal activity belongs to the government and is not subject to veto by academic researchers.”

The ruling means the interview with Price must be handed over next month. Boston College is trying to quash a broader subpoena for seven other IRA interviews.

A US justice department spokeswoman said it was pleased the court recognised the legal-assistance treaty does not create private rights for individuals.