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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.

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After the court ruling, the material is expected to be handed over by Boston College in the next month.

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In January 2012, Mr. Adams told Irish national broadcaster RTÉ he had "nothing to fear from any of this."

US Senator John Kerry is among those who have campaigned for the subpoenas to be overruled, arguing they could destabilize the settlement in Northern Ireland which sees the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) share power with Irish republican Sinn Féin, once the political wing of the IRA.

DUP Member of Parliament Gregory Campbell welcomed the ruling, telling reporters: "This is a step closer to establishing if there is information in the tapes that might be of assistance to the authorities in Northern Ireland. This could lead to the investigation of many senior personnel within the IRA and other groups about matters they were involved in, and if that is the case it would be welcome."

Attorney John McBurney, who has represented the families of some of those murdered in the conflict, says the law must come before politics and so the tapes must be released.

"It would undoubtedly have an impact but the real difficulty of this is the Jean McConville file is an open file. In the midst of this there seems to be this tape which the PSNI simply couldn't ignore.

"It's unfortunate that it's such a politically sensitive case that is the test case, but as [British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland] Owen Patterson said, no matter who the finger points at, the law is the law," says Mr. McBurney.

McIntyre says the politicking has begun.

"Already you see the DUP's Peter Robinson [First Minister of Northern Ireland] calling for arrests [of republicans for past crimes] – he may be playing to the gallery, but the gallery is there to play to.

"Left to his own devices, Robinson wouldn't pull the plug [on the power-sharing arrangement], but that gallery is made up of people who instinctively hate the setup. Political instability can arise from this [including on the Irish republican side]," says McIntyre.

Conflicting Claims

In her ruling chief, 1st Circuit Chief Judge Sandra Lynch nixed Moloney and McIntyre's claim of academic research privilege as a constitutional exercise of freedom of speech, saying "the choice to investigate criminal activity belongs to the government and is not subject to veto by academic researchers."

The case has also raised hackles among journalists and academics who say source protection is sacrosanct.

The National Union of Journalists, a joint British-Irish organization, condemned the ruling, with General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet saying the ruling has “significant implications” for academic and journalistic research.

Tommy McKearney, an ex-IRA member now working as a labor activist and with ex-prisoners in a reconciliation project, says Boston College must shoulder its share of the blame for the situation.

"I would expect that academics would have at least the same amount of integrity as journalists. Journalists, by and large, will protect their sources. They're not protected by law but journalists put their foot down and say they'll go to jail rather than reveal sources," he says.

McIntyre also fears for his own safety.

"People who think the Provisional IRA have folded-up shop are foolish," he says.

"It doesn't seem right that my wife and children have to live under this stress. What can I do? Run away? To where? To abandon people? I have to take the researcher's risk," he says.


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