PROSECUTORS IN the US have issued a second set of subpoenas seeking the contents of a secret archive from Boston College of oral histories about the Troubles.
The new court application makes it clear that the focus of the investigation by British authorities is the 1972 disappearance and murder of Jean McConville, a Belfast mother of 10.
Acting at the behest of as yet unidentified authorities associated with the British government, the US attorney in Boston, Carmen Ortiz, last spring had demanded that the college turn over interviews its researchers had conducted with two admitted members of the IRA, Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price.
But now federal prosecutors say they want the contents of 26 interviews given by former members of the IRA, to see if they shed light on Mrs McConville’s abduction and murder.
After the college’s lawyers argued that the government’s initial request was too broad, federal prosecutors filed a new demand for the college’s records, specifically demanding “any and all interviews containing information about the abduction and death of Mrs Jean McConville”.
Federal prosecutors said the college had no authority to grant confidentiality to those interviewed, and dismissed the university’s contention that revealing the identities of those who gave interviews would place them in danger.
“Simply put, the [college] made promises they could not keep – that they would conceal evidence of murder and other crimes until the perpetrators were in their graves,” wrote assistant US attorney John McNeil. “While the impetus for collecting this evidence was laudable, the promise of absolute confidentiality was flawed.”
With anything that could advance a criminal investigation, he wrote, “there is no academic privilege”. Claims that disclosure would lead to retribution, he wrote, “falter in the face of close scrutiny”. He described the prospect of threats to individuals, and even the peace process itself, by such disclosures as “speculative”.
Federal prosecutors also made it clear they were interested only in the 26 interviews with IRA members that were conducted as part of the college’s oral history project about the Troubles.
The lack of interest in crimes that may have been discussed by loyalists interviewed for the project has led many officials at the college to complain privately that the investigation appears politically motivated and is aimed at embarrassing, if not prosecuting, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams.
In interviews given to Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA member hired by the college to record the oral histories of various IRA figures, Mr Hughes claimed Mr Adams gave the orders to kill and secretly bury Mrs McConville after the IRA accused her of being an informer. Mr Hughes, whose interviews with Mr McIntyre formed the basis of Ed Moloney’s book Voices from the Grave, fell out with Mr Adams over Sinn Féin’s direction of the republican movement.
Boston College turned over to US prosecutors its interviews with Mr Hughes, saying its promise of confidentiality ended with his death in 2008.
But the college refused to turn over its interviews with Ms Price, one of the Old Bailey bombers, who last year made similar allegations to the Irish News about Mr Adams’s alleged involvement in Mrs McConville’s disappearance and murder.
Mr Adams has repeatedly denied any involvement with the IRA’s admitted abduction, murder and secret burial of Mrs McConville, whose body was found on a Co Louth beach in 2003.
Sinn Féin spokesmen have suggested the initial request for the information in the college archive came from within the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and that the effort was aimed at embarrassing or even prosecuting the Sinn Féin leader after his election to the Dáil last February. But the initial order for the subpoenas remains sealed, making it unclear exactly who sought the information and why.
In response to the second set of subpoenas, Jeffrey Swope, a lawyer representing the college, wrote that it maintained its belief that disclosing the contents of the archive would put people, and the peace process, in danger while undermining academic freedom.
US district court judge Joseph Tauro is due to schedule a hearing for arguments in the case soon.