Kevin Cullen

Troubling request

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / August 23, 2011

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When last we left the saga of efforts by the US attorney’s office to wrest confidential oral histories about the Troubles in Northern Ireland from Boston College, prosecutors wanted the recollections of just two people: former IRA volunteers Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price.

But give an overreaching, overzealous government an inch and they’ll take a mile.

Some new court filings show the feds, acting on behalf of some law enforcement entity in Northern Ireland that dares not speak its name, now want the whole enchilada: They want anything and everything in the BC secret archive related to the 1972 disappearance and murder of a Belfast mother of 10 named Jean McConville, who was abducted and executed by the Irish Republican Army as a suspected informer. Her body was recovered in 2003.

At least we now know what this fishing expedition is all about. It’s about using the US government as a pawn in a blatantly political act, an attempt by police in Northern Ireland to certainly embarrass and possibly prosecute the Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams over McConville’s disappearance and murder.

Hughes and Price fell out with Adams over his getting the IRA to disband without achieving Irish republican goals. They publicly accused him of being the IRA commander who ordered McConville’s disappearance and murder. Adams has repeatedly denied this.

In the nearly 40 years since McConville was disappeared by the IRA, police in Northern Ireland showed little interest in her murder. They did nothing after Price gave an interview to a Belfast newspaper in 2010, alleging that Adams gave the order to abduct, kill, and secretly bury McConville. But earlier this year, shortly after Adams was elected to the Republic of Ireland’s Parliament, the demand for BC’s archive was made. Coincidence? I think not.

BC promised Irish republican and British loyalist former combatants that their oral histories would not be released until their deaths. The feds say BC had no authority to promise that confidentiality. John McNeil, the Boston-based prosecutor who disputed the notion that menace still lurks over who says what in Northern Ireland, is a fine fellow, but I’m guessing he hasn’t spent much time in West Belfast, where hard men nurse fresh pints and old grudges.

After BC lawyers complained that the first set of subpoenas was too vague, the feds issued a second set demanding “any and all interviews containing information about the abduction and death of Mrs. Jean McConville.’’

The feds, as proxies for British law enforcement, said they want only the 26 interviews of former IRA members. There is no interest in whatever crimes were discussed by loyalist paramilitaries who took part in the project.

Not only does this show a selective, politically motivated prosecution taking place, it underscores the seriousness of the threat to the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, which is the cornerstone of the peace process. Given the hundreds of unsolved murders that took place during the Troubles, the idea that the only one of interest in those BC files happens to implicate the leader of the party that represents the majority of Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland shows what this is all about. This isn’t about justice. It’s about revenge. And if this is followed through to its logical conclusion, the power-sharing government will collapse in a sea of recrimination.

The US government spent many years and millions of dollars stewarding the peace process in Northern Ireland. Now it is unwittingly doing the bidding of others who want to wreck it.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @GlobeCullen.