Boston College ‘misled’ paramilitaries over tapes confidentiality

Boston College ‘misled’ paramilitaries over tapes confidentiality
newsletter.co.uk
28 June 2016

Former paramilitaries were misled into thinking they could reveal their activities to an American university study with complete impunity, a court has heard.

But a librarian from Boston College insisted any impression interview tapes would remain confidential during their lifetime was down to an oversight in a contract they signed.

Dr Robert O’Neill was giving evidence at a preliminary inquiry to decide if veteran Belfast republican Ivor Bell is to stand trial over the killing of Disappeared victim Jean McConville.

Bell, 79, from Ramoan Gardens in the city, denies charges of soliciting to murder connected to an allegation that he encouraged or persuaded others to kill the mother of 10.

Mrs McConville was seized by the IRA from her Divis Flats home in west Belfast in 1972 after being wrongly accused of being an informer.

Following her abduction she was shot dead and then secretly buried.

Her body was discovered on a Co Louth beach in 2003.

The case against Bell centres on an interview he allegedly gave to researchers involved in the Boston College history project with ex-paramilitaries about their roles in the Northern Ireland conflict.

Although it was believed transcripts were not to be published until after the deaths of those who took part, a US court ordered the tapes should be handed over to PSNI detectives investigating Mrs McConville’s killing.

It is alleged that Bell was one of the project interviewees, given the title Z, who spoke about the circumstances surrounding the decision to abduct her.

His legal team claim the case against him should be dismissed.

During a hearing at Belfast Magistrates’ Court to examine the strength of the evidence Dr O’Neill, Burns Librarian at the College, appeared by video link from Boston.

He confirmed a contract between the college and the project director guaranteed confidentiality only to the extent American law allowed.

But the court heard separate “donor agreements” with interviewees gave them the impression nothing would be disclosed without their consent prior to their deaths.

Cross-examining the librarian, Barry Macdonald QC, for Bell, asked: “Do you now see how they were all misled, those people who were interviewed?”

Dr O’Neill replied: “Yes.”

He also accepted counsel’s suggestion they received guarantees that should never have been given, leaving them feeling “free to make all sorts of claims in respect to themselves and other with impunity”.

The librarian agreed it was accurate to say interviewees believed there was no prospect of facing prosecution or having their accounts tested during their lifetimes.

Challenged on why he did nothing to correct the impression, he responded: “It was an oversight on my part and I will accept responsibility for that, that the agreement with the interviewees did not include the restriction ‘to the extent American law allows’.”

During the hearing it also emerged that he received 25 per cent of the royalties from journalist and author Ed Moloney’s book ‘Voices from the Grave’, based on Brendan Hughes’ and David Ervine’s contributions to the oral history project at Boston before their deaths.

Continuing with questioning, Mr Macdonald contended that interviewees were effectively induced into giving accounts of their involvement because they felt there would be no come back.

“Do you see how interviewees might have been led to believe by the terms of this agreement that they could, if they wanted to, settle old scores, or implicate people in things they hadn’t done, or implicate themselves in things they hadn’t done,” the barrister asked.

“In other words, the contracts themselves permitted the state of affairs which led to these interviews being inherently unreliable.”

Although Dr O’Neill accepted there may have been misunderstandings, he stressed that there could never be absolute confidentiality.

He went on: “It was widely believed that these stories were going to go to the grave.

“With the interviewees’ accounts there was an opportunity to record their stories, the entire project was motivated on the basis of recording as much as possible, the stories of participants in the paramilitary movement.”

Pressing him to confirm the donor agreement oversight was completely innocent, Mr Macdonald put it to the librarian that the consequences for those taking part could be “dire”.

He continued: “The question arises whether this was not inadvertent or accidental, but a deliberate omission in order to encourage all those interviewees to speak on the understanding that there would be no implications for them during their lifetimes.

“In other words it was deliberately done to loosen their tongues.”

Dr O’Neill replied: “I can only say it was not deliberate on my side.”

The hearing continues.

Boston College seeks to quash application for Anthony McIntyre interviews

Boston College seeks to quash application for Anthony McIntyre interviews
Historian was involved in interviewing 26 republicans as part of project
Gerry Moriarty
The Irish Times
Wed, May 25, 2016

Boston College is due on Thursday to formally seek to overturn an application that would compel the university to hand over taped interviews given by former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre as part of the Belfast Project.

