The Betrayal of Research Confidentiality in British Sociology

The Betrayal of Research Confidentiality in British Sociology
John Lowman and Ted Palys, Simon Fraser University
Research Ethics journal

Published online before print Research Ethics March 20, 2013


Research confidentiality in Britain is under attack. Indeed, in some quarters the ‘Law of the Land’ doctrine that absolutely subjugates research ethics to law is already a fait accompli. To illustrate the academic freedom issues at stake, the article discusses:

  1. the Cambridge Psychology Research Ethics Committee’s ban of interview questions about a research participant’s involvement in criminal acts;
  2. the awarding of damages against Exeter University when it reneged on its agreement to uphold a doctoral student’s guarantee of ‘absolute confidentiality’ in his research on assisted suicide; and
  3. the controversy around the UK government’s attempt to obtain confidential records from the Belfast Project – an oral history of paramilitaries involved in the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The article urges British researchers to practice – or, at least, defend the academic freedom of their colleagues to practice – the ‘ethics-first’ doctrine of strict confidentiality that several North American disciplinary associations encourage.

Access full article at Sage Journals

Contact for comment: T. Palys and J. Lowman

Within this article:
A brief description of the debate over research confidentiality in North America sets the stage for a discussion of the culture of disclosure that has taken hold in Britain. The paper aspires to defend an ethic of strict confidentiality against those who would impose the Law of the Land perspective on their peers in the UK

The threat of court-ordered disclosure in North American research
‘Guilty knowledge’: Losing the plot
Co-opting researchers as informants: Research on assisted suicide
– Exeter’s ethics review process
– The inquiries
– The Visitor’s judgment
The Belfast Project
– Inconsistency in the Belfast Project contracts
– Academic reactions to the subpoenas: A study in contrasts
US confidentiality certificates: Reconciling research ethics and the Law of Disclosure
Protecting research confidentiality Research Ethics

The Betrayal of Research Confidentiality in British Sociology
John Lowman and Ted Palys
Research Ethics published online 20 March 2013
DOI: 10.1177/1747016113481145

The online version of this article can be found at:

Published by:
On behalf of:
The Association of Research Ethics Committees
Research Ethics

assisted suicide research, Belfast Project, guilty knowledge, research confidentiality

“Do the right thing”, Irish American Coalition asks Secretary of State Kerry


March 20, 2013

Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
Office of the Secretary
U. S. State Department
2201 C Street, NW, 7th Floor
Washington, D. C. 20520

Dear Secretary Kerry:

We are following up on our previous letter of February 7th in which we seek an opportunity to meet with you to discuss our concerns with British government misuse of the U.S.-U.K. Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) in the case of the Boston College subpoenas. You will recall that in our conference call in January, 2012, you indicated you spoke with the Attorney General who at the time assured you that no documents secured as a result of the subpoenas would be turned over to England without him first speaking with you. Mr. Holder has chosen not to communicate at all on this matter except to indicate through subordinates that the matter is currently in litigation.

Now as Secretary of State you have the duty, the statutory obligation, to consult with Attorney General Holder if you have concerns about those subpoenas that would compromise American values and undermine those U.S. policies in support of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. You indicated as much in your letter to former Secretary Clinton. However, you had the additional experience of listening to British representatives assure the U.S. Senate during ratification of the U.S.-U.K. Extradition Treaty that it was not their objective to pursue prosecutions pre-1998. This combined with their failure to comply with the Treaty obligation to provide a public inquiry into their admitted murder of attorney Patrick Finucane renders the credibility of the United Kingdom in this matter untrustworthy.

This is an American issue where our laws are being violated and our policies being undermined. We feel we have time and again identified the specific ways in which this is being done but would be willing to sit down again to make those arguments. The British government has publicly claimed in NYC that it had nothing to do with the subpoenas but the Home Office processed them. Home Secretary May is fully aware that the instigator of the request is a former Royal Ulster Constabulary commander with links to the much discredited Special Branch and to MI-5, the service that admittedly was involved in the conspiracy to murder Patrick Finucane. Isn’t anyone in the Department of State connecting the dots?? Isn’t it enough that the subpoena request has NOTHING to do with the purposes of MLAT as explained by Ms. Warlow of your Department to the Senate during that treaty’s adoption?

We deeply appreciate the principled stand that you took in opposing these subpoenas not alone as a misuse of MLAT but for the threats posed to academic integrity and to constitutional freedoms. Everything that has been learned about these scurrilous subpoenas since has confirmed your worst fears! We ask again that you take the necessary action to affirm America’s support for the Irish peace process, to uphold the MLAT obligations of a Secretary of State and to not compromise our values of justice and respect for the rule of law.

We stand at the ready to meet with you and your staff at any time to insure that the U.S. “does the right thing.”


Mr. Brendan Moore
National President
Ancient Order of Hibernians

Mr. Robert Dunne, Esq.
Brehon Law Society

Mr. Thomas J. Burke Jr. Esq.
National President
Irish American Unity Conference


Irish American Coalition to House Committee on Foreign Affairs: Hold Hearings Now


March 21, 2013

Honorable Chris Smith
House of Representatives
2373 RHOB
Washington, D. C. 20515

Dear Representative Smith:

We have sent a number of letters to you in the past 9 months regarding our concerns for Britain’s misuse of the U.S.-U.K. Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty for a political fishing expedition in the Irish archives of Boston College. Although we have had several conversations with Mark Milosch on this matter and the issue of Britain’s undermining of the ‘justice’ provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, we have yet to receive a response to our request. We have recently learned that you may be considering the conduct of a hearing on such matters. This would be a welcome circumstance which we would like to know more about.

As we have noted in previous correspondence and commentary both mailed and faxed to your offices, there are four issues relating to the Agreement that a congressional hearing might shed some light on. They are:

  • England’s failure to provide complete records to the Irish government on the British Army role in the Dublin-Monaghan bombings;
  • Britain’s refusal to provide a public hearing on the murder of attorney Patrick Finucane;
  • the British corruption of the HET process which was to review the killing of over 800 Catholics; and
  • the continued internment of Marian Price and the abuse of her human rights and corruption of law to keep her in custody.

Not content with shredding these provisions for which they have not been held to account, Her Majesty’s government has sought Attorney General Holder’s assistance in enforcing subpoenas requiring documents from the Irish archives of Boston College. This mischievous initiative is prompted by the same security forces that killed Patrick Finucane and Rosemary Nelson.

American involvement in the crafting of the Irish peace pact is gradually being eroded and a mockery is being made of the tireless efforts of two Presidents’ to insure that U.S. resources helped to tangibly express that commitment.

We believe these topics should be the focus of a full House Foreign Affairs Committee and formally conducted with invitations to both the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic as well as to organizations like ours to attend and/or give testimony. A suitable time frame to allow for travel would also be appropriate.

To this end we are copying Chairman Royce and Ranking Minority Member Eliot Engel as well the Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Senator Benjamin Cardin with whom you also serve. We would like to sit down to further discuss not only the merits of such an investigation but the logistics of insuring that all voices are heard and that the testimony and documentation is provided in full in the Congressional Record.

Thank you for your past efforts to expose some of the injustices of the conflict in Ireland. We look forward to working with you to conduct the most inclusive and productive inquiry into the 1998 Belfast Agreement and American support.


