Britain to See Less of Irish Rebel Interviews

Britain to See Less of Irish Rebel Interviews
Courthouse News Service
Friday, June 07, 2013

(CN) – The 1st Circuit reined in the reach of a subpoena that would give the United Kingdom access to Boston College’s confidential interviews with former Irish Republic Army fighters.

In December 2011, a federal judge ruled that Boston College must hand over confidential interviews it collected from former Irish Republican Army paramilitary fighters to the United Kingdom.

The interviews were conducted as part of an oral history project called the Belfast Project, and interviewees were given a guarantee of confidentiality “to the extent American law allows.”

The U.K. specifically subpoenaed the interviews of Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, two former IRA volunteers, as well as “any and all interviews containing information about the abduction and death of Mrs. Jean McConville.” McConville was abducted and killed by the IRA in 1972 for allegedly informing on Republican activities to the British.

The college complied with the requests for documents related to Hughes because he died in 2008, but went to court to maintain the confidentiality it promised to Dolours Price.

U.S. District Judge William Young ordered disclosure of 85 of 170 interviews after reviewing the confidential transcripts in chambers. His order noted a “paucity of information” related to McConville’s disappearance.

Price died in January 2012 as Boston College appealed the decision.

Though the university argued that Price’s death rendered the investigation moot, the 1st Circuit disagreed.

“Dolours Price’s death does not have any decisive effect upon these proceedings because their subject matter is not, and has never been, solely Dolours Price’s individual prosecution. Rather, these proceedings are a part of a broad investigation into the death of Mrs. McConville,” Judge Juan Torruella wrote for the three-judge panel.

In a partial reversal of the underlying, the panel said “the district court abused its discretion in ordering the production of several of the interviews which, after an in detail reading of the same, do not contain any information relevant to the August 2011 subpoena.”

After a detailed review, the court ordered Boston College to produce only 11 of the 85 interviews.

“Although a number of interviewees provide information relevant to the subject matter of the subpoena and that the district court acted within its discretion in ordering their production, it abused its discretion in ordering the production of a significant number of interviews that only contain information that is in fact irrelevant to the subject matter of the subpoena,” the 29-page opinion states.

“The order is reversed as to the other interviews, which need not be released,” Torruella wrote.