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Activists Continue Efforts to Quash Belfast Subpoena

University Remains Engaged in Legal Battle Over Records

Heights Editor

Published: Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01


Editor's Note: This story is part of an ongoing series about the subpoena of the Belfast Project.

Irish activist groups are continuing their measures outside the court system to quash the subpoena of Boston College's Belfast Project archives as the University continues its long legal battle to challenge the order.

Last week, a five-member delegation met with Owen Paterson, secretary of state of Northern Ireland, during a visit to New York. According to a report from the Irish Echo, the group discussed the ongoing controversy surrounding the issuance of the sealed subpoenas by the U.S. Attorney General's Office on behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) seeking to obtain confidential oral histories related to a period known as "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland that lasted from 1969-1998. The subpoenaed Belfast Project archives are under the custody of the Burns Library.

The delegation noted the possible political motivations behind the subpoenas, as well as the impact the forced release of the tapes could have on future oral history projects.

Delegates included Thomas J. Burke, Jr., national president of the Irish American Unity Conference; James Cullen of the Brehon Law Society; Ned McGinley, past national president of The Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish Catholic fraternal organization which seeks as part of its mission for a peaceful and just solution to the issues that divide Ireland; Domhnall O'Cathain, president of the Irish American Bar Association; and Stephen McCabe, past president of the Brehon Law Society of Nassau County and the Irish Parades Emergency Committee.

Burke and the Irish American Unity Conference have been active in their appeals to government officials in both the U.S. and Northern Ireland to quash the subpoena. The organization has also issued pleas for intervention to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. McCabe was part of a delegation in October that met with officials in Senator John Kerry's office.

After the recent meeting with Patterson, his office said he would consider the concerns raised by the group regarding the subpoena. Efforts to contact delegation members and Patterson's office for further comment were unsuccessful.

Many Irish-American advocacy organizations in the U.S. continue to take active roles through political channels to quash the subpoena while BC and Ed Moloney, an Irish journalist who directed the Belfast Project, and Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA member who interviewed Republicans for the project, challenge the order through the legal system – each on different grounds. BC maintains that a release of the types would violate an agreement made with the interviewed to not release the tapes until their deaths and that a release of the archives could damage the fragile peace process in Northern Ireland.

The Moloney and McIntyre challenge argues that the use of the tapes for any prosecution of actions committed during "the Troubles" is a direct violation of the 1998 Belfast Agreement. The Agreement assures that offenses occurring prior to the 1998 agreement would not be reopened for trial.

For the advocacy groups, the sealed subpoena appears politically motivated, and should the tapes be released, result in possible damage the peace process.

"Does [the U.S. Attorney General's office] want to be doing the bidding and favors for a police department in Ireland that is more known for corruption and lawlessness than it is known for law enforcement," said Michael Cummings, board member of the national board of the Irish American Unity Conference, in a recent interview on the "Adrian Flannelly Show" on Irish Radio Network USA in reference to the subpoena issued by the PSNI. "That awareness is why we have been doing meetings and callings with people like Senator Kerry's office ... Responding to the subpoena is possibly undermining the [peace] process."

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