Last Thursday Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-New York) waded into the Boston College Belfast Project controversy, when he urged US federal officials to block a subpoena that would divulge the secrets of the college’s confidential oral history project which featured many former IRA operatives.
Senator Schumer said in a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the request from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) for tapings raised “significant issues of journalistic confidentiality and academic freedom”. On top of that, he said, the Northern Ireland peace process itself could be put in peril.
The increasingly acrimonious saga has run since last May, when US authorities acting for the PSNI demanded access to 26 interviews given to BC by former IRA members for the project on Northern Ireland’s Troubles, undertaken by former IRA man-turned journalist Anthony McIntyre and Bronx-based journalist Ed Moloney.
In total the project included interviews with around 50 republican and loyalist paramilitaries gathered between 2001 and 2006, under the condition that they would not be released until the interviewees had passed away.
The PSNI investigation is focusing on interviews given by Dolours Price and the late Brendan Hughes, both former IRA members. Both have in the past accused Sinn Fein president Adams – who denies ever being in the IRA - of running a secret death squad which conducted the kidnappings and disappearances of at least nine people during the early 1970s, including mother of 10 Jean McConville.
A Boston court previously ordered that all information from the interviews of Dolours Price be handed over to US authorities, with a final decision on whether or not these are given to the PSNI set to be made next month. Boston College has lodged an appeal against a ruling that it hand over testimony from seven other paramilitaries, which is set to be heard in June.