Press contact – Sabina Clarke: +1 215 509 2345; +1 215 908 7960
As is well known by now, a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) investigation in to the disappearance and death of Jean McConville in 1972 led in May last year to the serving of subpoenas by the U.S. Department of Justice on the Belfast Project oral history archive at Boston College. The subpoenas sought, inter alia, the interviews of Dolours Price, a former IRA activist from Belfast.
Lead IRA researcher Dr. Anthony McIntyre and myself have been fighting ever since to have the subpoenas dismissed in the courts on both sides of the Atlantic so as to protect the confidentiality and safety of the interviewees and of Dr McIntyre and to safeguard First Amendment rights in the United States.
Since last weekend there have been two media reports, one in the British-based Sunday Telegraph newspaper, the other on CBS television news, implying or suggesting that admissions by Dolours Price to them of involvement in the McConville disappearance were also made in her interviews for the Belfast Project. It was a similar claim two years ago that this admission had figured in her Belfast project interviews that began this saga of the Boston College subpoenas.
The Sunday Telegraph/CBS reports conflict with and contradict an affidavit I lodged in the Belfast High Court recently saying that the McConville disappearance did not figure in those interviews. I wish to address this matter in this statement and put it to rest for once and for all.
Throughout this stressful and taxing legal and political fight, my priority has always been to safeguard the confidentiality and interests of those who participated. That remains my priority. But I also have the responsibility to clarify and correct errors when they occur.
Quite a few years have passed since Dolours Price was interviewed as part of the Belfast Project at Boston College and it has been during these recent years that her health has deteriorated in a quite alarming way. Without dwelling on the distressing details, which are well known to those familiar with her history and have been published elsewhere, it has been evident to us that her grasp of past events has deteriorated in proportion to her increased susceptibility to outside suggestions.
It has long been our conviction that it was these factors that led in the first place to the serving of the subpoenas in 2011. A newspaper report in February 2010 carried the same erroneous implication that she had talked about the McConville disappearance in the Belfast Project interviews as was carried this week in the Sunday Telegraph and CBS. The first report led directly to the subpoenas, the second set have served to seemingly justify them. But both are wrong.
So let me once again put the matter on record, with all the strength and force I can muster: Dolours Price did not mention Jean McConville nor talk about what had happened to her in her interviews for the Belfast Project at Boston College.
Let me make another couple of points. The hue and cry that has followed the recent media reports demonstrates that the warnings we gave at the outset of this affair that these subpoenas, unless curbed, could have the potential to cause a crisis for the peace process in Northern Ireland were well-founded. Some thought us alarmist at the time but I doubt if many believe that now.
The demands that have been made this week for arrests or resignations have the potential to imperil the survival of the power-sharing administration in Belfast as anyone familiar with Northern Ireland’s politics knows full well. They also have the potential to significantly increase the threat to the lives of those who took part in the project, not least the project’s IRA researcher, Dr. Anthony McIntyre.
That all this is happening is the direct consequence of the failure of political leaders to create a mechanism to deal honestly and without feelings of vengeance with the past, to address the needs of victims in a way that does not imperil the future. The need to rectify that failure is now urgent.
The media reports this week also demonstrate that if the PSNI wishes to investigate this matter there are and have been many other avenues they can pursue without raiding the Boston College archive, infringing American First Amendment rights and placing Dr McIntyre’s life in peril and his family in danger. The Belfast Project archive could and should remain confidential without any prejudice to law enforcement inquiries.
Furthermore it is evident from the recent media reports that Jean McConville was taken into the Irish Republic by the IRA and since her remains were found on the southern side of the Border, it is also reasonable to assume she was killed in that territory. Why then are the authorities in the Irish Republic allowing the PSNI free rein over an investigation to which they arguably have a superior jurisdictional claim? Perhaps a question to this effect could be addressed to the government in Dublin?