Mr. Brendan Moore
National President
Ancient Order of Hibernians

Mr. Robert Dunne, Esq.
Brehon Law Society

Mr. Thomas J. Burke Jr. Esq.
National President
Irish American Unity Conference



Irish American Coalition letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Menendez: Congressional Hearings Needed Now


March 21, 2013

Honorable Robert Menendez
Member, U. S. Senator for New Jersey
Washington, D. C. 20510

Dear Senator Menendez:

We have sent a number of letters to you in the past 9 months regarding our concerns for Britain’s misuse of the U.S.-U.K. Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) for a political fishing expedition in the Irish archives of Boston College. We have also raised the issue of the British government undermining the ‘justice’ provisions of the Good Friday Agreement. Your letter to Secretary of State Clinton last year was most welcome in regard to these matters but there still has been no resolution or exposure of these issues. We seek your assistance in two ways. First, as we indicated in our previous letter, we trust you will send to Secretary of State John Kerry a letter similar to the one you sent to Secretary Clinton. We are not taking for granted his support in the past on this issue. While the merits of the issue are as strong as ever, he now has a President to report to who may have differing priorities.

Secondly, we have noted in previous correspondence and commentary both mailed and faxed to your offices, there are four ‘justice’ issues relating to the Agreement on which a congressional hearing might shed some light. They are:

• England’s failure to provide complete records to the Irish government on the British Army role in the Dublin-Monaghan bombings;
• Britain’s refusal to provide a public hearing on the murder of attorney Patrick Finucane;
• the British corruption of the HET process which was to review the killing of over 800 Catholics; and
• the continued internment of Marian Price, Martin Corey and others, the abuse of their human rights and the corruption of law to keep them imprisoned.

Not content with shredding the above peace pact provisions, England has now enlisted the U. S. government to undermine the accord; a unique success story for American foreign policy. The mischievous Boston College subpoenas initiative is prompted by the same security forces that killed Patrick Finucane and Rosemary Nelson. As a result, the tireless efforts of two Presidents’ to insure that U. S. resolve and resources fortified that commitment are being mocked.

We believe these topics should be the focus of a hearing by the Foreign Relations Committee and would welcome the opportunity to amplify the justification for doing so. We would hope that such a hearing would invite testimony from the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic as well as invite organizations like ours to attend and/or give testimony. A suitable time frame to allow for travel would also be appropriate.

We would like to sit down to further discuss not only the merits of such an investigation but the logistics of insuring that all voices are heard and that the resulting testimony and documentation is provided in full in the Congressional Record.

Thank you for your past efforts to expose some of the injustices of the conflict in Ireland. We look forward to working with you to conduct the most inclusive and productive inquiry into the 1998 Belfast Agreement and its American support.


Mr. Brendan Moore
National President
Ancient Order of Hibernians

Mr. Robert Dunne, Esq.
Brehon Law Society

Mr. Thomas J. Burke Jr. Esq.
National President
Irish American Unity Conference

Motion to Defer Consideration of Petition for Writ of Certiorari

No. 12-627


Counsel for Applicants Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre

Petitioners Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre respectfully move that the Court defer consideration of their petition for a writ of certiorari pending a ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in the related case of In re Request of United Kingdom Pursuant to the Treaty between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the United Kingdom on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters in the Matter of Dolours Price, First Circuit No. 12-1236 (“United Kingdom II”). The grounds for Petitioners’ request are as follows:

1. This petition arises out of a Court of Appeals decision enforcing subpoenas issued on behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (“PSNI”) pursuant to the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom (“US-UK MLAT”) and 18 § 3512. See In re Request from United Kingdom Pursuant to Treaty Between Government of US. and Government of United Kingdom on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters in the Matter of Dolours Price, 685 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2012) (United Kingdom I).

2. The subpoenas at issue in United Kingdom I sought confidential records of interviews conducted by Petitioners with Dolours Price, a former IRA member.

3. As the petition explained, a separate set of subpoenas later issued on behalf of the PSNI sought confidential records of interviews conducted by Petitioners of certain former IRA members other than Ms. Price. The second set of subpoenas are the subject of United Kingdom II, a separate appeal (cited above) argued before the First Circuit Court of Appeals on September 7, 2012, and which has not yet been decided by that court,

4. Petitioners recently advised the Court and the government of the death of Ms. Price. Under the terms of their confidentiality agreement, the Petitioners’ confidentiality obligations to Ms. Price expired upon her death. The case is not moot, however, because the Petitioners also were denied the right to intervene or be heard in opposition to the second set of subpoenas at issue in United Kingdom II, subpoenas which seek interview materials concerning individuals other than Ms. Price. See also Opposition at 3 n.1 (conceding that Petitioners’ challenges to the second set of subpoenas are not moot).

5. Although the Court of Appeals’ decision in United Kingdom II will not likely address the Petitioners’ right to be heard in opposition to either set of subpoenas, a ruling that the second set of subpoenas are not enforceable could moot the petition by granting substantially or all of the relief on the merits sought the Petitioners with respect to the enforceability of the subpoenas. See, e.g., Zzpes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 442 U.S. 916 (1979) (granting motion to defer petition); see generally E. Gressman, K. Geller, S. Shapiro, T. Bishop, & E. Hartnett, Supreme Court Practice 339 (9th ed.2007) (petitions sometimes deferred “until some event takes place that will aid or control the determination of the matter”).

6. Under these circumstances, Petitioners submit that it is in the interests of justice and judicial economy to defer ruling on the petition until such time as the Court of Appeals decides whether the second set of subpoenas are enforceable. Petitioners also request leave to file their Reply to the government’s opposition within 30 days of the Court of Appeals’ decision in order to address the effect of that ruling.


WHEREFORE, Petitioners pray that the Court (1) defer the petition pending a ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in United Kingdom II; and (2) grant Petitioners leave to file their reply to the government’s opposition within 30 days of the First Circuit’s decision.

Respectfully submitted
EAMONN DORNAN Counsel of Record
Counsel for Applicants Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre

Dated: March 15, 2013

Smoldering Embers in Belfast May Soon Reach US Justices

Smoldering embers in Belfast may soon reach US justices
By M.C. Sungaila and John DeStafano
Los Angeles Daily Journal
Friday, January 25, 2013

By day protestors turn out by the hundreds, waving flags and blocking traffic across the region. By night, bands of rioters take their place, wielding hatchets, bricks, and petrol bombs against the police assembled to meet them. These riots, spurred by a decision to reduce the number of days the Union Jack flies at Belfast City Hall have rattled the delicate peace process in Northern Ireland since early December. It has been 15 years since the Good Friday peace accord spelled the official end to the 30-year period of conflict known as the Troubles. Yet this is still a population divided along ethnic, political, and religious lines, and the overarching question of whether to remain part of the U.K.

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide whether to hear a different controversy arising from the Troubles, Moloney V. United States, a case which pits First Amendment rights against the investigative powers of foreign law enforcement. At issue is the ability of journalists and researchers whose materials are located in the U.S. to object both as a matter of First Amendment law and international discovery procedure to the enforcement of a foreign subpoena for confidential source material. The Supreme Court stands as the arbiter between the U.S. and British law enforcement on the one hand and, on the other, two researchers, Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre, who seek to protect their U.S.-based research into the history of the Troubles.