The British government, acting on behalf of the PSNI and the office of the North’s Director of Public Prosecution, last month served a subpoena on Boston College seeking access to Dr McIntyre’s personal interviews.

Historian Dr McIntyre, who served time in prison on an IRA murder conviction, was involved in interviewing 26 republicans as part of the oral history of the Troubles project.

Dr McIntyre also gave an interview about his IRA involvement during the conflict to another interviewer as part of the project.

Last month, Boston College’s spokesman Jack Dunn said the “subpoena was issued in proceedings that the United States District Court ordered sealed, and Boston College was requested to treat the proceedings and the subpoena as confidential”.

He added that, nevertheless, the college notified Dr McIntyre of the subpoena because it felt he should be informed his interview was requested.

On Wednesday, Mr Dunn told The Irish Times that Boston College intended to “file a motion to quash the subpoena as they have with the previous subpoenas”.

The matter, however, is under seal in the US federal court and our filing will not be public,” he added.

It is likely to be some time before the court issues its judgment on the matter.

Boston College opposes legal moves to seize IRA tapes

Boston College opposes legal moves to seize IRA tapes
A subpoena has been served on the US college to hand over recordings from ex-IRA prisoner turned academic Dr Anthony McIntyre
Henry McDonald
Ireland correspondent
The Guardian
Thursday 28 April 2016

US university Boston College has confirmed it will oppose legal moves to seize tapes from an ex-IRA volunteer turned academic for a controversial archive of former paramilitaries.

A subpoena was served on Boston College earlier this week from the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Public Prosecution Service in Belfast to hand over recordings from Dr Anthony McIntyre for the Belfast Project.

The college has now said it will file a motion to have the subpoena quashed.

The subpoena to obtain McIntyre’s personal interviews has been served under the terms of a UK-US legal assistance treaty and the Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003.

Boston College has been ordered to appear at the John Joseph Moakley courthouse in the city on 6 May to deliver McIntyre’s interviews.

As well as conducting interviews with other former IRA members, McIntyre himself gave interviews to a guest researcher.

Set up in 2001, the Belfast project interviewed those directly involved in paramilitary violence between 1969 and 1994 in Northern Ireland. Participants were promised that the interviews would be released only after their death.

Boston College challenges tape subpoena

Boston College challenges tape subpoena
By Vincent Kearney
BBC News NI Home Affairs Correspondent
BBC News

A legal bid by the public prosecution service (PPS) and PSNI to gain access to interviews recorded by a former IRA member as part of the Boston College project is to be challenged by the American university.

Anthony McIntyre was one of the main researchers in the project.

A subpoena was served on the college at the weekend demanding access to interviews about his IRA activities.

The college says it will file a motion to quash the subpoena.

McIntyre’s legal team in Belfast also plan to lodge papers in the High Court challenging the legality of a decision by the PPS to use an international treaty to seek assistance from the US authorities.

The subpoena was served on the college by a lawyer acting on behalf of the British government.

It compels a representative of the college to appear in court in Massachussets next Friday to provide the material requested.

Anthony McIntyre’s lawyers team say that request was unlawful.

What are the ‘Boston tapes’?

Dozens of former paramilitaries were interviewed in Belfast and other cities and towns from 2001-2006 as part of an oral history project known as the Belfast Project.

Details about internal politics and activities of the IRA were revealed on tape, including accounts of a hunger strike in prison in the 1980s.

Overall, the project cost about $200,000 (£118,520), mostly provided by an Irish-American businessman.

Each interview was transcribed, sent by encrypted email to New York and then the material was sent to Boston College, where it was placed under lock and key at Burns Library.

Following a lengthy legal battle with the college, the Police Service of Northern Ireland gained access to a small number of the interviews in 2013.

A legal firm acting for Boston College, Locke Lord, has confirmed in a letter that it will also oppose the subpoena.

“I can confirm that Boston College will file a motion to quash the subpoena that seeks Anthony McIntyre’s Belfast Project interview recordings, transcripts, and related materials,” the letter states.

“No such materials will be produced pending a ruling on that motion.”

Anthony McIntyre recorded a number of interviews detailing his own activities during the Troubles, as well as interviewing others.

He served 18 years in prison for IRA offences, and insists the police have already questioned him about all of the issues listed in a subpoena served on Boston College.

