On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal to keep secret interviews with former Irish Republican Army members from being turned over to police authorities in Northern Ireland.
The court’s move leaves in place a lower court ruling ordering Boston College to give the Justice Department portions of interviews recorded with convicted IRA car bomber Dolours Price.
Price, 61, who died in January, was interviewed with other former IRA members between 2001 and 2006 as part of the Belfast Project, a Boston College oral history study that was created to be a resource for journalists, scholars and historians studying The Troubles.
But now federal officials want to forward the secret recordings to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), who are investigating the IRA’s 1972 killing of Belfast widow Jean McConville.
Researchers Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre, who had assured their subjects that their interviews would remain secret until after their deaths, are now arguing that the participants’ lives could be endangered if their identities are publicly revealed because they could potentially be branded as informers.
Attorney Eamonn Doran is representing Moloney and McIntyre, the director and lead researcher respectively of the Belfast Project, in their challenge of the decision by U.S. authorities to subpoena the records.
“I was brought on board when Ed and Anthony decided Boston College’s defense against the two subpoenas issued by the Attorney General Eric Holder wasn’t robust enough. They decided to make their own representations,” Dornan told the Irish Voice.
Monday’s Supreme Court refusal to hear Moloney and McIntyre’s appeal has potentially disastrous consequences which has lead to Irish American groups sounding the alarm, Dornan said.
“Numerous warnings have been given to the Department of Justice and the State Department by the AOH, the Brehon Law Society and the Irish American Unity Conference. Each is seriously concerned that the release of these materials, particularly at this time, may have a detrimental effect on the peace process,” Dornan said.
“We don’t know who’s pushing for these records to be released because we can’t see who issued the subpoena, or what the nature of the request is. We suspect it must be the PSNI. The question is who in their right mind is driving this request for information, which would have a detrimental effect on a fragile enough peace?”
Last year a U.S. appeals court in Boston found that Moloney and McIntyre had no right to interfere with the police request under the terms of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) between the U.S. and the U.K. that requires the two to aid each other’s criminal investigations. The appeals court insisted that criminal investigations must take precedence over academic study.
Brendan Moore, the National President of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, told the Irish Voice, “It’s obviously an egregious application of the MLAT. It’s undermining academic enquiry in this country. Clearly it’s also a fishing expedition on the part of the PSNI. They’re looking for people to be implicated. It’s also most unfortunate in terms of international relations. I think we are all under threat if treaties are going to be twisted in this way.”
But Moore calls Monday’s ruling a major setback, not a defeat. “There is a coalition between the AOH, the Brehon Law Society and the Irish American Unity Conference. We are all pledged to continue the fight. We do believe we have the support of Secretary of State John Kerry and influential members of Congress,” Moore said.
Dornan sees a practical solution to the crisis, if all parties have the wisdom to reach for it. “It’s still within the remit of the Department of Justice and the State Department to stop the transfer of these materials. The question is now in the political court,” he said.