Moloney and McIntyre worked in conjunction with Boston College over a period of five years to compile an oral history of the Troubles. This research effort, known as the Belfast Project, involved interviews conducted between 2001 and 2006 with former members of paramilitary groups from both republican and loyalist factions, including the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). Although conducted after the official end of the Troubles, the research posed risks to the safety of both the researchers and their participants. Paramilitarism had survived the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Those perceived as informers (or ‘touts’) — a label that could apply to the researchers and their sources — had long been targets of paramilitary violence in Ireland. Because of the sensitive nature of this research and the potential risks that it posed to the researchers and participants, the interviews were given based on a promise that each interviewee’s statement would remain confidential in an archive at Boston College until the interviewee died. The statements remained in the archive. undisclosed, for several years.

Near the end of the decade, two of the project participants died, and their interviews were released. In 2010, a book was published, and another project participant spoke to a newspaper about her involvement with the Belfast Project. These events caught the attention of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which initiated two requests for discovery under a U.S.-U.K. Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (“U.S.-U.K. MLAT”). Pursuant to that request, the U.S. Department of Justice served two subpoenas upon Boston College for the confidential materials.

The first of these requests sought the undisclosed interview described in the newspaper. The second request sought all remaining interviews concerning an unsolved Troubles-related murder-disappearance that took place in Northern Ireland in 1972. Boston College moved to quash these requests in part.

Researchers Moloney and McIntyre moved to intervene, objecting under the First Amendment. They argued that the subpoenas were not issued in good faith and posed a threat to the lives of the Belfast Project researchers and participants. The researchers also argued that the subpoenas violated the terms of the MLAT because they related to the investigation of pre-Good Friday offenses of a political character.

The district court in Boston refused to permit intervention and dismissed a separate complaint which the researchers filed. On appeal, the 1st Circuit affirmed both rulings, holding that the researchers had no First Amendment right to object and no right to object under the terms of the MLAT itself. In a separate concurrence, Judge Juan R Torruella expressed regret that First Amendment doctrine was not more responsive to the researchers’ dilemma.

Moloney and McIntyre petitioned for a writ of certiorari, seeking to clarify the right of journalists and researchers to protect the confidentiality of their sources and materials. The decision in Branzburg v Hayes 408 U.S. 665 (1972), which governs the ability of reporters (and, by extension, academics) to resist discovery of confidential source material by law enforcement, has driven continual debate and split the circuits. Moloney and McIntyre’s objections raise an additional First Amendment and due process issue: should their assertions of privilege and safety concerns have been rejected out of hand, before al-lowing them to fully establish the evidentiary basis for their claims? The researchers also argue that the 1st Circuit misread the MLAT to grant the executive carte blanche to prosecute subpoenas on behalf of foreign governments, free of judicial scrutiny.

Four amicus briefs submitted in support of the petition further but-tress the researchers’ positions. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a brief which highlights the confusion over Branzburg under U.S. law, noting the conspicuous failure of the Supreme Court to offer needed guidance in this area.

A second brief filed by a group of social science scholars addresses the common First Amendment interests that journalists and researchers both en-joy, as well as the additional policies that favor the protection of academic research into conflict areas.

Several Irish-American advocacy groups submitted briefing on the history of the conflict in Northern Ireland and the threat that the subpoenas pose to the peace process. Their brief discusses the workings of the MLAT and related statutes, challenging the conclusion that the legislature intended to eliminate judicial review of international discovery requests.

Finally, the brief of ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression paints the Supreme Court as a national and international outlier in its failure to establish a clear standard of source protection. including a right to be heard on objections to disclosure. The special concerns of journalists and researchers working internationally, particularly those working in conflict and post-conflict areas, demonstrate the need to respect and protect confidential sources and information so that U.S.-based researchers and their sources are not exposed to violence and retaliation from abroad.

The 1st Circuit’s decision may present challenges for other interest groups to the extent it grants foreign governments a subpoena power that appears to be immune from third-party challenge. For instance, individual Internet users may be unable to challenge MLAT requests for confidential or private information held by a web provider or cloud service. In turn, U.S.-based web businesses may find that consumers’ privacy concerns about using such services will increase, forcing these businesses to challenge discovery requests that their customers are unable to challenge.

The government’s response to the Petition is due at the end of this month, and the Supreme Court will determine whether to grant certiorari this spring. Meanwhile, protests over the removal of the union flag continue. For all the good that has come from the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, many unresolved issues remain. The number of “peace walls” separating Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods has multiplied to almost 90. New paramilitary groups have coalesced. Flames of sectarian violence have died down, but the embers still smolder.

M.C. Sungaila is an appellate partner in the Orange County office of Snell & Wilmer LLP; John DeStafano is an associate in the firm’s Phoenix office. Ms. Sungaila and Mr. DeStafano are counsel for ARTICLE 19, one of the amicus curiae in support of the petitioners in Moloney v United States

The Belfast Project: An Archival Study

The Belfast Project: An Archival Study
Ariel Schudson
Sinematic Salve-ation

A note from the author on March 17, 2013, St. Patrick’s Day:
This piece was written for a class in the Fall of 2012. Things have changed slightly since then. Dolours Price has tragically passed on and Boston College moved to vacate the issues pending due to her no longer being alive. The political folks have (bizarrely but not unexpected, I suppose) opposed their motion and the case is still pending. Things are still very difficult in this case and while some people understand the importance of this history, politicos and powerful locals seem to want to play librarian. It’s a very sad state of affairs. I highly suggest that you follow their twitter account (@bcsubpoenanews) or their blog ( to keep up to date.  –Ariel

One of the most fascinating and significant things about the city of Belfast in Northern Ireland is that it advertises the concept of memory and looks at history as not simply a collection of culture and events, but a lifestyle. Belfast’s walled roads, blockaded pubs and mural-bathed buildings serve as a continual reminder of a past that has only just recently changed course and is only scarcely managing to hold on to their footing. To do Northern Ireland and history, herself, justice, it would be next to impossible to go into the entire story from the very beginning and cover all the important parts. To the inhabitants of Belfast, every story from the Great Hunger in the 1800s and the Easter Uprising in 1916 to Bobby Sands’ hunger strike in 1981 is an important part.

It’s a complex timeline full of conflict, sadness and revolution, beginning all the way back in the 12th century. For a situation of this magnitude with this duration, the idea that the peace agreements were only recently endorsed in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, with the IRA Decommissioning weapons in 2005 is heartbreaking. In any case, this violence that has only just been halted was begun quite a long time ago, and once started, it never let up. As Landon Hancock writes,“Like most cultural differences, the roots of the Protestant-Catholic enmity in Northern Ireland are buried in the distant past, with fresh incidents only serving to reopen old wounds and solidify negative stereotypes…The Catholics still feel as if they have an alien culture living amongst them. This feeling has been enhanced through the separation of the two communities and the continued enforcement of the Special Powers Act of 1922. This act, designed to combat IRA resistance to Partition, was left in force until well after the beginning of the Troubles, thus perpetuating a climate of mistrust that has yet to be dispelled.” (Hancock 1996)

It might be reasonable to simply say that the primary issues dealt with land issues and became associated with religious politics, and that the British governmental body, mostly of the Protestant persuasion, decided that their stance was the complete and total control of Ireland, both Northern and Southern. This is how it was legislated, colonized and designed, early on. It’s far more complex than this, involves many more disputes and a great deal more intimate details, but this is the main gist.

Additionally, the population was divided into two different sectors: Protestant and Catholic. While the entire country was made up of both religious groups, the most significant division had taken place when the Protestants colonized Ulster (a collection of counties we now know as Northern Ireland) in the 17th century, and caused endless amounts of fury and mayhem since it was the last location in the entirety of Ireland that had not had some mass settlement by the British Protestant population. Eventually, the residential make-up of the area was left as a bifurcated religious and cultural zone dominated by political unrest. This did not bode well for the future.

