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Interviews About IRA Murder Head to Britain

(CN) - The United Kingdom can collect confidential interviews conducted with five former Irish Republican Army members who may have information about the murder of an alleged British spy, a federal judge ruled.

The Belfast Project is an oral history project run by Boston College that includes interviews with members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the group's political wing Sinn Fein and other paramilitary organizations.

Each interviewee spoke on the condition of anonymity, with the project guaranteeing confidentiality "to the extent that American law allows." Only the project director had access to a code that masked the interviewees' names.

In 2010, the United Kingdom subpoenaed Boston College to learn about the IRA's 1972 abduction and murder of Jean McConville after she allegedly informed on Republican activities to the British. The government wanted 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."

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.

A U.S. attorney subpoenaed Boston College's records under the nation's treaty with the United Kingdom. Though Boston College complied with the requests for documents relating to Hughes, who is deceased, it 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.

U.S. District Judge William Young agreed last month to review confidential transcripts in camera before deciding the subpoena's fate.

Last week, after reviewing 176 transcribed interviews with 24 subjects, Young said the United Kingdom can access the full series of interviews with five subjects.

"Only six interviewees even mention the disappearance of Jean McConville that constitutes the target of the subpoena," Young wrote. "One interviewee provides information responsive to the subpoena. Another proffers information that, if broadly read, is responsive to the subpoena. Three others make passing mention of the incident, two only in response to leading questions."

"It is impossible to discern whether these three are commenting from personal knowledge, from hearsay, or are merely repeating local folklore," he added. "In context, the sixth interviewee does nothing more than express personal opinion on public disclosures made years after the incident."

Young agreed to limit Britain's access to two interviews in which the subjects "mention a shadowy sub-organization within the Irish Republican Army that may or may not be involved in the incident."

"The references made are at such a vague level of generality that it is virtually inconceivable to this court that the law enforcement authorities within the requesting state do not already have this information," according to the decision.

Because of the circumstances of the case, however, Young ordered release of "the two specific interviews where such mention is made." The identity of the interviewees must be apparent in these disclosures, but Boston College does not need to produce by the full series of interviews with the two subjects.

"In view of the paucity of information unearthed after extensive review by this court, it declines to review the 'very few' audiotapes not yet transcribed," Young concluded.

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