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Irish Groups Criticize BC for Using ‘Misleading’ Title of Northern Irish Official

A civic society group in Ireland has criticized Boston College for how the University referred to the United Kingdom’s special envoy to the United States on Northern Ireland in an invitation to a luncheon hosted on Tuesday by the Irish Institute at the McMullen Museum of Art.

The criticism of the invitation comes from Ireland’s Future, a group that aims to promote dialogue surrounding a referendum for the unification of Ireland. The group told The Irish Echo that BC describing the official as “Special Envoy from Northern Ireland to the United States” is misleading. 

Northern Irish Secretary of State Brandon Lewis named former Irish rugby player and attorney Trevor Ringland the UK’s inaugural special envoy to the United States on Northern Ireland in early June, a move that garnered criticism from some Irish politicians and enthusiastic support from others. 

The new position, which was created to promote Northern Irish interests in the United States, was approved by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The envoy also fulfills an advisory role to UK ministers.

An American Irish Catholic organization, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), also issued a statement to “take exception” with the title reportedly used by BC, according to Irish Central

“Mr. Ringland was not appointed by the devolved Northern Ireland government of Stormont; he was appointed by Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, who himself was appointed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson,” the AOH told the Irish-American publication. “In short, Mr. Ringland is an appointee of an appointee … calling him a ‘Special Envoy from Northern Ireland to the United States’ doesn’t make him one, and is deceptive as to who indeed he is representing.”

The luncheon was sponsored by the Irish Institute, a division of the Center for Irish Programs. The center houses all Irish initiatives at BC, including the Burns Library Irish Collections, the Gaelic Roots Program, and the Irish Studies program. 

The institute works to connect Irish and Northern Irish participants through its programming, as well as advance mutual understanding between Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the United States.

“The mission of the Institute is to promote the peace and reconciliation process on the island of Ireland and to contribute to social, political, and economic stability through cross-community and cross-border cooperation,” the description of the institute reads. 

A UK government spokesperson said in a statement to The Heights that Ringland is in the United States working to foster dialogue between Irish, Northern Irish, and American participants.

“As Special Envoy to the United States on Northern Ireland, Trevor Ringland is working to strengthen the United Kingdom’s relationship with the United States on Northern Ireland issues, fostering open dialogue between key US stakeholders and all sides of the community in Northern Ireland, in support of long term prosperity and stability,” the statement reads.

BC found itself in conflict surrounding Northern Ireland in the 2010s when interviews from BC’s Belfast Project, an oral history project on the Troubles in Northern Ireland, were subpoenaed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston. The subpoena ordered that 85 interviews conducted with seven members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) be turned over to UK authorities. 

Participants in the so-called “Boston tapes” were originally under the impression that their words would remain confidential when the tapes were compiled in 2001. The Police Service of Northern Ireland launched a legal battle to obtain the relevant tapes after IRA volunteer Dolours Price discussed her involvement in the project in a 2010 interview.

The University contested the decision, and eventually Judge Juan R. Torruella of the First Circuit Court ruled that only 11 of the 85 interviews were relevant and needed to be released. BC faced heavy criticism for misleading research subjects about the risks they were assuming when engaging in the project. 

The University and Ireland’s Future did not respond to requests for comment.

Featured Image by Madison Sarka / Heights Archives

October 21, 2021
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