These past events have led to what most people refer to now as “the Troubles,” a term for the modern slate of events that has built Belfast and created Northern Ireland’s image and identity in the last 50 years. A campaign of bombings, murders, kidnappings and terror that involving the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Northern Irish police force), the IRA (Irish Republican Army, the Catholic militant organization) and the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force, the militant Protestant group) left innumerable people dead or injured, whether or not they had any organizational affiliation. Senior citizens, children, women and teenagers were all affected by the Troubles and hit just as hard by revenge-centered activities of a group like the UVF as they were by the revolution-minded IRA.One such person who has suffered greatly as a result of the Troubles has been Helen McKendry, daughter of Jean McConville, a woman who was “disappeared” (a nicer term for taken away and killed) during the height of the Troubles, circa 1972. Only 15 at the time, Helen watched her mother get kidnapped by strangers and never returned. Helen has spent her whole life unsure of why it happened and most of it not even knowing where her parent’s body had ended up- Jean wasn’t found until August 2003, when her remains were located on a beach in County Louth. Then something occurred that has made Helen and her family feel that they might get a chance to see justice served. They discovered that the Belfast Project existed and that the participants quite possibly had direct information about Jean McConville’s death: many of those involved in the Project are former IRA members.

The Belfast Project

The Belfast Project was designed by Anthony McIntyre (a former member of the IRA), Professor (now Lord) Paul Bew (of Queen’s College) and Ed Maloney, (journalist and writer). It was never designed for exploitation, financial gain or anyone’s individual career benefit. At the heart of the Belfast Project was an oral history mission borne out of the truth recovery principles as stated in the Good Friday agreements and a very real desire to extend peace and conflict resolution experiences to locales outside of Northern Ireland. As McIntyre stated in a presentation to the Oral History Network of Ireland conference, the entire goal of the Project was to ultimately enhance public understanding. This was to be achieved through collating and sealing for a time within academia the perspective of those who were combatants or people who had insights that would add to societal knowledge of the conflict… it was envisaged that the material would be of benefit not merely to historians but also to people involved in conflict resolution and policy making right across the board. If the causes of politically violent conflict can be better understood and anticipated in advance then it stands to reason that the potential for averting such conflict increases. (McIntyre 2012)

The Belfast Project, however, stood out in one very significant way: the participants in the oral histories were not whom you would expect. They were indeed deeply connected to the Troubles, but unlike the rest of the extensive work being done in regards to truth recovery shortly after the Good Friday Agreement went into effect, the Belfast Project is not centered on the victims. The focus of this archive is on those who were responsible and/or involved in the incidents that created this population of victims.

As part of the North Ireland Peace Process in the late 1990s, the Good Friday Agreement assisted in bringing about various acts and legal directives when it came to human rights issues and placed a certain level of attention on victims and political prisoners. According to the Ardoyne Commemoration Project, “in the political aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement, the ‘victims agenda’ came to the fore.” (Ardoyne Commemoration Project 2002) At this juncture, if the outside world thought things were complicated before, they were about to get even more intricate. In order to have a go at resolving a conflict that was hundreds of years old, decommissioning weapons was not going to be the only solution. There simply had to be a better method by which the governmental bodies on both the UK and Northern Irish sides could succeed. Their ultimate decision was to legislate primarily for future engagements and simply move forward from what had already occurred. While some steps were taken to immediately change certain situations of those effected by the Troubles, not all were widely palatable (the accelerated amnesty and early release of political prisoners became a matter of some contention).

The Good Friday Agreement seemed to be attempting to make use of the axiom, “forgive and forget” in a location that is extremely focused on cultural memory. The notion of forgiving is not easy when you have a tradition of not forgetting. While Ryan Gawn writes that this approach is “not abnormal in negotiations in transitional societies” he also shrewdly notices that this same approach that lacks in the study of past abuse “recognizes the distinct nature of the conflict in Northern Ireland where more deaths were committed by paramilitaries, who are unlikely to have information on the murders documented as well as other state-committed murders. This has meant that there has been a failure to engage systematically with the past in Northern Ireland…this lack of action in addressing the past has meant that the issue has become politicized, and now victims’ issues are often fraught with division.” (Gawn 2008)


Almost in response to this, it seems, a cluster of booklets and studies began to be produced on truth recovery and victims on both sides of the sectarian conflict. This literature centered not only on bringing people together, but also on ideas of memory and remembering that authoritarian figures had been just as active in causing the deaths and injuries of friends and family, as had paramilitary groups. Truth recovery became a key issue- in 1999, the Healing Through Remembering Projectwas created. Their goal was to undertake a consultation process on how Northern Ireland, and those affected both in and out of Northern Ireland could remember and deal with the past, and in doing so, move towards healing. The purpose of the consultation was to produce a document outlining a range of options for dealing with the past and truth recovery, to be submitted to the British and Irish Governments and Office of First and Deputy First Minister, and to the public. (Healing Through Remembering 2002)

Their outline included memorials, memory days, establishments of archives, the forming of groups around shared pasts, and oral history collecting. However, it was all intended for public use due to the nature of the materials. These truth recovery items, while intended to reach across the “Belfast Borders” and break barriers, maintained open access and relied upon a relationship with the average citizen: they advertised in newspapers and other public forums for participation.

From there, digital archives such as The CAIN (Conflict Archive on the INternet) were begun at the University of Ulster in order to house these materials online and it became a solid public source for people to access a variety of links, bibliographies and other academic work about “Conflict and Politics in Northern Ireland,” and it gets updated regularly. (University of Ulster 1996) But there was still something missing. While there was still a sense of moving forward with the peace process, and people could share and learn about the history and work with each other, the history of the Troubles was missing a very important component: the voices of the main actors. Enter the Belfast Project.

Anthony McIntyre spent 18 years in jail as a former Provisional IRA Member. Upon his release, he attended Queens University, Belfast and received his PhD, afterwards becoming a journalist and writer. Shortly after this, he was approached by a professor at Queens College about a project that they were working on that had to do with truth recovery as well- but via the other end of the telescope. This was a very dangerous and tricky road to tread. While anyone can put an advertisement in a newspaper or educational institutional about an oral history project centering on citizenry that has been effected by the Troubles, outreach to former IRA members or folks from the UDA/UFF (Ulster Defense Association/Ulster Freedom Fighters) is far more complex- much like the Mob, if you’re an IRA member, and you “rat,” your life (or your family’s) could be in danger, even now, during a ceasefire/peacetime. While the conflict has been “resolved” for the most part, the history and culture of Northern Ireland has some uncomfortable aspects. This is one of them.


In 2001, just three years after the Good Friday Agreement, The Belfast Project was created with McIntyre as the head researcher and historian and journalist Ed Moloney as Director. The archive was carefully housed in the Burns Library at Boston College in Massachusetts, a University with a well-known and respected Irish Studies program. The fit seemed ideal. They focused solely on getting the oral histories of former IRA and UDA/UFF paramilitary figures; an everything was going to plan. Their goal was to collect the oral histories of this population because they had not had a voice yet and while this population might be quite a bit less popular in the public eye and far more controversial, their historical importance was incalculable. The men and women in these groups would be able to put words and explanations to something that had no explanation and possible assist in other cultures conflict resolution just through discussing their own lives.

However, in order to get these individuals to become part of the project, they had to secure their trust. According to Laura Millar, “Citizens will only offer their trust if they feel it will be respected and safeguarded. An effective society expects those who can exercise their authority to be accountable for their actions; an honorable society then protects those without authority, such as children or the mentally ill, against the danger of abuse.” (Millar 2006)

While these former IRA revolutionaries and UFF soldiers may not have been children, they were in a vulnerable position: if anyone were to know that their stories were being told, it would have been bad news for their families and themselves. Not only had they sworn oaths to their organizations, but it is quite likely that what was to be revealed on the tapes was not only naked and honest oral history, but vivid stories of car bombings, murder and stories that might implicate other people.

In order to gain that trust, the men and women of the Belfast Project signed a donor agreement (standard archival procedure). Within the agreement was a promise that the entirety of each interview would stay completely confidential until the death of the donor or until they gave personal approval for release of contents. This was the contract that the archivists and donors entered into upon starting this project. As Robert O’Neill, director of the Burns Library, stated in regards to the tapes, “Given the sensitive nature of the information revealed by the interviewers, it was important from the start to assure the participants in the oral history project that every effort would be made to keep their participation confidential, and that no transcripts or tapes would be released before the deaths of the interviewees unless they gave formal permission to do so.” (O’Neill 2011)

The Boston College Archive took good care of the Belfast Project for a decent amount of time, and the men worked with their subjects. The oral histories grew and things were going as planned. Until two things happened: two of their interviewees, Brendan Hughes and David Ervine, died, and one of the women they had interviewed, Dolours Price decided to speak out about the Belfast Project and her story outside of the context of the protected archival arrangement. Upon the deaths of his subjects (Hughes was a former IRA member and Ervine was in the UVF), Ed Moloney took the interview tapes, transcribed them, and published a book, entitled Voices From the Grave. This was in no way illegal, unwarranted or going against what the agreement had stated. Hughes had explicitly said in his interviews. But the things that he had revealed in the interviews and thus in the book began to stir up trouble. Dolours Price decision to go public didn’t help matters any.

Voices From the Grave was published in 2010. It was the first public “outing” of the Belfast Project and the first access that anyone other than those involved had to the stories being told. The biggest tragedy of this piece of literature was that, while it was the first in what was intended to be a series of volumes documenting a “greater understanding of the dynamics behind conflict from the point of view of those who participated in conflict” (McIntyre, Prime Time looks at the controversy over the Boston College interviews 2012), the publication of this led to what seems to be the demise of the Project. What were revealed in the pages of the book were terrifying stories of IRA and UVF-related murders and destruction. People were killed, ordered to be killed, bombings were planned, carried out, and Brendan Hughes and David Ervine discussed it all.

Beyond detailing organizational structures and the events themselves, the biggest “reveal” in the book was the involvement of current Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams. While Adams had been a political figure his whole life through, involving himself in various organizations over the years, upon the release of these interviews, Adams has denied having any affiliation with the IRA at all or having ever been a member. While Adams has never refuted the idea that he had a relationship with Hughes, his complete repudiation of IRA ties and involvement seem remarkable to Hughes himself as he stated with absolute insistence that “I never carried out a major operation without the okay or order from Gerry. For him to sit in his plush office in Stormont or wherever and deny it, I mean it’s like Hitler denying there was ever a Holocaust.” (Moloney 2010)

The implication of Adams in the abundance of violent acts that Hughes discusses, including the murder and “disappearance” of Jean McConville, alarmed Adams to the point of his direct rejection of the book and its contents, intimating that Hughes was likely unwell at the time of the interviews. But, as Lindy McDowell writes, this seems highly unlikely. She says, “[I]t is not a great defense… Not least because those who have heard tapes of Hughes’ testimony (which we’ll all hear in time, via an upcoming television documentary) say he spoke robustly and lucidly. Ed Moloney points out: “When he did these interviews, he (Hughes) was perfectly fit, mentally and physically, and put in quite an impressive performance.” (McDowall 2010)

Aside from the Gerry Adams issue, the disclosure of the information about the McConville case caused Helen McKendry neé McConville to seek out more information about the murder of her mother. Now that the Belfast Project had come into the public eye and direct connections had been made to personal lives (the McConville family) and the political sphere (Gerry Adams), this archive and its contents were about to see their own “troubles” begin. Not only did Helen McKendry express her intentions to seek legal redress as a result of the new information, but shortly after this, a former IRA member, Dolours Price, gave an interview to Allison Morris of the Irish News, disclosing her own involvement in the McConville murder and other Disappeared cases, mentioning also that she had “made taped confessions of her role in the abductions to academics at Boston University.” (Barnes 2010) While Price’s decision to discuss her IRA activities in a public forum made her more at risk for personal attack by McConville or others, it in no way contradicted her agreement with the Boston College Archive.

Price’s testimonials were still protected under the donor agreement that she had signed. Her choice to work with the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR) and discuss her past was a personal one, and, while possibly catalyzed by the publication of Voices From the Grave, was also heavily tied into Price’s own post-traumatic stress disorder and other fragile health conditions that caused her (presumably) to start seeking some kind of personal closure on past events as well. Dolours Price, much like Brendan Hughes, also was not keen on the fact that Gerry Adams was seen as a squeaky clean politician, since he had been the man giving her direct orders as well, according to her statements. However, no matter what her impetus, her own words, as given to the Belfast Project, were under protection.

The Belfast Project Under Attack

Between Price’s actions and Moloney’s book, this issue and archive was no longer going to be let to go about its business. Not only was Helen McKendry passionately determined to get to the bottom of her mother’s disappearance, but other political bodies has started to have an acute interest in seeing what was in these tapes. The British government got in touch with the US District Court of Massachusetts and subpoenaed all materials having to do with Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, to which the Boston College Archive said, “absolutely not” and quashed the subpoena. In the motion to quash the subpoena, many significant points are discussed, primarily in regards to confidentiality and trust. The subject of protecting the participants in the Project is raised, due to issues in and around the IRA code of silence, in addition to the belief that disturbing the archive and its contents may in fact disturb the very structure of the too-vulnerable peace accords. Boston College noted that the government of the United Kingdom has indicated by its actions a policy not to pursue events that occurred before the GFA peace accords, in order to put the past behind and achieve and maintain reconciliation in Northern Ireland…This effective amnesty, though controversial, was widely understood to mean that the British government was going to close this chapter of history, and not seek to pursue criminal investigations into events that occurred during the course of the Troubles…the belief that prosecutorial action had ended was a significant factor in the willingness of those interviewed as part of the Belfast Project to talk candidly about the conflict. (Swope 2011)

Although this stopped the subpoena temporarily, the ball had started rolling and it was just gaining momentum: in August, 2011 another subpoena was filed that requested any and all of the tapes that held information pertaining to the McConville murder.

It was after the second subpoena that Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre got personally involved alongside the Trustees of Boston College, who had been handling the legal affairs up until this point. They wished to be able to participate as plaintiffs and have a voice in the goings-on, so that they might be able to speak on behalf of their own work and argue on behalf of the archive and its much-needed confidentiality. Unfortunately, in December of 2011, a court ruled both against Moloney and McIntyre’s motion to intervene and the motions filed to quash the subpoenas. Then it got worse: the educational facility that had been providing the Belfast Project with safety and housing them in a secure space, Boston College, decided to acquiesce to any and all court requests.

