Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress has dramatically intervened in the Boston College subpoenas case by outlining a series of conditions that he says the US should impose if any further interviews from the Belfast Project archive at Boston College are handed over to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) on foot of British subpoenas.
Menendez’s intervention came in the wake of the Boston-based First Circuit Court of Appeal’s June decision to impose separate limitations on the handover – reducing the number of interviews scheduled for handover from 85 to 12 – and only days after PSNI detectives had traveled to Boston to pick up tapes and transcripts of interviews made by the late Dolours Price, a former IRA member who in media interviews last autumn claimed to have helped ‘disappear’ alleged British Army informer Jean McConville in 1972.
The conditions outlined by Menendez were made in a letter sent to Secretary of State John Kerry on June 28th but only released last night to the media and they are sure to provoke controversy and opposition in some quarters in both parts of Ireland not least because the Senator lays claim to a US stake in the peace process and Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.
He wrote: “Our country made a significant diplomatic investment in resolving ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. It would be a terrible error of judgement if the United States was not to engage now in the due diligence necessary to protect our investment in this hard-won peace.” With this language the Senate leader is saying unequivocally that the US has an interest in the possible negative effect on the peace process of handing over the Boston College tapes.
Menendez makes two important demands of Kerry and the Obama administration. One is that the State Department should vet the interviews scheduled for handover to determine whether their release would damage inter-communal relations or be counter to US national interests. He went on: “I share the concerns of many in the Irish-American community who have asserted that the nature of this request raises doubts about the wisdom of the British government’s Northern Ireland policies.”
But it is his second demand that will anger some in Northern Ireland. He says that the US should invoke a clause in the Treaty with Britain which allows for the transfer of the interviews only for purposes which the US approves and has given consent to.
This clause would allow the United States to bar the British authorities from releasing the interviews for civil proceedings. Although Senator Menendez does not go into detail it is clear that the effect of this condition would be to stop the family of Jean McConville from suing Gerry Adams or any of the interviewees in a civil court, an outcome the family and their supporters have openly admitted is something they hope to see happening.
In a short statement Boston College campaigners Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre welcomed Senator Menendez’ intervention and said they hoped and expected to see his letter soon translated into action.
Here is the full text of Senator Menendez’s letter: