First Circuit Court Rules On Belfast Project

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

On Friday, May 31, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston issued a ruling with regard to interviews from the Belfast Project, Boston College’s oral history project on the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The interviews in question were subpoenaed in 2011 in pursuance with the Treaty Between the Government of the United States and the Government of the Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal Matters, or Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (U.S.-UK MLAT). UK authorities requested the tapes in connection with an investigation by the Police Services of Northern Ireland (PSNI) into the death of Jean McConville, an Irish widow and mother of 10, in 1972.

U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young, who originally reviewed the tapes to determine their relevancy to the McConville investigation, ordered that 85 of the interviews be turned over to the UK authorities. The University contested the decision, and Judge Juan R. Torruella of the First Circuit Court reexamined the subpoenas. Torruella determined Friday that only 11 of the 85 interviews were relevant and needed to be turned over.

“[The district court] abused its discretion in ordering the production of a significant number of interviews that only contain information that is in fact irrelevant to the subject matter of the subpoena,” Torruella said in the 29-page decision. He also stated that it is the duty of the courts, and not the federal government, to enforce, delay, or narrow the scope of subpoenas issued under MLAT.

“We are pleased with the appeals court ruling which affirms our contention that the district court erred in ordering the production of 74 interviews that were not relevant to the subpoena,” said University Spokesman Jack Dunn in a statement. “This ruling represents a significant victory for Boston College in its defense of these oral history materials.”

After fighting the original subpoenas, BC has already handed over Belfast Project interviews from former IRA members Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, both of whom are deceased.

Belfast Project director Ed Moloney, alongside Belfast Project researcher and former IRA member Anthony McIntyre, issued a joint statement in support of the ruling. “From the very outset of the serving of these subpoenas over two years ago we have striven to resist completely the efforts by the PSNI, the British Home Office and the U.S. Department of Justice to obtain any and all interviews from the Belfast Project archive at Boston College,” the statement read. “The [First Circuit Court] said that only interviews that deal directly with the disappearance of Jean McConville can be handed over as opposed to the indiscriminate consignment of the entire contents of interviews with eight of our interviewees. We see this judgement as at least a partial indictment of the whole process.”

Dunn said in a statement to The Boston Globe that the University would review the decision and consider its legal options over the next few weeks.

June 1, 2013