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US ruling reopens old 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland

A Boston College research project meant to collect testimony about Troubles-era crimes may now be a political time-bomb for Northern Ireland, thanks to a federal appeals court ruling.

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When Boston College launched its Belfast Project the aim was to create an insiders' oral history of Northern Ireland's so-called "Troubles" by collecting the testimonies of participants on all sides of the conflict. What no one expected was for history to rear up and become the present once more.

That is precisely what has now happened as a US federal appeals court has ruled that the researchers' right to free inquiry is overridden by the British state's right to investigate past crimes.

The July 6 ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit results from Boston College researchers Edmund Moloney and Anthony McIntyre's attempts to block two sets of subpoenas issued by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The PSNI wants access to the testimonies in order to pursue prosecutions for unsolved crimes – in this case one of the most unsettling of the murky 30-year war: the abduction and secret killing of Jean McConville in 1972.

Mr. Moloney is a respected senior journalist who covered the conflict for three decades while Mr. McIntyre is himself a former Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) member, turned academic.

Boston College is separately appealing the order enforcing one of the sets of subpoenas.

Ironically, all sides want the truth to be told – the question is when, under what circumstances, and if it will be the full historical record.

"The whole purpose of doing the archive was to establish some truth, as far as you can," says Moloney. "What you do is collect it together and look at it in the round."


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