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US court reduces number of Boston College tapes to be handed to PSNI

Police in Northern Ireland investigating the kidnapping and murder of mother Jean McConville have fought for the tapes for a number of years.

Jean McConville (left) with three of her children before she vanished in 1972.
Jean McConville (left) with three of her children before she vanished in 1972.
Image: PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

A US APPEALS court has ordered that the PSNI be given access to only a limited number of interviews held on tapes included in Boston College’s oral history project on The Troubles.

The First Circuit ruled that only those that deal directly with the disappearance of Jean McConville in 1972 can be handed over to police in Northern Ireland. The decision reduces the number of interviews to be handed over as a result of subpoenas served on the academic researchers from 85 to 11.

The truncation was welcomed by the project’s leaders Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre who issued a joint statement this morning to outline their continued resistance to the efforts of the PSNI, the British Home Office and the US Department of Justice to obtain  ”any and all interviews from the Belfast Project archive at Boston College”.

“The interviews were given in strict confidence and on the understanding that they would eventually help everyone to understand why and how Ireland went through such a violent and traumatic period,” they said.

That they should be used to compensate for the investigatory incompetence and uncaring attitude of a police force stretching back over forty years or be used to further the reactionary politics of intransigent elements in Northern Ireland politics is not just unacceptable but in our view was a flagrant abuse of the legal process.

Moloney – a journalist – and McIntyre – a former IRA member and historian – were critical of the Obama administrations’s treatment of journalistic and media rights and noted that the involvement of the US Justice Department should have been met with “more condemnation and opposition” from American academe.

“Indeed the silence from that quarter during the last two years was almost deafening,” they said.

Despite the angry statement, the men behind the project highlighted that “a mere thirteen per cent of what the District Court in Boston had initially ordered to be surrendered” will now be handed to PSNI detectives.

“We see this judgement as at least a partial indictment of the whole process.”

Doubtless elements in the security apparatus in Northern Ireland and their allies in Britain were looking forward to a show trial in which almost the entire panoply of IRA violence during the Troubles would be the subject of proceedings in a Belfast court room. Now, that is not going to happen and to be sure there will be disappointment in these circles.

The US Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the District Court’s order to give the tapes to authorities in April following the death of one of the interviewees Dolours Price. The convicted bomber took part in the project, which was initially intended to be a resource for journalists, scholars and historians studying Northern Ireland’s conflict. Her tapes have already been handed over.

McConville is one of the Disappeared – people that were abducted, murdered and secretly buried by the IRA during the Troubles. Her remains lay undiscovered for more than 30 years until walkers on Shelling Hill beach in Dundalk came across them by chance in 2003.

The oral history project involved academics, journalists and historians conducting interviews with former republicans and loyalists about their activities during the long conflict, including Price who participated in the car bombing of a London court in 1973 which injured over 200 people.

Read: PSNI to be given access to Dolours Price interviews

Wife of IRA interviewer: ‘Releasing Boston tapes will endanger my family’

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