So how reliable are the interviews contained on the Boston College tapes? It turns out the interviews pertaining to the disappearance of Jean McConville are rife with hearsay, folklore and vague generalities. That’s not Sinn Fein’s spin. Those are the formal conclusions made by the federal judge who decided whether certain interviews were required to be produced in response to a subpoena.
Federal judge William G. Young made his findings in an Order dated January 20, 2012. (The Order in Case No. 11-91078 is available through the federal court electronic filing system.) Judge Young was asked to decide the enforcement of the United Kingdom’s second subpoena. In arriving at his decision, the judge thoroughly reviewed the transcripts of 176 interviews of the 24 interviewees that had been identified as most likely to have information regarding the disappearance of Mrs. McConville. Judge Young’s findings amount to an indictment of the reliability of the interviews, the impartiality of the interviewers, and the present day motives of the PSNI.
Of the 24 interviewees considered by the judge, he found that “only six interviewees even mention the disappearance of Jean McConville that constitutes the target of the subpoena.” And of those six, only one interviewee “provides information responsive to the subpoena.”
Regarding the other five, the judge found that one interviewee “proffers information that, if broadly read, is responsive to the subpoena.” “Three others make passing mention of the incident, two only in response to leading questions.” That an interviewer would ask leading questions as part of this project destroys any claim of impartiality made by the project’s leaders.
The judge continued: “It is impossible to discern whether these three are commenting from personal knowledge, from hearsay, or are merely repeating local folklore.” In short, the interviews in question were hardly the result of academic or journalistic rigor. Finally, regarding the last of the six interviewees, the judge found that “in context, the sixth interviewee does nothing more than express personal opinion on public disclosures made years after the incident.” That’s hardly oral history. More like craic.
But the judge did not stop there. He also addressed the possible motives of the PSNI in detaining Gerry Adams. Thus the judge found that “two other interviewees mention a shadowy sub-organization within the Irish Republican Army that may or may not be involved in the incident . . . .” But the judge completely dismissed those interviews as follows: “Still, the references made are at such a vague level of generality that it is virtually inconceivable to this Court that the law enforcement authorities within the requesting state (i.e., the PSNI) do not already have this information.” This passage clearly calls into question the decision by some in the PSNI to detain Gerry Adams when they detained him.
The judge concluded by declining to conduct any further review. The judge found specifically that “no other materials from Boston College’s archive need be produced in response to this second subpoena.” And the court declined to review the “very few” audio tapes that had not yet been transcribed “in view of the paucity of information unearthed after extensive review by this Court.”
Federal judges are nominated by the President, confirmed by the U.S. Senate and serve for life. They are above reproach, authoritative, and immune from any political pressure. Judge Young was nominated by President Reagan in 1985. He is an accomplished jurist, and his findings on the Boston College tapes are entitled to great weight.
Upon his release, Gerry Adams questioned the motives of the Boston College tapes project leaders, and he characterized much of the material presented to him by his interrogators as unreliable hearsay. Based on Judge Young’s findings, Mr. Adams’s commentary is not only spot-on accurate, but he may be said to have put it mildly.
Mark Guilfoyle is a lawyer with the Crestview Hills, Kentucky law firm of DBL Law. He practices extensively in the United States federal courts.