Not only that, but they did so (at least partially) out of negligence. While Professor Thomas Hachey, executive director of the university’s Center for Irish Programs had flatly stated in the beginning that Boston College “is firmly and unconditionally committed to respecting the letter and intent of what is a contractual agreement never to release any of the material to anyone unless given permission in writing (notarized) beforehand by the participant, or until the demise of a participant” (Bray 2011), Boston College readily handed over all 176 transcripts of the 24 IRA participants in the Belfast Project. While McIntyre and Moloney were appealing decisions, Boston College moved forward with the legal requests, allowing the once-confidential confessions to be accessed by local American legal bodies. The next stage of this process would very likely be the patriation of these records to those individuals within the British government who are looking to use these records and the information that is contained within them.

As documented by Chris Bray, Boston College not only had a responsibility to the sanctity of the archive and its promises to the oral history participants, but it left the lead researcher and director of the Belfast Project in a terrible position as well, seeing as it did not support them or assist them in fighting this larger battle. Bray summarizes the situation,

“BC got a set of subpoenas, for material in its possession, on August 4. Ordered on December 16 to turn over the materials relevant to the subpoena, BC tried on December 20 to make a first effort to find out what materials in its collection were germane to the August 4 subpoena, with a hearing scheduled on the matter before a federal judge the very next day. August 4 to December 20: 139 days, including December 20…Not having figured out what material in its possession was germane to the second set of subpoenas, BC lost the ability to hand over only those portions of the IRA interviews.” (Bray 2011)

Moloney and McIntyre were able to win a motion for a stay pending the appeal to the first circuit and they also were able to gain the support of high profile individuals like John Kerry and the ACLU, but things are not looking bright. While Boston College did file an appeal on the more general request of the second subpoena, the First Circuit upheld the original judgment from the lower court, but Moloney and McIntyre immediately looked into trying to appeal this. McIntyre also filed for a judicial review in Belfast but was denied on that. But the case is not going to stay there. Both Belfast Project men have decided to take it all the way to the Supreme Court, and they have, seemingly, made some progress there.

According to the Boston Globe, “Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer ruled…that the order from the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston should be stayed, the researchers said, while the researchers prepare a writ of certiorari, seeking a Supreme Court hearing of their case.” (Finucane 2012) That was just about 2 months ago. The most recent news on the case documents a petition for a writ of certiorari that was submitted to the Supreme Court as of November 16th, 2012. At the stage that the case is at now, Boston College has let a ground-breaking oral history project down and left its donor-participants adrift at sea, but the academic historians and archivists that created the project are going to try their best to make sure that the documents do not have their confidentiality broken any more than they already have been.

Transitioning these files to the UK would likely be the worst thing for the project, endangering not only the personal well-being of many of the people in the Project and the peace status of Northern Ireland, but it would severely compromise the area of oral history in general. If the Belfast Project is not able to protect their participants to whom they promised absolute confidentiality until death or personal release of the tapes, what does this mean for any other project that deals almost entirely with controversial people and subject matter? Not every oral history is rainbows and family trees. Many times it deals in the ugliness of human existence. But if we cannot record this with confidence and assure our subjects that their vital participation will be handled and archived according to the contract that they have signed, then we become useless. Our words are empty and our promises are futile.

Yes, But What Does This All Mean?

The Boston College Archive situation is not an easy one. No one wants Helen McKendry to go the rest of her life not knowing what happened to her mother; it is unfair and painful. But there is a larger picture and the Belfast Project and the decisions that are made within it set precedents- for oral history projects, for university-run and protected archives, and, most importantly, for the status and validity of confidentiality agreements within any kind of oral history or archival collection.

Anthony McIntyre is very firm on this issue. While some may feel that it is his past as an IRA member and his concern for his own personal well-being that has gotten entangled in the process of the Boston College Archive situation, he has said on repeated occasions that not only would he go to jail to protect the confidentiality of the participants, but that it’s not solely about the participants, but about larger questions and if we wish to see these matters attended to with any seriousness, we must treat them with dignity and not do as the university did, which was simply kowtow to legal requests because it’s easier and looks nicer on the front. Sometimes it’s more difficult to stand up for difficult issues and people, but if the people who have made commitments to protect them will not do so, whether or not they agree with their actions, then history itself will become one-sided and we will lose the ability to garner the kinds of oral histories that Moloney and McIntyre were collecting. Trust, once lost, can rarely be regained.

John Lowman and Ted Palys discuss the Boston College Archive case in terms of legal ethics and how the University failed the Belfast Project. As they put it, not only did Boston College exemplify the Law of the Land approach (academic institutions and researchers obeying all legal orders including court orders to break research confidentiality), they have also “provided an example that will be cited for years to come on how not to protect research participants to the extent American law allows. Instead, it has allowed its Law of the Land doctrine to devolve into a form of caveat emptor…As is so often the case with advocates of Law of the Land limitations to research confidentiality, Boston College’s perspective reflects the attitude that law is merely constraining, something to be reacted to rather than something that is enabling, dynamic, and that academics can influence.” (Palys 2012) If this is the case, how are we, as archivists, historians or cultural workers of any kind supposed to trust the institutions that wish to house the elements that they so dearly wish to have? If they cannot provide us with the guarantee that what we will be providing them with protection, then why should we be giving them anything? Boston College was certainly happy to have the Belfast Project associated with their academic institution when they knew that Moloney was going to be publishing Voices From the Grave. Professor Thomas Hachey, of Boston College, the same man who swore up and down that nothing would leave the archive or be given over to legal bodies due to the donor agreements that had been made, wrote the preface to Voices, and oversaw the editing of the volume as well. There is an inconsistency when it comes to academic institutions and what they are willing to do with and for controversial archives and projects such as the Belfast Project.

Spokesperson for Boston College, Jack Dunn, has blamed Ed Moloney himself for the entire case, saying that Moloney is at fault because he broke his obligation when he published Voices From the Grave (entirely inaccurate, seeing as the layout of the agreements allowed the histories to be released upon the expiration of said donors). But the men of the Belfast Project are simply concerned with the future of the project as it stands and what it says for the future of oral histories and Northern Ireland itself. Since the main party who has been pushing for the opening of these histories has been the McConville family, Moloney and McIntyre have been sensitive to their case but point out that if they win the day, Northern Ireland and the rest of the families like the McConvilles, on both sides of the sectarian violence fence- IRA or UVF- are the real losers.As McIntyre says, “If the McConville family were to succeed in this, I think of the vast number of people who will never have truth about what happened to their loved ones. Because the only reason that this has come to the fore about Mrs. McConville is because people were prepared to talk in conditions which would not lead to prosecutions.” (McIntyre, CNN’s World’s Untold Stories: Secrets of the Belfast Project 2012) It is a case of the good of the one versus the good of the many. As Ed Moloney has pointed out in interviews, the Belfast Project is not the only location in which the information regarding the McConville case is located. Dolours Price gave full interviews and information to several publications that seemed to mirror the information that was given to the Boston College Archive. Additionally, the HET (Historical Enquiry Team), established in Northern Ireland in 2005 specifically to look into all of the murders committed during the Troubles, is there for that purpose.

So why pick on a collection of oral histories that were collected in good faith and not to be utilized for legal means? It stood out in the public eye, but there were other accessible sources that were never pursued- the newspaper interviews, while also under a certain amount of journalism protection, would be more available for the McConvilles to pursue their case and inquiry. There had to be something else. While the McConville family may be the seeming figurehead for tape retrieval, there is a significant possibility that there are political motivations for the British government to want these archival elements. Due to the aforementioned information regarding Gerry Adams already disclosed on the tapes there is the distinct possibility that other tapes contain more information and in larger and more extensive quantities. It seems there very well might be a political drive to this whole case, especially considering that the only individuals whose tapes were requested were those who were former IRA-members. None of the UVF participants’ oral histories were asked for.

