A US appeal court has adjourned to consider whether an academic project by Boston College involving confidential interviews with former IRA Volunteers must be handed over to the PSNI police.
The PSNI’s request for the interview tapes, to assist it in bringing conflict-related prosecutions against former IRA members, was strongly opposed by the college’s paid researchers, former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre and New York-based author Ed Moloney.
According to reports, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams is among those who could be questioned about the contents of the archive.
A hearing this week was said to have “gone well” for McIntyre and Moloney, but the result of the court’s deliberations may not be known for several weeks.
Complicating the issue is a second Boston College archive of secret peace process documents, containing details of the decommissioning of the Provisional IRA’s weaponry.
While the college itself has shown little or no interest in opposing the PSNI subpoenas, McIntyre and Moloney fear they could be targeted as British agents for helping to gather such a trove of intelligence material on the IRA. The researchers also argue that releasing the documents could risk the lives of people who gave testimonies.
The PSNI particularly want the tapes of discussions with Dolours Price -- a sister of Marian Price, another political ‘dissident’ who was interned by the British government last year. The Price tapes and seven others have been handed over to the federal court. This move is being appealed.
The men’s lawyer told the court that the pair had a real fear of bodily harm which meant that, under such circumstances, their journalistic privilege could then block the subpoena.
Eamon Dornan, representing Mr Moloney and Mr McIntyre, argued that Mr McIntyre and his wife and children, who live in County Louth, faced “a grave risk of physical harm” if the interviews were turned over to the PSNI.
Mr Dornan also argued that the former IRA figures who were interviewed, and the peace process itself, would be threatened by the release of the interviews, and that it would have a chilling effect on future history projects.
“The district court should have given much more weight to these claims,” said Mr Dornan.
He also said US attorney general Eric Holder failed to weigh the risk to the peace process of turning the records over under the terms of a treaty between the British and American governments.
Mr Dornan also argued that there was no reasonable expectation that the PSNI’s efforts would result in a successful prosecution, and pointed out that Dolours Price was not living under British jurisdiction.
Mr Dornan also said the PSNI had previously made no attempt to arrest or question Dolours Price, even when she appeared in a court in the North in 2010.
The judges reserved most of their questioning for the US prosecutor, Barbara Healy Smith, who argued that Moloney and McIntyre did not have the legal standing to appeal.
Judge Juan Torruella and chief judge Sandra Lynch appeared sceptical of Ms Smith’s claim that the US constitution did not offer protection to non-citizens.
Mr Moloney and Carrie Twomey, Mr McIntyre’s wife, attended the hearing with backers from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Ms Twomey, a US citizen, has played a key role in trying to sway American politicians that turning over the recordings could endanger her family. Seven US politicians, including Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Charles Schumer of New York, have written letters to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and US Attorney General Eric Holder urging them to persuade British authorities to withdraw their request for the recordings.
“This isn’t just some dusty old papers in a library,” she says. “This is people’s lives. This is my family.”
They were encouraged by the tone of the judges’ questions. “It went better than we had hoped for,” said Mr Moloney.