The researchers behind Boston College’s controversial Belfast Project face an anxious wait to discover whether the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) will be allowed to access secret tapings they made with former paramilitaries.
The US Court of Appeal heard arguments last week from lawyers representing Anthony McIntyre and Ed Moloney, who wish to have their own case heard separately from BC, and prosecutors who say that their interests are adequately represented by the college.
In January, Judge William Young had ordered certain tapings be handed to the PSNI, ruling that Moloney and McIntyre lack the legal standing to oppose a US-UK Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty which compels both countries to share vital information.
The saga began 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 McIntyre and Bronx-based journalist Moloney.
Conducted between 2001 and 2006, the interviews only went ahead under the condition that they would not be released until the interviewees had passed away.
The PSNI request is part of an investigation into the murder of mother of 10 Jean McConville by the IRA in 1972, with later subpoenas zoning in on interviews given by former IRA operatives Dolours Price and the late Brendan Hughes.
Both have in the past accused Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams of running a secret death squad which kidnapped and “disappeared” at least nine people during the early 1970s, including McConville. There has been speculation that Price’s interviews implicate Adams in the killing.
Eamon Dornan, representing McIntyre and Moloney, argued in court that there was no likelihood that the handover of the Price tapes to the PSNI would result in any prosecutions.
He said McIntyre had already been branded an informant by certain factions, and added that the project’s participants face “the real risk of physical harm” should the recordings be turned over. The Northern Ireland peace process itself could be imperiled by such a decision, he said.
McIntyre’s wife Carrie Twomey, herself an American citizen, has long outlined how she feels her family is in danger over the release of the tapes.
“My husband is being classified as an informer,” she previously told The Irish Emigrant. “There is definitely that distinct rustling in the undergrowth. We’re trying to get the grown-ups to step forward and do the right thing. This case goes completely against US foreign policy and leaves a lot of US citizens open to potential pitfalls.”
Judge Young had ordered that all information from the interviews of Dolours Price be handed over to US authorities for eventual transfer to the PSNI, which BC complied with. The college has however lodged an appeal against a ruling that it hand over testimony from seven other paramilitaries. This appeal is set to be heard in June.
BC’s failure to appeal the Price tapes ruling, however, has lead to a bitter war of words between the researchers and the college over exactly what should have been done to protect the archive.
McIntyre and Moloney say they have been betrayed by BC; the college says it is obliged to follow valid court orders relating to a criminal investigation.
Speaking with the Belfast Telegraph, Moloney said that were himself and McIntyre to lose their current challenge in the three-judge appeals court, they may go to the highest court in the land.
“If we lose by two to one, we will appeal it to the (US) Supreme Court,” he said.
It is thought a decision on the matter could take weeks or even months.