Former Irish Republican Army members whose interviews were recorded for a Boston College oral history project face grave physical danger if the recordings are turned over to British authorities and used in prosecutions, a lawyer for a former IRA member who conducted the interviews argued Wednesday.
The arguments came during a hearing before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is being asked to decide if the secret recordings should be given to police in Northern Ireland.
The recordings were made between 2001 and 2006 as part of an oral history project that participants say was supposed to be kept secret until their deaths. The project is intended to be a resource for journalists, scholars and historians studying the decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland.
But Northern Ireland police probing the IRA's 1972 killing of a Belfast woman want access to the interviews for their investigation.
U.S. District Judge William Young ruled that Boston College must turn over interviews with convicted car bomber Dolours Price. The college initially fought subpoenas issued by U.S. prosecutors for the recordings, but did not appeal Young's ruling on the Price recordings.
Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA member who conducted the interviews, and Ed Moloney, an Irish journalist who directed the project, filed a lawsuit challenging U.S. authorities' decision to subpoena the records.
In court Wednesday, the men's lawyer, Eamonn Dornan, said McIntyre and the other IRA members who participated in the project face "the real risk of physical harm" if the recordings are turned over. He said McIntyre has already been branded as an informant by some factions in Northern Ireland and could face an attack if the interviews become public.
Dornan also argued that if the recordings are turned over, it will ruin the Northern Ireland oral history project and have a chilling effect on other academic research projects.
"There's no question it will be destroyed if any material is released from that archive," he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara Healy-Smith argued that Young dismissed the lawsuit filed by McIntyre and Moloney, finding that their interests were adequately represented by Boston College.
The justices expressed skepticism that the college has the same interests as participants in the project. Justice Michael Boudin said he found that argument "a little odd," noting that the college has decided not to appeal Young's order to turn over the Price interviews.
Healy-Smith said U.S. authorities are bound by a legal assistance treaty with the United Kingdom, which requires the two to aid each other's criminal investigations.
The court is expected to issue its ruling within three months.