Troubles Archive Hearing Causing Political Stirrings

Troubles archive hearing causing political stirrings
Ray O’Hanlon

• BOSTON TAPES: The US Supreme Court is considering a petition from researchers for the Boston College-based Belfast Project Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre to overturn a decision by the US First Circuit of Appeals denying their effort to challenge subpoenas demanding that archived interviews be handed over to the PSNI

By a curious end of year legal and political alignment, the highly contentious Boston College Troubles archive case could get a hearing before the United States Supreme Court sometime in the first weeks of 2013. The north and its affairs haven’t had too much of an airing before SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States). The Joe Doherty case did make it to the court door, but that was quite a few years ago now.

The legal aspects of the case have been swirling around for some time.

The political aspect now aligning with them concerns Senator John Kerry, who, early in 2012, wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing his concern over Justice Department subpoenas in the case. Mr Kerry is now President Obama’s choice to succeed Mrs Clinton, who is taking her leave of America’s top foreign policy job.

The case in a nutshell: The Supreme Court is considering a petition from Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre. researchers for the Boston College-based Belfast Project, to overturn a decision by the US First Circuit of Appeals denying their effort to challenge subpoenas demanding that archived interviews be handed over to the PSNI.

The subpoenas were issued by the US Department of Justice on behalf of the PSNI, but the court issued a stay order on any action based on those subpoenas.

Thus far all eyes have been on the lawyers.

But it is now the prospect of two members of President Obama’s cabinet taking contrary positions on the case that was causing the greatest political stirring in the waning days of the year.

As stated, a little under a year ago, Mr Kerry wrote to Mrs Clinton (at time of writing in hospital being treated for a blood clot) expressing his concern over the releasing of Troubles archival material front the Boston College library.

In his letter, penned as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr Kerry said he was writing “with concern about the ongoing court efforts on behalf of the United Kingdom to obtain documents and recordings from Boston College’s Oral History Archive on the Troubles in Northern Ireland.”

Stated Mr Kerry in part: “I know you’ll understand that this matter is of interest to me for a number of reasons. First, it has a profound impact on Boston College, a highly respected university in Massachusetts, as well as implications for the confidentiality of other research projects of this nature.

“More broadly, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, l am obviously concerned about the impact that it may have on the continued success of the Northern Ireland peace process. It is possible 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. I am proud of the role our government – and the Clinton Administration specifically – played to bring about that fragile peace. It would be a tragedy if this process were to upset the delicate balance that has kept the peace and allowed for so much progress in the past 14 years.”

Mr Kerry. who is a graduate of Boston College Law School and carried the Democratic banner in the 2004 presidential election, wrote that given his “deep concern.” he had spoken with Attorney General Eric Holder about the case.

Mr Kerry, in his letter to Mrs Clinton, concluded: “I fully recognise that the United Kingdom has invoked the provisions of our Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty and that this is clearly a factor which affects our flexibility dealing with such a request. Nonetheless, given the close relationship we have with the United Kingdom and the deep and enduring interest all of us share in seeing a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, I would urge you to work with the British authorities to reconsider the path they have chosen and revoke their request.”

Mr Kerry’s conversation with Mr Holder could soon resume in the White House cabinet room should Kerry, as expected, be named to succeed Mrs Clinton.

Meanwhile, what are the odds of the Supreme Court actually taking up the Boston College case? Well, a degree of interest has clearly been shown by the court and that’s usually a strong pointer. Certainly there are issues concerning academic and press freedom, confidentiality, and the pursuit of justice, wrapped around and woven through the case. And all of these are of concern to the justices all days of every year. So the chances of a hearing? Better than even is a fair bet.