Boston College ordered by US court to hand over IRA tapes

Boston College ordered by US court to hand over IRA tapes
Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
The Guardian
Monday 25 April 2016

An American university has been ordered by a court to hand over sensitive tapes of a former IRA prisoner talking about his role in the republican movement during the Troubles.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is seeking to force Boston College to release the interviews with Anthony McIntyre, who was the lead researcher in the Belfast Project, a recorded oral archive of IRA and loyalist paramilitary testimonies.

The subpoena to obtain McIntyre’s personal interviews has been served under the terms of a UK-US legal assistance treaty and the Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003.

Boston College has been ordered to appear at the John Joseph Moakley courthouse in the city on 6 May to deliver McIntyre’s interviews, it was confirmed on Monday.

As well as conducting interviews with other former IRA members, McIntyre himself gave interviews to a guest researcher.

Set up in 2001, the project interviewed those directly involved in paramilitary violence between 1969 and 1994 in Northern Ireland. Participants were promised that the interviews would be released only after their death.

However, the PSNI has been using the US courts in an attempt to obtain the tapes, succeeding up to now only with tapes they claim are related to the 1972 IRA murder of Jean McConville.

McIntyre, who has instructed lawyers to fight the subpoena request, called the PSNI’s pursuit of the tapes “vengeful and vindictive”. “I will not be cooperating in any way,” he said. “I will not break breath to them.”

The Boston Project’s director, Ed Moloney, and researcher Wilson McArthur, said in a statement that the legal move to seize McIntyre’s interviews was a “PSNI fishing expedition”.

“The subpoena request provides no details of specific charge, investigation or offence of which Dr McIntyre is accused, no names of alleged victims, no dates, no places,” they said.

Moloney and McArthur warned that academic freedom was “under siege” due to the pressure on Boston College and challenged the university to resist the subpoena.

The PSNI aka Keystone Kops: Stumbling Back to Boston

Keystone Kops III: Stumbling Back to Boston
Chris Bray
chrisbrayblog.blogspot.ie
Monday, April 25, 2016

Incredibly, Boston College has been served with a new Belfast Project subpoena, following a request from the British government to American authorities under the terms of the US-UK Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty.

The latest demand for archived materials seeks the interviews that were conducted with a primary researcher on the project, Dr. Anthony McIntyre. A Queen’s University history PhD, McIntyre is himself a former member of the Provisional IRA, once imprisoned by the British government for 18 years. McIntyre interviewed former IRA members for the Belfast Project, and was also interviewed himself by an as-yet-unidentified guest researcher.

The absurdity of the new subpoena would be hard to exaggerate. Dated April 21, and signed by First Assistant United States Attorney John McNeil, the subpoena seeks “evidence regarding alleged violations of the laws of the United Kingdom,” including “membership of a proscribed organization.”

This isn’t a joke: In 2016, the British and U.S. governments are working together to try to figure out if Anthony McIntyre was ever a member of the IRA.

It’s like the FBI suddenly deciding to assemble a major case squad to see if Huey Newton ever had anything to do with that whole Black Panther thing. Was Nathanael Greene somehow involved in the American Revolution? An urgent government investigation is underway!

(Personal aside to Police Service of Northern Ireland: Try looking here. If that’s too much reading, this confidential law enforcement source might also help.)

The new subpoena follows several earlier waves of equally ridiculous subpoenas, which began in 2011 and first sought information on the long-ignored 1972 kidnapping and murder of Jean McConville. Several years after receiving subpoenaed interviews that discussed the McConville killing, authorities in Belfast have charged precisely no one with those crimes – and the available evidence strongly suggests that they never will.

The Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland did charge a single person, Ivor Bell, with aiding and abetting in the McConville murder, but police and prosecutors have never said who Bell was supposed to have aided and abetted; they have brought charges for helping with a murder, but they have not brought charges for the murder itself. Even that weak and tangential case is evaporating in painful stages: Bell was charged in March of 2014, but — more than two years later — has yet to receive so much as a preliminary inquiry, much less a trial. Bell’s lawyers now seek to have the charges thrown out of court, an outcome that seems increasingly likely.

More recently, law enforcement officials in Belfast used the MLAT process to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to obtain the Belfast Project interviews of former Loyalist paramilitary commander Winston Rea.  Police in Belfast got the Rea tapes nearly a year ago. The tapes have not been spoken of since, and no charges have been filed.

