A federal judge rejected yesterday a motion by the trustees of Boston College to quash subpoenas that order them to turn over recordings of former members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army and other items to British officials investigating crimes including murder and kidnapping.
But Judge William G. Young did not order BC to immediately turn over the materials to federal prosecutors in Boston, who issued the subpoenas on behalf of British authorities.
Instead, Young said in his 48-page ruling that he would review the materials and decide on the next step, writing that the subpoenas were made “in good faith, and relevant to a nonfrivolous criminal inquiry. Nor are the materials readily available from a less sensitive source’’ than the recordings at BC.
The materials were collected between 2001 and 2006 for a BC oral history project about the period known as the Troubles, when more than 3,000 people were killed in the struggle between the IRA and British authorities over control of Northern Ireland.
The project developers promised their interview subjects anonymity until they died, an offer they could not legally make, prosecutors have argued.
BC has said that turning over the materials - which include interview transcripts and other items related to former IRA member Dolours Price - would have a chilling effect on academic freedom and, in some cases, endanger the safety of people involved in the project.
The university has turned over materials pertaining to a deceased former IRA member, Brendan Hughes, Young wrote. He also wrote that Price’s participation in the project has been widely reported by news media in Northern Ireland.
He acknowledged some of BC’s concerns, but added that the recordings are relevant to investigations of crimes including murder and kidnapping. He also said the United States has an obligation under a treaty with Britain to turn over the materials.
“These are serious allegations, and they weigh strongly in favor of disclosing the confidential information,’’ Young wrote.
Jack Dunn, a spokesman for BC, said by phone that the university was pleased with the ruling: “While the motion to quash the subpoenas was denied, the court, in agreeing to review the research materials . . . granted [the college] what it was seeking by promising to determine what materials, if any, are relevant’’ to the criminal investigations.
Assistant US Attorney John McNeil, also hailed the ruling. He said that Young affirmed that the recordings are relevant to a criminal inquiry. Also, he said, the ruling indicates that “the US government’s obligation [under the treaty with Britain and] the public interest in this criminal inquiry are compelling.’’
BC must turn over the materials to Young by Wednesday.