Boston College must release 11 interviews with former Irish Republican Army members to British investigators looking into the 1972 abduction and killing of a Belfast woman, under a federal appeals court finding that the lower court overstepped its discretion by ordering the release of well more information than legally required.
The ruling by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday reduces from 85 interviews of eight people — which the district court judge ordered the school to give to the Justice Department last year — to 11 interviews of seven people. The appeals court said the federal judge in Massachusetts had ordered the release of information that was not relevant to the probe.
Boston College researchers conducted extensive interviews with convicted IRA car bomber Dolours Price and others between 2001 and 2006 as part of The Belfast Project, taking oral histories to serve as a resource for journalists, scholars and historians studying the long conflict in Northern Ireland. The recordings were supposed to remain secret until the deaths of their subjects.
The Justice Department in 2011 asked the federal court to order Boston College to hand over copies or transcripts of all the interviews that contained information about the abduction or death of Jean McConville, citing a treaty with the United Kingdom that requires the two to help each other in criminal investigations. The request was part of a probe into Price. He died in January. His death was not considered suspicious.
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 the accusation.
The federal judge reviewed more than 170 interviews of 24 people before arriving at the ruling, which Boston College appealed.
"After a detailed review of the materials in question, we find that the district court abused its discretion in ordering the production of several of the interviews which, after an in-detail reading of the same, do not contain any information relevant to the August 2011 subpoena," the appeals court said in a ruling posted online.
Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor's office in Boston, said the office is reviewing the ruling. An attorney for Boston College did not immediately respond Saturday to a request for comment.
This program aired on June 2, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.