‘IRA tapes’ handover appeal granted

‘IRA tapes’ handover appeal granted
UTV News
Published Friday, 07 September 2012

PSNI have been prevented from accessing interviews with a former IRA activist from the Boston College after an injunction was issued at the Belfast High Court.

Belfast High Court has granted an injunction stopping the PSNI from accessing any interviews that may be handed over from America until a full hearing is carried out.

Legal appeals were launched by Boston College and two of its researchers, in relation to the handing over of interviews with a former IRA activist, in both the USA and Belfast.

A US court case is continuing as an appeal has been made to seek a stay on the handover of Dolours Price interviews.

Journalist Ed Moloney and former IRA member-turned-writer Anthony McIntyre interviewed Republicans and Loyalists for as part of the American college’s ‘the Belfast Project’ – a recorded oral history project on the Troubles.

The project, which began in 2001, collected recordings on the understanding they would not be made public until the death of the interviewee.

Former IRA prisoner Dolours Price was one of those who took part. She was jailed for her part in the March 1973 car bombing of the Old Bailey in London, which injured more than 200 people.

The legal challenges centre on tape recordings in which it is believed she may have mentioned the disappearance and murder of a Belfast mother of ten.

Mr McIntyre is seeking to judicially review the PSNI move to gain the material for their investigation into the 1972 abduction and murder of Jean McConville – one of the Disappeared.

His lawyers argued that disclosing the transcripts will put his life at risk.

In July, a US appeal court ruled that the Boston College interviews should be handed over to the PSNI.

Although a further bid to challenge that decision in the Supreme Court is planned, that was described in court on Friday as “a long shot”.

With the expiry of a seven-day stay on supplying the material to police, counsel for Mr McIntyre argued it was journalistic or academic work which should not be disclosed.

David Scoffield QC said: “The PSNI seeing or receiving this material is going to be putting the applicant’s life at risk.”

During the hearing the judge questioned claims that handing the interviews to police would expose the researcher to increased risk because of a breach to “the strict code of silence of the IRA”.

Material was provided on a voluntary basis by people who apparently were members of the IRA and subject to a code of secrecy who nonetheless apparently gave accounts of their involvement to people in America under assurances of confidentiality which they must have known, or should have known, is not something they could give.

“Ultimately a court will determine whether it should yield to public interest,” the judge added.

He pointed out that a book by Mr Moloney based on the same research project has already been published.

Voices From The Grave features interviews with former paramilitaries Brendan Hughes and David Ervine.

“It was the journalists themselves who used the material to publish a book,” Mr Justice Treacy said.

The judge also questioned whether the legal moves in Northern Ireland were an attempt to “circumvent” the rulings on challenges in the United States.

“It seems a bit rich, having taken that step, then coming to this court having failed in America, to seek to restrict the police access to this material in discharging their obligation to investigate serious crime.”

But Mr Scoffield contended that the PSNI had failed to take into account his client’s right to life under European law.

He stressed that he was only seeking a short restraining order until the merits of his judicial review application can be assessed.

Opposing the move on behalf of the PSNI, barrister Peter Coll argued that the legal challenge in America has already delayed police investigations by nearly two years.

Mr Coll also took issue with the so-called code of silence surrounding the IRA.

However, Mr Justice Treacy agreed to grant the temporary injuction but stressed it was directed solely at the PSNI or other UK authorities and not American authorities.

Kevin Winters, a solicitor for Mr McIntyre, told UTV outside court that Mr McIntyre was happy with the outcome.

He said: “The court took a view that in the interim pending the full substantive hearing that there should be no handover of material to the PSNI and in fact, that’s the point that we were making to the court – that in the event that the material had been handed over it would have rendered irrelevant the substantive hearing which is now fixed for next Wednesday.”

He said it was a matter for the court to examine the issues in full during the full hearing.

Jean McConville went missing in 1972, but her body lay undiscovered for nearly 30 years and was eventually found buried near a Co Louth beach in 2003.