In a major victory for Boston College, a federal appeals court on Friday greatly reduced the number of interview recordings from an oral history project on the Irish Troubles that BC must turn over to British authorities investigating a 1972 killing of a Belfast mother of 10.
Judge Juan R. Torruella of the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston wrote, in a 29-page ruling, that just 11 of the 85 interviews that a lower court ordered BC to release to the United Kingdom were relevant to the murder investigation and had to be surrendered.
British authorities are investigating the abduction and death of Jean McConville, who was murdered by members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. They suspected her of being an informant.
Federal prosecutors in Boston issued a subpoena on behalf of British authorities in 2011 for all materials from the Belfast Project, a BC archive of interviews with former members of the IRA and other militia groups who fought during the years of civil strife known as the Troubles, dealing with McConville’s death.
Participants in the project gave interviews with the understanding that the recordings would be kept confidential until they died.
Torruella said the appeals court found that “the district court abused its discretion in ordering the production of several of the interviews.” The panel ruled out turning over many of those interviews because they “do not contain any information relevant” to the subpoena. The 2011 subpoena followed an earlier set of subpoenas for interviews with two former IRA members, Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, both now deceased. Boston College initially fought those subpoenas but later turned over the requested materials.
Jack Dunn, a BC spokesman, welcomed Friday’s ruling.
“Today’s court ruling affirms our contention that the district court abused its discretion in ordering a significant number of interviews that were not relevant to the second subpoena,” he said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, whose office has argued the matter in federal court on behalf of the British authorities, would say only that government lawyers are reviewing the matter.
Two Belfast Project researchers adamantly opposed to the release of any of the contested materials, and who have been sharply critical of law enforcement and BC during the dispute, voiced support for the ruling.
“We see this judgment as at least a partial indictment of the whole process,” said the researchers, Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre.
“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.”