At the end of the day, Anthony McIntyre’s stance on the kind of research that the Belfast Project entailed is very clear: if you do not feel that you are capable of entering into the kind of undertaking that involves an “Ethics First” approach (one that may require you to put your own self into the equation in order to protect the work you have done and the individuals you have been working with, i.e. imprisonment or something similar), perhaps you should not engage in that kind of research. However, that does not mean that this kind of research should not be done. In fact, he says, it is essential and when it becomes shut down as in the case of the Boston College Archives it has a big effect on other similar projects, causing others to disengage from possibly controversial or provocative subjects/subject matter due to the chance that they may have to undergo similar legal confrontation and/or not be able to finish their work. To quote McIntyre,

In my own view, no area should be out of bounds to a researcher. In a pluralist society information should be pursued by journalists, researchers and law enforcement alike. But there is no compelling reason for law enforcement to invade bona fide research and attempt to turn it into evidence for the purposes of prosecution…If researchers yield in this crucially important arena it can only lead to a situation whereby certain areas of knowledge will be foreclosed to the researcher and in the fields of criminology, conflict studies, history and political science, there will be tendency towards a law enforcement view of some matters. We know from experience just how skewed that would be. We can also envisage how it would be used to protect law enforcement from some forms of external scrutiny and investigation. (McIntyre, The Belfast Project and the Boston College Subpoena Case 2012)

Oral histories and historians do their best to be as sensitive to everyone’s needs as possible. But it boils down to one thing: when we catalog the stories of history from those who have lived it, we do not have the right to make judgments nor do we have the option to put our personal feelings or emotions in the work we do. What we do when we collect elements is serve as preservationists and organizers so that future researchers may access the “goods” and realized their value. Alongside this, we have a responsibility to the items that we have chosen to work with. They can be filmic elements, audio files, or people’s confidential histories. Whatever the items, the donor agreements and the contracts that have been made should be honored, especially if there are serious legal or cultural repercussions to breaking said agreements. Endangering heritage materials of any kind puts our future at risk and our ability to form new alliances with each other and learn from our past. The Belfast Project was initiated so that we could take the words of the people who were in the IRA and UVF and “pay it forward” in a sense, and use bad for good. If these works are still being used for personal or political gain, we are dogs chasing our own tails and we will never learn from history.

If we start to realize that the larger picture has a greater meaning and pain, as largely felt as it is, may never be resolved simply by knowing who is responsible for a single death, then we may have a way to advance, and the McConville family might see that each story is intertwined to one another and by breaking the seal on one, it breaks the seal on all of them, killing the Project in its totality.


Works Cited

Ardoyne Commemoration Project. “Introduction.” In ARDOYNE: THE UNTOLD TRUTH, by Ardoyne Commemoration Project, 543. Belfast: Beyond the Pale Publications, 2002.
Barnes, Ciaran. “Gerry Adams and the Disappeared.” Sunday Life, February 21, 2010.
Bray, Chris. “Boston College Subpoena News.” December 28, 2011. (accessed November 30, 2012).
Finucane, Martin. “Researchers win a reprieve from Supreme Court in Boston College Irish Troubles interview case.” Boston Globe, October 17, 2012.
Gawn, Ryan. “Still shackled by the Past: Truth and Recovery in Northern Ireland.” The Peace and Conflict Review (University of Peace) 1, no. 2 (2008): 9.
Hancock, Landon. Northern Ireland: Troubles Brewing. Master’s Thesis, San Francisco State University, San Francisco State University, 1996.
Healing Through Remembering. “The Report of the Healing Through Remembering Project.” Annual Report, Belfast, 2002.
McDowall, Lindy. “Will Voices From the Grave Extract Heavy Price From Adams?” Belfast Telegraph, March 31, 2010.
CNN’s World’s Untold Stories: Secrets of the Belfast Project. Directed by Nic Robertson. Performed by Anthony McIntyre. 2012.
McIntyre, Anthony, interview by Edel McAllister. “Prime Time looks at the controversy over the Boston College interviews.” Prime Time looks at the controversy over the Boston College interviews. RTE One. July 2012, 2012.
—. “The Belfast Project and the Boston College Subpoena Case.” Special Session: Oral History and Conflict Resolution Annual Conference. Ennis: Oral History Network of Ireland, 2012.
Millar, Laura. “An Obligation of Trust: Speculations on Accountability and Description.” American Archivist 69 (Spring/Summer 2006): 60-78.
Moloney, Ed. Voices From the Grave: Two Men’s War in Ireland. New York: Faber and Faber Limited, 2010.
O’Neill, Robert. “Affidavit of Robert K. O’Neill.” Affidavit of Robert K. O’Neill. Boston, MA, June 06, 2011.
Palys, Ted, Lowman, John. “Defending Research Confidentiality “To the Extent the Law Allows:” Lessons From the Boston College Subpoenas.” Journal of Academic Ethics 10, no. 4 (December 2012): 271-297.
University of Ulster. CAIN Web Service – Conflict and Politics in Northern Ireland. 1996. (accessed Nov 28, 2012).



Lawyers Appeal to Attorney General Holder on Boston College subpoena case

March 18th
NYC, Wash, D. C., Denver & Boston

Lawyers long experienced with the Irish conflict made a dramatic St Patrick’s Day appeal to U. S. Attorney General Holder to re-examine Britain’s use of a U.S.-U.K. Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) in light of the its failure to conduct a public inquiry into the murder of civil and human rights attorney Patrick Finucane. The public hearing was a legal obligation stipulated in the 1998 Irish peace pact (the Good Friday Agreement), a Treaty registered with the United Nations.

Mr. Brendan Moore, National President of the Ancient Order of Hibernians explained: “The Attorney General is the chief law enforcement officer of a nation founded on the principle of the rule of law. It cannot be business as usual with the United Kingdom whose public record of lying and lawlessness has left generations of Catholics living in N.I. without truth or justice.”

“American support for the Irish peace process,” stated Thomas J. Burke Jr. Esq., National President of the Irish American Unity Conference, “has been mocked by Britain’s ignoring the justice provisions of the pact which also included obligations on the Dublin-Monaghan bombings by members of the British Army and a re-examination of the murders of 800 Catholics for police and security forces collusion. What kind of message do we send to other nations when we give a pass to England on its Treaty obligations?

Stated Sean Downes, President of the Brehon Law Society: “Attorney General Holder must act as the conscience of the country and weigh the failures of Britain in the Finucane inquiry with their demands in other areas e.g. processing their subpoenas to conduct a political fishing expedition into the Irish archives of Boston College.”


March 17, 2013

Honorable Eric H. Holder Jr.
Attorney General
U. S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Rm. 5115
Washington, D. C. 20530

Dear Attorney General Holder:

This letter is to call your attention to a matter of deep concern to us as lawyers, which we believe should be considered as the Justice Department processes subpoenas issued to Boston College for records contained in its Irish archives. The subpoenas have been requested by Britain under the terms of the US-UK Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (“MLAT”). The issue of the validity of the subpoenas is currently in litigation and the subject of a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, Sup. Ct. No. No. 12-627.