And so Northern Ireland’s Keystone Kops return to the same dry well that has served them so well in the past, demanding tapes that may reveal Anthony McIntyre’s involvement in the IRA.

I keep trying to decide if this is a tragedy or a farce. It may be both. One thing that it certainly isn’t: A legitimate police investigation.

Boston College subpoenaed for Anthony McIntyre interviews

Boston College subpoenaed for Anthony McIntyre interviews
British government seeks access to taped interview by former IRA prisoner
Gerry Moriarty
The Irish Times
Mon, Apr 25, 2016

The British government has lodged a subpoena with Boston College seeking access to taped interviews given by former IRA prisoner Dr Anthony McIntyre, it was stated on Monday.

Ed Moloney and Wilson McArthur, who were centrally involved with the Belfast Project – an oral history of the Troubles – said that the British government, acting on behalf of the PSNI and the office of the North’s Director of Public Prosecution, had served a subpoena on Boston College seeking access to Dr McIntyre’s personal interviews.

Former director of the project Mr Moloney and Mr McArthur, who interviewed former UVF members for the oral history, accused the authorities of engaging in an illegal “fishing expedition” in seeking access to Dr McIntyre’s tapes.

Boston College’s spokesman Jack Dunn said that the “subpoena was issued in proceedings that the United States District Court ordered sealed, and Boston College was requested to treat the proceedings and the subpoena as confidential”.

“Nevertheless, the university notified Mr McIntyre of the subpoena because it concluded that he should know that his materials had been requested. Given that the pending proceedings remain under seal, Boston College is not able to comment further on the matter,” added Mr Dunn.

Historian Dr McIntyre, who served time in prison on an IRA murder conviction, and Mr McArthur respectively interviewed 26 republican and 20 loyalist former paramilitaries for the project.

Dr McIntyre also gave an interview about his IRA involvement during the Troubles to another interviewer as part of the project.

Interviewees were given commitments that there would be no disclosure of their interviews until after their deaths. Two of those who gave interviews were former senior IRA figure Brendan Hughes and former UVF member and Progressive Unionist Party leader David Ervine.

After their deaths their testimonies were included in a book by Mr Moloney called “Voices From the Grave” which contained information from Mr Hughes about the IRA’s abduction, murder and disappearance of Jean McConville in 1972.

Subsequently, as part of its investigation of Ms McConville’s murder the PSNI sought access to the Boston tapes. Ultimately under legal pressure Boston College handed over a number of tapes that are believed to contain reference to Ms McConville.

The release of the tapes also resulted in the arrest of veteran republican Ivor Bell (79) who also engaged with the project. He is charged with aiding and abetting in Ms McConville’s murder as well as membership of the IRA. His trial has yet to take place.

“This action by the DPP and PSNI is simply a fishing expedition, which is prohibited by international law,” said Mr Moloney and Mr McArthur.

“We do know, in particular, that this request does not have anything to do with the disappearance and murder of Jean McConville, which was the event that motivated this PSNI trawl five years ago,” they added.

“The subpoena request provides no details of specific charge, investigation or offence of which Dr McIntyre is accused, no names of alleged victims, no dates, no places. Instead the originators of this shoddy document mention matters which are so over-broad, that literally anyone alive during the Troubles in Northern Ireland could be accused of some association with them,” said Mr Moloney and Mr McArthur.

They added that Dr McIntyre has engaged Belfast human rights solicitor Kevin Winters “to resist these efforts to raid his personal memoirs”.

Mr Moloney and Mr McArthur said the arrest and charging of Mr Bell was an “abuse of process” as was the action against Dr McIntyre. They called on the Irish Government “not to co-operate with the British authorities should any effort be made to extradite Dr McIntyre from his home in Drogheda to Belfast for the purposes of yet another futile and inordinately expensive show trial”.

They added that the DPP and PSNI had requested, and the US Department of Justice had agreed, to a “demand that Boston College keep these legal proceedings secret, away from the prying eyes of the international press”.

The PSNI said it was not “commenting on the matter” while the DPP’s office was not in a position to comment at this stage. At the time of writing there was no response to queries from the Northern Ireland Office.

US Authorities Subpoena Anthony McIntyre’s Boston College Oral History Archive on Behalf of British

PSNI Serve ‘Fishing Expedition’ Subpoena On Anthony McIntyre –
US Agrees To ‘Star Chamber’ Hearing In Blatant Abuse of Process
April 25th, 2016

We have just learned that the British government, acting on behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (“PSNI”) and the office of the Director of Public Prosecution (“DPP”) in Belfast, have served a subpoena on Boston College seeking personal interviews given by Dr. Anthony McIntyre to the Belfast Project based at Boston College, Massachusetts.

The subpoena has been served under the terms of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (“MLAT”) and the UK statute, the Crime International Cooperation Act 2003 (“CICA”).

Dr. McIntyre, who was lead IRA researcher for the Belfast project, gave a series of interviews himself which were conducted by a guest interviewer. Dr McIntyre has made no secret of this fact. He has now engaged leading Belfast human rights lawyer Kevin Winters of KRW Law LLP, to resist these efforts to raid his personal memoirs.

FISHING EXPEDITION

The subpoena request provides no details of specific charge, investigation or offence of which Dr. McIntyre is accused, no names of alleged victims, no dates, no places. Instead the originators of this shoddy document mention matters which are so overbroad, that literally anyone alive during the Troubles in Northern Ireland could be accused of some association with them.

We do know, in particular, that this request does not have anything to do with the disappearance and murder of Jean McConville, which was the event that motivated this PSNI trawl five years ago. Both the US District Court and the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit clearly deemed Dr. McIntyre’s interviews not to be relevant to the Jean McConville investigation.

Under the terms of the MLAT and CICA, which the authors of the subpoena claim as their legal basis for this action, requests for assistance from a foreign power may only be made where (a) there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence has been committed, and (b) proceedings have been instituted, or an offence is being investigated. There are no proceedings in being for any offences relating to Dr. McIntyre and there is no reason to believe that any current or historical offence is being investigated.

This action by the DPP and PSNI is simply a fishing expedition, which is prohibited by international law.

GAGGING NOTICE

Boston College has been ordered to appear at the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in Boston at 10 a.m. on May 6th to deliver Dr. McIntyre’s interviews.

The DPP and PSNI have requested, and the Obama Department of Justice has agreed, to demand that Boston College keep these legal proceedings secret, away from the pryng eyes of the international press. This Press Release puts paid to those nefarious efforts.

The gag notice means that the attempts of the British authorities once again to stifle academic research into the Troubles of Northern Ireland, an essential part of the peace process, was to be conducted entirely in secret like some modern day Star Chamber.

The use of secret courts offends every principle of legal fairness and openness inherent in the American legal system, as well as best international human rights practices, and we call on the media, in particular, whose First Amendment rights to cover such events are being undermined, to protest by turning up at the courthouse at 10:00 a.m. on May 6, 2016.

Secret courts and censored hearings smack of totalitarianism and they offend the public’s right to know.

REVENGE THE ONLY EXPLICABLE MOTIVE

The British authorities, the PSNI and the DPP have had more than ample time and opportunity to subpoena Dr.McIntyre’s materials before this. This begs the question, why are the authorities doing this now?

What is the real reason for this subpoena?

One explanation which leaps to mind is that this is an act of simple revenge, motivated by anger at the fact that the resistance to the subpoenas led by Dr. McIntyre embarrassed the prosecutorial authorities in Belfast, which have so far failed to bring any prosecution beyond the preliminary inquiry stage, never mind a successful conclusion to their well-publicized efforts in raiding and destroying a valuable Oral History archive. This is pay back, in other words.

ABUSE OF PROCESS & IRISH GOVERNMENT

Abuse of process is the only term to describe the treatment of Ivor Bell, who is the only individual charged following the receipt by the PSNI of Boston College materials. Mr. Bell has vigorously protested his innocence of any charges, and his case has not progressed past the preliminary inquiry stage after years of hearings.

Abuse of process is the only term to describe this latest move against Dr. McIntyre by the DPP and Obama’s DoJ. We therefore call on the Irish government not to co-operate with the British authorities should any effort be made to extradite Dr. McIntyre from his home in Drogheda to Belfast for the purposes of yet another futile and inordinately expensive “show trial.” We have sent a copy of this statement to the outgoing Taoiseach, Mr Enda Kenny and to the Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin TD.

We also call upon all decent-minded people in the US, politicians, lawyers, civil libertarians and members of the public to protest this disgraceful action by the Department of Justice. We call upon progressive candidates seeking nomination for the US Presidency to make their views clear on this matter.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM UNDER SIEGE

This subpoena differs from all previous requests which were directed at the subjects of academic research. This subpoena is directed at an academic researcher, solely on the grounds that he attempted to record an alternative version of history. The implications for the rest of American academe are incontestable. What was it Pastor Niemoller said?

‘First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist…..Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.’

Accordingly we appeal firstly to the Trustees of Boston College to support any legal effort to resist this subpoena. This is a matter which could adversely affect everyone teaching on Boston College’s campus. We would like to extend that appeal to the rest of American academe and ask the researchers and teachers of Higher Education in America to recognise the seriousness of this threat to researchers everywhere by making your opposition to this subpoena loud and clear.

This is a matter which directly affects academic freedom in America. This is not a time for silence or acquiescence.

Ed Moloney, former director Belfast Project
Wilson McArthur, lead UVF researcher for the Belfast Project

Boston College Oral History Project Faces Ongoing Legal Issues

Boston College Oral History Project Faces Ongoing Legal Issues
April Witteveen
Library Journal
March 12, 2015

After years of ongoing legal issues, Boston College’s (BC) Belfast Project is again in the news. The Project, launched in 2001, is an oral history collection consisting of recorded interviews from participants in Northern Ireland’s 30-year civil conflict known as the Troubles.

Funded in large part by Thomas J. Tracy, an Irish American philanthropist with a strong interest in American and Northern Irish politics, the Belfast Project held some 50 interviews conducted through 2006. The project director’s contracts promised confidentiality of the interviewees’ recordings until after their deaths, although these were not reviewed by BC’s counsel. However, since 2011 the U.S. Department of Justice has received numerous subpoenas requesting the interview material from the United Kingdom as they continue to investigate crimes that occurred during the conflict.

In early 2015, Winston Rea, a former loyalist prisoner, “secured a temporary injunction as police were set to board a plane for America” to retrieve his tapes from the Belfast Project. As of February 27, a judge claimed the Police Services of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) request for information was lawful as regards the subject of a police investigation; the recordings have been secured but have been kept sealed, as Rea has decided to file an appeal.

Dangerous Work

The project’s roots date back to 2000, when journalist Ed Maloney introduced BC librarian Robert O’Neill to Irish historian and former Irish Republican Army (IRA) member Anthony McIntyre in order to propose a project: to collect recorded stories from former IRA paramilitary members, capturing their record of the conflict.

While such an archive would be of great historical and cultural significance, this would be dangerous work. In a story for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Beth McMurtrie wrote:

“Although the fighting was over, informers—or ‘touts,’ as the IRA called them—were not looked upon kindly. You just didn’t go around talking about what you had done in those dark years. Yet the idea was undeniably appealing. To record the stories of the men and women who had put their lives on the line for the cause of independence, some of whom had committed horrific acts of violence in the process, that was something no one else had done.”

McIntyre agreed to act as the primary interviewer for the project, assuming that the material, and the people who took part, would be protected to the fullest legal extent. The participant agreement stated that “each interview would be sealed until the death of the interviewee.” No lawyers were used to vet the agreements. McIntyre began his interviews in Ireland the following year. According to McMurtie, by 2006 he had interviewed 26 former IRA members; in addition, a Belfast researcher gathered interviews from 20 loyalist paramilitary agents to reflect the other side of the conflict.

Legal troubles for the Belfast Project began in 2011. British authorities had requested that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issue subpoenas for interviews from subjects they believed had connections to various crimes committed during the Troubles. The subpoenas were issued under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) signed between the U.S. and the UK in 1994. According to an article in the Stanford Law Review, the MLAT “provides, among other things, that the United States and the United Kingdom will assist one another in ‘serving documents; locating or identifying persons…[and] executing requests for search and seizures.’” The treaty “does not require compliance…in all circumstances,” but the DOJ chose to issue the subpoenas.

By May 2014, 11 tapes had been turned over to the PSNI after it issued a statement claiming it planned to seek the entire contents of the Belfast Project. As a result of these subpoenas Gerry Adams, former leader of Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political branch, was arrested. Two participants in the Belfast Project had implicated Adams in the 1972 murder of Jean McConville, whom the IRA had accused of being an informant. Brendan Hughes, a “legendary IRA volunteer,” had passed away by the time his recordings were subpoenaed; former IRA volunteer Dolours Price however, was still alive, and her tapes remained under embargo. Adams was freed after four days of police questioning.

