Sen. Menendez asks Secretary of State for help in release of IRA interviews

Sen. Menendez asks Secretary of State for help in release of IRA interviews
By Jordy Yager
The Hill

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) has asked Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene as the United States considers giving British authorities access to a series of interviews with former Irish Republican Army (IRA) soldiers.

The release of the interviews, which were conducted in confidence by Boston College researchers, could “damage inter-communal reconciliation and might run counter to our national interests,” Menendez wrote in a letter to Kerry.

A federal appeals court last month shot down a majority of the oral interviews that the U.S. will be allowed to give British officials, narrowing the scope from 85 to 11 interviews.

But Menendez, who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations panel, said he fears that British authorities could use the contents of those 11 interviews to take retroactive criminal action against the IRA interviewees.

“I remain concerned that the United Kingdom’s request for the material may still have the effect of threatening the precious peace won by the Good Friday Agreement,” wrote Menendez.

Menendez asked Kerry to pressure the Justice Department, which has the final say on how many of the interviews to release, to ask the British government for an assurance that the interview contents will not be used or released as part of any civil proceedings.

“Our country made a significant diplomatic investment in resolving ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland,” Menendez wrote in the letter, which was posted online by the BC SubpoenaNews group.

“It would be a terrible error in judgment if the United States was not to engage now in the due diligence necessary to protect our investment in the hard-won peace.”

The DOJ in 2011 subpoenaed interviews conducted by researchers hired by Boston College as part of its “Belfast Project.”

The project was designed to conduct and archive oral interviews with people who were directly affected by The Troubles, a time period that spans from the late 1960s though the late 1990s during which violent conflict erupted between Irish nationalists and pro-British loyalists in Northern Ireland. Militant Irish nationalists, including the IRA, aimed to erase the border in Ireland, making the territory of Northern Ireland part of an all-Ireland state. They were unsuccessful in that quest, and their political representatives instead ultimately accepted a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.

Those interviewed by Boston College-hired researchers were promised that their remarks would not be released to the public until they had died, for fear that they would face prosecution charges.

The DOJ’s subpoena for the interviews came after it received a request for them from the British government under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), which allows for cooperation between two or more foreign governments during criminal investigations that have transnational implications.