The whereabouts of the Boston College tapes is now uncertain, News Letter queries have concluded.
In our interviews with people or organisations who were involved with the so-called Belfast Project, or have since become involved in trying to get access to the material, we have encountered a reluctance to reveal any information as to the latest status of the tapes.
Boston College says the project was “designed to capture the oral histories of individuals who had been directly involved in the Troubles to provide a resource for future generations of journalists, historians and scholars”.
But the tapes ran into difficulty in 2010 after a book was published by Ed Moloney based on two of the interviews, including one by Brendan Hughes, and after a press interview was given by Dolours Price. Hughes and Price both made allegations about the circumstances of the abduction and murder of the Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville in 1972.
The following year the PSNI requested the interviews with Hughes and Price. A later request was made by the PSNI for all republican interviews relating to the McConville killing.
The latter request was initially upheld by a US federal court, and Boston College was ordered to hand over 85 interview segments with seven IRA interviewees to the Department of Justice. In a notable victory for the college, this was cut on appeal to 11 segments.
This meant that the great bulk of the 26 interviews with republicans under the project were not ordered to be handed over to the PSNI. Nor were the 14 interviews with loyalists, conducted by Wilson McArthur, handed over. The 11 segments were handed over to the Department of Justice in September 2013.
The PSNI has since sought all the material. When we asked the PSNI for the latest on this request, they repeated the line that they have given for several months: “Detectives in serious crime branch have initiated steps to obtain all the material from Boston College as part of the Belfast Project. This is in line with PSNI’s statutory duty to investigate fully all matters of serious crime, including murder.”
The college said in May this year that it had received no such request from the Department of Justice and it had offered to return the tapes to interviewees.
When we asked them for the latest position they gave us information including a timeline that said that transfer of the segments in September 2013 followed the end of the legal process.
They reiterated that they had made the following offer to interviewees: “Upon completion of the legal proceedings, Boston College offered to return the tapes to individuals involved.”
The US Justice Department declined to divulge details: “The request was made through a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), and the Department of Justice considers all MLAT requests in light of the terms of the treaty and applicable US legal standards. As a matter of policy, we generally do not comment on specific requests.”
In our interview yesterday with Professor Kevin O’Neill, a Boston College historian who was not involved in the project and critical of its handling, he said of the interviews’ current whereabouts: “I don’t really know, I mean, I know that the university announced that it would return all the files to interviewees who requested them, but as I’m not informed about anything I don’t know.”
However, Anthony McIntyre, whose interview with the News Letter about the saga can be seen in the link below, said of the tapes: “I know what the position is but it is fraught with dangers.
“I just can’t comment on it.”
LINKS TO BOSTON TAPES STORIES:
Anthony McIntyre on his role.
Victims including the McConvilles speak about the interviews.
Loyalist stays quiet on saga.
News Letter Morning View.