Robert O’Neill, the BC librarian involved with the project, retired during the 2013–14 academic year; his successor, Christian Dupont, was unable to provide comment. He told Library Journal that due to the unresolved nature of the legal issues surrounding the Belfast Project, all College employees have been told to refrain from making any statements.

Implications for Archives

Christine George, currently the archivist and faculty services librarian at the State University of New York Buffalo’s Charles B. Sears Legal Library, first heard about the Belfast Project when she was in library school; she has since stayed up to date with the evolving legal issues. She published her concerns on the Society of American Archivists (SAA) Issues and Advocacy Roundtable blog. When LJ spoke with George recently, she said: “…the litigation surrounding the Belfast Project serves as a reminder that archivists and institutions cannot provide the protection that certain collections may require. As a profession, archivists need to seriously consider the legal and moral implications of seeking and housing such collections.”

The 2013 response from the now-defunct Government Affairs Working Group of SAA included a discussion of the concept of archival privilege, and how it was unsuccessfully invoked in the case of the Belfast Project: “The belief that there should be an archival privilege of confidentiality rests on the ‘need of history’ for honest information, and thus the need to shield honest answers from potential legal consequences.” This concept, as applied to politically sensitive archival material, has drawn conflicting views. From SAA’s response: “Although some members of the profession clearly believe that such a right should be asserted, others believe that asserting such a right could be interpreted as an unfortunate exercise in absolutism that would be detrimental to the broader public interest.”

James King, a PhD student at the Information School at Pittsburgh University, also studied the Belfast Project and its legal ramifications. In 2014 he published “‘Say nothing’: silenced records and the Boston College subpoenas” in Archives and Records: The Journal of the Archives and Records Association (view the author’s submitted manuscript). In it, he addressed the “the little-recognized preservation hazard of silenced or uncreated records,” and told LJ of his concerns about capturing the voices of the Troubles in particular:

“It seems even more unlikely that future oral history or archival projects related to the conflict will find many participants willing to risk the hazards of contribution. I also fear that this case might affect the many community organizations and storytelling projects that have helped Northern Ireland transition from conflict, as those who experienced the violence of the conflict might now reasonably decline to tell their stories.”

Both King and George addressed the need for archival policies that would allow voices of conflict to be heard. However, with academic or archival privilege questionable at best in cases like this, King stated his hope “…that similar endeavors in the future will learn from the Belfast Project by proceeding only once all legal and ethical implications are understood, addressed, and conveyed in a manner that can truly guarantee the safety of participants.”

At this point it is unclear what contents of the Belfast Project are still held by BC. According to an FAQ on the college’s website, the records are closed, “unavailable to use for any reason.” In May 2014, the New York Times quoted BC as stating that it would return any material to participants who wanted their interviews back. This had been a point of contention between BC and McIntyre and Maloney; the latter two felt that as soon as the confidentiality of the Project was compromised this offer should have been extended to the participants. The article closed noting: “All the material is now locked away in an undisclosed location.”

This article was featured in Library Journal‘s Academic Newswire enewsletter.

Boston College ordered to turn over Northern Ireland conflict research

Boston College ordered to turn over Northern Ireland conflict research
By Keith Button
Education Dive
February 10, 2015

Dive Brief:

•A British judge has ruled in favor of police trying to access interviews from a Boston College oral history project on the Northern Ireland civil conflict, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported.
•Winston Rea, formerly a loyalist paramilitary member, had granted interviews to the college’s Belfast Project on the condition that they would remain confidential until his death.
•The court battle over the Belfast Project material began in 2011.

Dive Insight:

This case could have a chilling effect on academic research into other situations where police would have interest in information collected from sources who wish to remain confidential. In this case, the Police Services of Northern Ireland is using the information collected by Boston College to investigate a murder. Boston College had already turned over some interviews, and the police sought all of them in May 2014. Rea’s interviews may not be the only ones ordered to be turned over recently — the subpoena for the Rea interviews was exposed only when he tried to block it.

Recommended Reading
The Chronicle of Higher Education: Boston College’s Belfast Project Lands in Court—Again