US ruling reopens old 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland
A Boston College research project meant to collect testimony about Troubles-era crimes may now be a political time-bomb for Northern Ireland, thanks to a federal appeals court ruling.
Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Dublin, Ireland
When Boston College launched its Belfast Project the aim was to create an insiders' oral history of Northern Ireland's so-called "Troubles" by collecting the testimonies of participants on all sides of the conflict. What no one expected was for history to rear up and become the present once more.Skip to next paragraph
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That is precisely what has now happened as a US federal appeals court has ruled that the researchers' right to free inquiry is overridden by the British state's right to investigate past crimes.
The July 6 ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit results from Boston College researchers Edmund Moloney and Anthony McIntyre's attempts to block two sets of subpoenas issued by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The PSNI wants access to the testimonies in order to pursue prosecutions for unsolved crimes – in this case one of the most unsettling of the murky 30-year war: the abduction and secret killing of Jean McConville in 1972.
Mr. Moloney is a respected senior journalist who covered the conflict for three decades while Mr. McIntyre is himself a former Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) member, turned academic.
Boston College is separately appealing the order enforcing one of the sets of subpoenas.
Ironically, all sides want the truth to be told – the question is when, under what circumstances, and if it will be the full historical record.
"The whole purpose of doing the archive was to establish some truth, as far as you can," says Moloney. "What you do is collect it together and look at it in the round."
The Belfast Project, hosted by Boston College, collected testimonies from pro-Irish republicans and pro-British loyalists about their activities during the 30-year-long Troubles, on the basis that the information would not be made public until after their deaths. The testimonies were meant to provide a frank history of the Troubles that might otherwise go untold. But the court decision has thrown this into disarray.
"They [the PSNI's Historical Enquiries Team] are trying to open a Pandora's box here, that has the potential to cause all sorts of damage," says Moloney.
The case at issue centers on the testimony of former IRA member Dolours Price, whose interview with Moloney and McIntyre, police allege, may contain information about the circumstances surrounding Mrs. McConville's murder. Speculation is running wild that Ms. Price's testimony will link Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams to the killing, which, if true, could prove explosive to Northern Ireland's long-standing yet fragile peace accord and power-sharing government.
The murder of McConville is one of the most contentious killings of the Irish conflict. McConville, a Catholic convert and mother of 10, lived in West Belfast, ground zero for the early years of the conflict. In 1972 she was abducted and killed by the IRA. She subsequently became the best-known of "the disappeared," those believed to have been killed by the IRA in secret because it was feared that revulsion at their killing would have turned nationalists and republicans against the organization.