US judge asks college for IRA-linked files

 

A FEDERAL judge has ordered Boston College to let him review the contents of an oral history project involving former IRA members so he can decide whether the American government can turn the records over to British authorities investigating the 1972 disappearance and murder of Belfast mother of 10 Jean McConville.

US district court judge William G Young rejected Boston College’s request to quash the subpoena seeking the information, but agreed with the college’s argument that releasing the material posed risks for academic freedom.

The judge said he would review the material in his chambers privately. His decision was greeted as a partial victory by both sides, with Boston College saying the judge recognised the threat to academic freedom should the college be forced to break its promise to participants in the so-called Belfast Project that their interviews would not be made public until after their deaths.

“This court agrees that subpoena targeting confidential academic information deserve heightened scrutiny,” Judge Young wrote in a 49-page decision.

“This court must analyse whether the information at issue is confidential and therefore merits protection by examining the totality of the circumstances.”

The judge sidestepped the college’s other claims that releasing the information could harm the peace process and place people involved in the research project at risk, including former IRA member Anthony McIntyre, who conducted the interviews. But he granted the college’s request for an in-camera review of the materials.

Judge Young denied the request by McIntyre and the journalist and author Ed Moloney, who directed the Belfast Project, to intervene in the case, saying the college was adequately representing them.

Assistant US Attorney John McNeil welcomed the decision, saying Judge Young had recognised that the information held by Boston College was relevant to a criminal investigation, and that the US had an obligation under a treaty with the United Kingdom to turn over the records.

Acting on a request from British authorities, American prosecutors initially sought only the interviews of former IRA members Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, and Boston College turned over the Hughes file, saying the promise of confidentiality ended with his death in 2008. But prosecutors later said they wanted the files of all 26 former IRA members interviewed for the project, which presumably contain information beyond Mrs McConville’s case.

Judge Young is one of the few American judges with experience of the conflict in Northern Ireland. He presided over the trial involving the abduction and murder of John McIntyre, a former US soldier who took part in a 1984, Boston-based IRA gun-running mission.

That mission ended with the capture of the trawler Marita Annby the Naval Service off the Kerry coast and the imprisonment of then-senior members of the IRA, including Martin Ferris.

McIntyre was murdered by the Boston underworld leader James “Whitey” Bulger after a corrupt FBI agent told Bulger that McIntyre was co-operating with authorities. McIntyre’s family was awarded $3 million.

Boston College declined Judge Young’s offer to seek a stay and appeal his decision, saying it would turn the records over to him by tomorrow.