Boston College fights release of secret IRA tapes

February 22, 2012 - 8:15 PM

BOSTON (AP) — Boston College is challenging a federal judge's order to hand over interviews with seven former Irish Republican Army members to U.S. government officials.

Under terms of a treaty, American officials plan to share the interviews with British authorities investigating a 1972 homicide.

The case involves an oral history project that recorded recollections from combatants in the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland, a four-decade conflict between the country's British Protestant majority and Irish Catholic minority.

Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn said Wednesday that the school is appealing to the 1st U.S. District Court of Appeals because it wants a higher court to consider if the value of the interviews to a criminal investigation in Northern Ireland outweighs the protection of confidential academic research.

Dunn said project director Ed Moloney signed a contract with Boston College that said access to interviewees' information would be kept confidential, to the extent U.S. law allows, until after participants died.

The university spokesman said a federal court judge listened to the confidential tapes before finding that some mentioned the 1972 killing of Jean McConville and should be turned over to authorities.

Acting for British investigators, the U.S. Attorney's Office filed subpoenas last year for all tapes of IRA members talking about McConville, who was a Belfast mother of 10.

The McConville case is controversial because of allegations Sinn Fein political party leader Gerry Adams led the unit of the now-outlawed IRA that ordered her execution.

In December, the judge ruled Boston College had to turn over the interviews of former IRA member Dolours Price because she talks about her part in McConville's killing.

Boston College didn't appeal that ruling, with Dunn saying then that the reason was that Price had given a widely publicized media interview in Ireland implicating herself and Adams in the killing.

In January, the same judge found that materials involving seven more project interviewees who talked about McConville's killing also should be disclosed.

Boston College already has handed over interview materials from late IRA member Brendan Hughes, who died in 2008. Hughes told an oral project interviewer he supervised McConville's "arrest" for allegedly being a British spy. He also said Adams commanded a unit responsible for that and other disappearances.

Adams said in a January interview with Irish state broadcaster RTE he didn't fear more ex-IRA members would identify him as their former leader.

Ed Moloney, the former Belfast journalist who directed Boston College's project, and Anthony McIntyre, a project researcher and former IRA member, on Wednesday welcomed news of Boston College's appeal. The two also are trying to prevent the release of interviews.

"I think they're glad that Boston College has belatedly joined them," their attorney Eamonn Dornan said Wednesday from Ireland.

But he said the two also regret the university's appeal doesn't include an attempt to protect Price's interviews.

Moloney and McIntyre have said that releasing interviews could spark violence against IRA veterans and undermine peace in Northern Ireland, where Sinn Fein represents the Irish Catholic minority.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston has temporarily blocked the U.S. officials from releasing any materials to British authorities because of a separate action Moloney and McIntyre brought against the U.S. government. Arguments in that case are expected in April, Dornan said Wednesday.

Boston College expects the court to hear its appeals case in June.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John McNeil said Wednesday evening that the government will respond to Boston College's appeal, but that there's no court date scheduled for the case.

"It's critical not to lose sight of the fact that this matter concerns the cold-blooded execution of an unarmed woman and other people," he said.

McNeil said his office is in possession of the Price interviews, but a court order for now prevents him from turning them over to British authorities. He wouldn't comment Wednesday on whether he's read the materials.