In particular, in considering its position with respect to the subpoenas, we believe that the Justice Department must take into account that the requesting nation has steadfastly refused to conduct a public inquiry into the murder of civil rights lawyer Patrick Finucane, contrary to the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement between Ireland and the U.K. As you are undoubtedly aware, Mr. Finucane was assassinated in 1989, in front of his family during Sunday dinner, in an attempt to intimidate those who may seek justice from the government of the U.K. Many of us worked with Patrick, and many others were familiar with his exemplary work defending clients in his position as an officer of Her Majesty’s court in Northern Ireland. British Prime Minister David Cameron has admitted that the police, military and intelligence services all conspired to murder Mr. Finucane. Yet, in October 2011, Mr. Cameron inexplicably informed Mr. Finucane’s widow and family that the U.K. government would not conduct a public inquiry into his murder. We believe this refusal was and remains in violation of the Good Friday Agreement and the terms of the Weston Park Agreement.

As you perform your statutory duties and fulfill your obligations under the MLAT, we urge that you weigh carefully the questionable conduct of Great Britain unilaterally deciding to not meet its obligations under the Good Friday Agreement. This raises a serious concern as to whether this was done to insure that those responsible would not be held accountable for Mr. Finucane’s murder.

We appeal to you not only as our country’s chief law enforcement officer but also as a lawyer who shares with us a deep commitment to civil rights, justice, and due process of law. We ask that you ensure that the U.S. judicial process not be used to actively aid a nation which will not hold accountable the murderers of an officer of the court . We hope that you will follow the views of Secretary of State John Kerry on the importance of avoiding the U.K.’s abuse of the MLAT in the Boston College subpoena case.

Respectfully yours,

Thomas J. Burke Jr. Esq. CO
National President

Francis Boyle Esq., Professor ILL
School of Law
University of Illinois

James J. Cotter III Esq. MA

James P. Cullen Esq. NY
Brigadier General JAG (Retired)

John Dearie Esq. NY
Former Member
NYS Assembly

Sean J. Downes Esq. President
Brehon Law Society

Albert Doyle Esq. FL
Former Counsel

Robert Dunne Esq. NY
Past President
Brehon Law Society

John Philip Foley Esq. MA

Thomas Fox Esq. NY

Martin Galvin Esq. NY
AOH Div. #5 President Bx

Martin Glennon Esq. NY

Peter Kissel Esq. MD
Chair, Human Rights, IAUC

Thomas A. Lambert Esq. NY
President, AOH Div. #1, Erie CO

Richard Lawler Esq. CT
Irish Northern Aid Committee

Edmund E. Lynch Esq. MD
Lawyers Alliance for Justice

Stephen McCabe NY
Member, Brehon Law Society

Edward G. McCormick Esq. MA

William McNally Esq. MA

L. James Miller Esq. MA

Sean P. Moynihan Esq. MA

Jessica O’Kane Esq., MD
Member, Brehon Law Society

Judge Andrew L. Somers Esq. Retired WI
Past National President, IAUC

Patrick Sturdy Esq. MI
National Counsel, AOH

Dáil Questions, Boston College Archives – Martin to Gilmore

Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin questions Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore about the Boston College archives case 

Addressed to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore) by the Leader of the Opposition, Micheál Martin for WRITTEN on Tuesday, 19th February, 2013.

Boston College Archives
Written Answers on 19 Feb 2013

Question 224. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has received any representations in relation to the Boston College papers; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Boston College has a long history of positive support for, and engagement in, the field of Irish Studies. It has played an important role in recording the history of Northern Ireland and the peace process which will be of ongoing value to historians and the study of conflict resolution. In March 2011 the British Government, acting on behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, initiated proceedings with the US Department of Justice under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the two countries for the release of archived interviews held in Boston College. The archives are part of the Belfast Project, an oral history of Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries compiled by Mr McIntyre and Mr Moloney and deposited in the Burns Library at the College . Some of those whose testimony is included in the project have since died, including Dolores Price who passed away in recent months.

Legal challenges were launched by Boston College, and separately by Mr MacIntyre and Mr Moloney, to prevent the release of the material. In December 2011, these challenges were dismissed by US District Court Judge William Young. Further legal efforts by Mr MacIntyre and Mr Moloney were made but on 6 July, the US Federal Court of Appeal turned down their appeal.

The court ruling means that the archived material must be handed over by Boston College to the US authorities for onward transmission to their British counterparts. However Mr Moloney and Mr McIntyre are considering a motion for a re-hearing of the case. They also continue to keep their legal options open in the Belfast Courts.

Officials of my Department will continue to closely monitor any further developments.

Previously in the Dáil:

Sinn Fein leader in SouthCoast with vow of non-violence

Sinn Fein leader in SouthCoast with vow of non-violence
Steve Urbon column
South Coast Today
March 16, 2013

Ireland’s Sinn Fein leading member Pat Doherty speaks to Normandin Middle School eighth-graders about the struggle for Northern Irland’s independence.

It’s St. Patrick’s Day weekend, with the usual green beer, drinking songs, clovers and corned beef and cabbage. This year, however, we’ve had an added wrinkle: a guest talk by a ranking member of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Provisional Irish Republican Army.

Pat Doherty, a former Sinn Fein vice president and a current member of the British Parliament, stopped by the Normandin Middle School in New Bedford on Friday, invited by history teacher and Irish native Chris Donnelly.

Before him sat about 70 students, many of them equipped with note cards with questions for the man.

Doherty, who is in his late 60s with not a gray hair on his head, gave a soft-spoken presentation about the epic, tortured history of Ireland’s relationship with Great Britain.

“It’s hard to explain 800 years of history in 30 seconds,” he joked. Then he did his best, and the students did their best to follow him.

Suffice it to say that after decades of bloody struggle between Catholics and Protestants, between Ireland and England, the parties have settled down under a complex arrangement of government and relationships called the Good Friday Accords.

That’s because they were signed on Good Friday in 1998, after negotiations led by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, sent there by President Bill Clinton.

Doherty, though, made it clear that although the parties, including the IRA, have renounced violence, Sinn Fein will continue to push for reunification of Ireland and the peaceful expulsion of the British from Northern Ireland.

He had been asked what one thing he would like to change and he said it was that. “I’d have a united Ireland tomorrow morning,” he said. “It’s what the people want.”

Again and again Doherty spoke of the importance of a peaceful transition. I have to wonder whether the students in that library assembly had any inkling of how ugly it was in Ireland for so many years.

In any case, at one point Doherty, in an answer to a question from yours truly, said “The huge advantage is now we have a democracy and it is peaceful. There is no argument, no need, no demand for there to be armed conflict anymore.”

My question, however, was about a problem with the past possibly re-emerging in the future, a problem of reopening old wounds and settling old scores.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland, which replaced the Royal Ulster Constabulary, wants Boston College to release the interviews of some of the people interviewed for its oral history project on “The Troubles.”

IRA members and others involved or affected by the violence were interviewed under the promise that their testimony would be kept a total secret until they die.

Doherty said softly: “I think the people who took part in this historical project, I actually think they were foolish to believe a promise they couldn’t keep.”

The U.S. has taken Ireland’s side in the dispute, which is still in the courts. Anything could happen. “God knows where it will take us,” he said. That’s when he again renounced violence.

“We still have a way to go,” he said.

A final note: Pat Doherty will speak this evening at the annual Friendly Sons of St. Patrick dinner dance at White’s of Westport. Contact organizer Chris Donnelly at 508-320-8388 for ticket information.