BOSTON (AP) — Boston College must give police recorded interviews its researchers conducted with a convicted Irish Republican Army car bomber after an appeals court on Friday rejected an effort to stop their release.
The ruling by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal backed U.S. District Court Judge William Young's decision last year in the case of bomber Dolours Price, who spoke to Boston College researchers as part of an oral history project. The material will now be handed over to police by next month.
Price was one of several former IRA members who gave interviews as part of The Belfast Project between 2001 and 2006. Participants said the interviews were supposed to be secret until their deaths. But Northern Ireland police probing the IRA's 1972 killing of a Belfast woman want the recordings.
Young ordered Boston College to turn over interviews with Price and seven other former IRA members. Boston College didn't appeal Young's ruling on Price, but it's fighting his order on the seven other interviewees in an appeal separate from the one ruled on Friday.
Friday's decision came after a lawsuit by project director Ed Moloney and ex-IRA gunman Anthony McIntyre, who conducted the interviews, that challenged the decision by U.S. authorities to subpoena the records.
Their attorney argued that McIntyre and others who were part of The Belfast Project would be branded informants and faced "the real risk of physical harm" if the interviews were turned over. He also said it could have a chilling effect on other academic research projects.
The court on Friday ruled that the men had no right to interfere with the police request, under terms of a treaty between the United States and United Kingdom that requires the two aid each other's criminal investigations. And it said criminal investigations take precedence over academic study.
"The choice to investigate criminal activity belongs to the government and is not subject to veto by academic researchers," the court wrote.
The attorney for Moloney and McIntyre couldn't be immediately reached for comment on Friday, and it was unclear if they would pursue an appeal of Friday's decision.
Attorney Jon Albano, who filed a brief on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union in support of Moloney and McIntyre, said the ruling is "not a good sign" for Boston College's pending appeal against Young's order. He said he was disappointed in the ruling.
"We were not saying that there was some kind of automatic absolute protection for academics, any more than for reporters," he said. "We were saying that if you look at the facts of this case, this is a case were Moloney and McIntyre actually deserve to be protected."
A spokesman for Boston College didn't respond to requests for comment.
The Belfast Project was intended to be a resource for journalists, scholars and historians studying the decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland known as The Troubles.
But Northern Ireland police probing the IRA's 1972 killing of Jean McConville, a mother of 10 who had been branded as a British Army spy by the IRA, want access to the interviews.
McConville's killing has received widespread media attention in Ireland because of allegations that Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams commanded the IRA unit responsible for ordering her execution and secret burial. Adams has denied that.
At least a half-dozen U.S. politicians, including Sens. John Kerry, of Massachusetts, and Charles Schumer, of New York, have written letters to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urging them to persuade British authorities to withdraw their request for the recordings. Kerry said in his letter that he's concerned that release of the recordings could undermine peace in Northern Ireland.
Maloney has said he believes the recordings are explosive enough to damage Northern Ireland's unity government, in which Sinn Fein represents the Irish Catholic minority. Its stable coalition with the British Protestant majority is the central achievement of the 1998 U.S.-brokered peace accord.
Associated Press writer Denise Lavoie contributed to this report.