Boston makes 11th-hour Belfast Project appeal

Boston College has appealed against part of a US court decision forcing it to turn over transcripts of oral histories of sectarian violence to police in Northern Ireland after weeks of international criticism.

March 1, 2012

The interviews, conducted with Northern Irish Republicans and Loyalists under a promise of confidentiality, were subpoenaed at the request of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which is investigating the murder 40 years ago of Jean McConville, a Belfast mother of 10.

Boston College said it wanted further judicial review to confirm that the series of tapes, titled the Belfast Project, genuinely cast enough light on the 1972 abduction and killing of Ms McConville - whom the IRA believed to have been an informant - to outweigh any threat to academic freedom posed by the case.

“The university is seeking further review of the court’s order to ensure that the value of the interviews to the underlying criminal investigation…outweighs the interests in protecting the confidentiality of academic research materials,” Jack Dunn, spokesman for Boston College, said in a statement.

The university fought the original subpoena, which was issued by the US government on behalf of Northern Irish investigators under a legal-assistance treaty.

But it dropped its challenge after US District Court Judge William Young largely ruled against it, leaving the researchers who collected the material - including an Irish journalist and a former member of the IRA - to carry on the appeal themselves.

But Boston College has now surprised the researchers - who had angrily broken ties with the institution - by exercising its right to appeal.

Despite their anger, the university’s decision to appeal was welcomed by the Belfast Project researchers - Ed Moloney, Anthony McIntyre and Wilson McArthur.

But they added that they “regret and deplore that for reasons that defy common sense”, Boston College had already agreed to turn over transcripts of interviews with former IRA member Dolours Price.

Ms Price had set off the chain of events by declaring in a newspaper interview that Ms McConville’s murder had been ordered by Gerry Adams, now leader of Sinn Fein.

Mr Adams denies any involvement with the killing.

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