BC pressed to give recordings to UK

History project featured former IRA members

By Travis Andersen
Globe Staff / July 7, 2011

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Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to order Boston College to turn over recordings of former members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army to British law enforcement officials investigating cases of murder and kidnapping, among other crimes.

In a court filing dated July 1, prosecutors wrote that BC must turn over the recordings and other materials to the British government because a treaty obligation between the two countries requires the school to comply with the request.

The recordings were made between 2001 and 2006 for a BC oral history project about the period in and around Northern Ireland known as the Troubles, when more than 3,000 people were killed in the struggle between the IRA and British authorities over the country’s sovereignty.

The project’s developers promised their interview subjects anonymity until they died, an offer they could not legally make, prosecutors wrote in their filing.

“Simply put, the [developers] made promises they could not keep, that they would conceal evidence of murder and other crimes until the perpetrators were in their graves,’’ prosecutors said.

In a statement, a BC spokesman said the university is “asking the court to weigh the important competing interests in this matter in light of our contention that the premature release of the tapes could threaten the safety of the participants, the enterprise of oral history, and the ongoing peace and reconciliation process in Northern Ireland.’’

It is not clear which law enforcement authorities in Britain are seeking the material, because the original request remains sealed. The press office of the British Embassy in Washington referred questions to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Calls to the service’s media office were not returned last night.

According to court documents, British authorities are seeking interview transcripts and other materials from the project related to former IRA members Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price.

Price was convicted in 1973 in connection with her involvement in several car bomb detonations in London, court records show. She has also admitted her involvement in the unsolved killings and disappearances of at least four people, according to court documents.

BC has turned over many of the materials related to Hughes, court filings show. He died in 2008. However, BC lawyers have argued that the demand for more records threatens academic freedom and, in some cases, the personal safety of people involved in the project.

Prosecutors said in the latest filing that the involvement of several participants, including Price, has been widely publicized. They also said academics have fewer legal protections in such cases than journalists. In addition, they rejected BC’s contention that releasing the records would imperil the political stability in the region.

In an interview in Dublin in May, a former senior member of the IRA told the Globe that many former members believe the subpoenas being issued by police in Northern Ireland are aimed at embarrassing Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, the party that used to be the political wing of the IRA.

Adams, who was elected earlier this year to the Republic of Ireland’s Parliament, has always denied he was an IRA member. Telephone and e-mail messages left with Sinn Fein were not returned last night.

Kevin Cullen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.