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Britain May Get Ahold of Secret IRA Interviews

(CN) - Boston College must hand over confidential interviews of Irish Republican Army paramilitary fighters, a federal judge ruled at a Thursday hearing in Boston, saying he will review the 192 transcripts before deciding whether to release them to the United Kingdom.

The school has until noon, Dec. 27, to turn over the germane documents from a 2001 oral history project that culled interviews with people involved in a civil conflict known as "the troubles" that took root in Ireland around 1969.

Belfast Project researchers spoke with members of the Irish Republican Army IRA, the group's political party Sinn Fein and other paramilitary organizations. Each interviewee was given a contract guaranteeing confidentiality "to the extent that American law allows," and the interviews were coded to preserve their anonymity. Only the project director had access to the key identifying the interviewees.

"The interviewees conditioned their participation on the promises of strict confidentiality and anonymity," according to a Dec. 16 order that declined to quash the subpoena of a U.S. attorney acting as a commissioner under a treaty with the United Kingdom.

Earlier this year, the United Kingdom subpoenaed the interviews of Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, two former IRA volunteers, as well as "any and all interviews containing information about the abduction and death of Mrs. Jean McConville." McConville was abducted and killed by the IRA in 1972 for allegedly informing on Republican activities to the British.

Price participated in a 1973 car bombing that injured more than 200 people. She spent more than 200 days on hunger strike during a 20-year prison sentence before she was pardoned on humanitarian grounds in 1980.

In recent years, Price has reportedly helped investigators retrieve the bodies of those thought to have been murdered by the IRA, including McConville in 2003. Though she has told the public little about her activities in the 1970s, she is thought to be the first woman sworn into the IRA, where she rose through the ranks and allegedly transported victims like McConville to the places they were killed.

Boston College complied with the requests for documents relating to Hughes, because he is deceased, but moved to quash the other subpoenas. It argued that the premature release of the tapes would break the IRA's "code of silence" and could lead to retaliation against Price and other project members.

After denying Boston College's motions to quash last week, U.S. District Judge William Young conducted an in camera review of several responsive transcripts on Wednesday.

That batch was ordered to contain 13 Delours Price transcripts. Boston College also produced an affidavit about 24 IRA interviewees and 192 interviews. In a bench order Thursday, Young gave the school until Dec. 27 to turn over the 192 transcripts for in camera review.

Young found that both sides had "significant interests" at stake. The United States has an obligation to assist the United Kingdom with its investigation, and "the public's interest in legitimate criminal proceedings are unquestioned," he said.

On the other hand, the judge recognized that there are "potential chilling effects of a summary denial of the motion to quash on academic research."

"Boston College may therefore be correct in arguing that the grant of these subpoenae will have a negative effect on their research into the Northern Ireland Conflict, or perhaps even other oral history efforts," Young said.

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