NEWTON -- Boston College recently promised to return interviews associated with the Belfast Project, an oral history project that led to the arrest of current Sinn Fein political party leader Gerry Adams. An interviewee can request the return of his recording and BC has promised not retain a copy or transcript.
Jack Dunn, spokesman for the university, told The Pilot that Boston College made the offer to release the recordings on May 6 in order to honor the requests of "a few" of the 40 interviewees. Those few cited concern that they too would be brought in for questioning by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
The Belfast Project aimed to document the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Troubles, which began in the 1960s, pitted unionists and loyalists who supported Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom (U.K.) against Irish Nationalists and republicans who supported joining the Republic of Ireland. Sinn Fein is an Irish republican political party. More than 3,500 people died as a result of the conflict, which lasted three decades.
Project manager Ed Moloney, a former Irish journalist, hired Anthony McIntyre to interview 26 fellow former Irish Republican Army (IRA) members. He hired loyalist Wilson McArthur to interview 14 former members of the Ulster Volunteer Force, a loyalist paramilitary group. The two men conducted interviews from 2001 to 2006.
Interviewees report being promised confidentiality until their deaths. Dunn said the interviewers were not in a position to make such assurances. Due to American law and a treaty between the U.S. and the U.K., BC warned Moloney that there were limits to confidentiality.
"The court records clearly vindicate BC by showing that we had warned the director that there were limitations to confidentiality based on American law," he said.
After the deaths of two interviewees, Moloney published a book in 2010, which led to a documentary. The project received further attention when former IRA paramilitary Delours Prices reported that she had participated in the Belfast Project. She also claimed that she and Gerry Adams were involved in the murder of a Belfast widow and mother of 10, Jean McConville in 1972. The IRA suspected that McConville was an informant and admitted responsibility for her death.
Adams was arrested on April 30, 2014 and released four days later. He has denied any involvement in her death. He has also criticized the project as biased; Moloney has denied any bias.
The United States Department of Justice, on behalf of the PSNI, requested two of the tapes and transcripts through a subpoena in 2011. Moloney suggested in an interview with the Boston Globe that BC should "destroy the tapes," which caused the PSNI to issue a second round of subpoenas for any remaining interviews that pertained to McConville's murder.
Boston College filed a motion to quash both sets of subpoenas, citing its desire to protect academic research and ongoing peace in Northern Ireland.
U.S. District Court denied the motion to quash the first subpoena, but reviewed the materials privately in order to determine the relevance to the McConville murder investigation. He ordered that only the interview of Delours Price be turned over to the Department of Justice.
According to Dunn, Boston College's attorneys concluded that there were no legal grounds to appeal that subpoena. Moloney and McIntyre then filed a stay of the Court's ruling, but their appeal was rejected and higher courts refused to hear the case.
With regard to the second round of subpoenas, ultimately the Appeals Court ordered BC to release 11 segments of 85 interviews with 7 former IRA members deemed to be relevant by the District Court. BC complied with the court order.
Moloney faults BC for not fighting harder to protect the interviews, but Dunn responded that it was Moloney's book that led to the first subpoena and his comments in the media that led to the second round.
"It's the action of the project director that caused much of the frustration regarding this project," he said.
According to Dunn, the conclusion of litigation allowed BC to release the interviews.
"Given that the litigation surrounding the subpoenas has concluded, we believe that it is the appropriate course of action to take at this time," he said.