Congressman Neal’s letter to Secretary of State Clinton

June 1, 2012

The Honorable Hillary Clinton
Secretary of State
United States Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20521

Dear Madame Secretary,

As the Ranking Member of the Friends of Ireland Caucus in the U. S. House of Representatives, and someone who has worked for three decades to help bring peace and reconciliation to the island of Ireland, I am writing to express my concern over the British governments efforts to obtain confidential documents and recordings from Boston College’s Oral History Archive on the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It is my sincere belief that if this material is made public, particularly at this time, it has the potential of destabilizing the peace that both you and President Clinton worked so hard to achieve. It could also place the lives of many of the participants at risk.

The Good Friday Agreement, and the implementation of a devolved power sharing government, are some of the most significant American foreign policy accomplishments in recent memory. In fact, Northern Ireland is now viewed as a model for successful conflict resolution around the globe. From the Middle East to Sri Lanka, other societies in dispute now look to the political leaders on that island to learn the lessons of peace making and ending armed confrontation. Ancient adversaries now work side-by-side building a shared future. After a long and difficult peace process, in which the United States contribution was indispensible, Northern Ireland is truly a society in transformation.

While I fully understand the United States has an obligation to honor the terms of our Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with the British government, it is the belief of many people on both sides of the Atlantic who took risks for peace that the requests for the documents is selective and politically motivated. More importantly, and as noted by the highly respected Brehon Law Society; “statements on tapes that were not sworn and were intended not to be disclosed until after the deaths of the people making the recordings have no legal value. It must be recognized that this is information and not evidence. It is not sworn testimony which could be used in a court of law.”

When President Obama made his historic visit to Ireland last year, he said “how inspired we have been by the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland.” I am certain that millions of Irish Americans would agree with that sentiment. But the release of the Boston College documents would help undermine that very progress and unfasten a fragile peace. As a result, I strongly urge you to encourage the British government to reassess their position and withdraw their request. I thank you for your leadership and all you have done to bring peace and stability to the island of Ireland.


Richard E. Neal
Member of Congress