lyle-dennistonBy Lyle Denniston, a reporter for, an online journal of American law

The US Supreme Court yesterday denied two academic researchers’ legal challenges to enforcement in US courts of Northern Ireland police demands for information now in the files of an American college about the IRA Troubles.  Background to this legal challenge can be found in my UKSC Blog post of last week, “Case on IRA Troubles escalates in US Supreme Court“.  The Court’s action will turn the issue back to a lower federal court and to pleas in Washington for some diplomatic intervention.

The Justices made no comment when they refused to grant review of the constitutionality of subpoenas that a US judge issued for recordings made at Boston College during the since-concluded “Belfast Project” on the Troubles.   Such refusals are seldom explained.  The order, however, only dealt with subpoenas for the files made in interviews with two now-deceased IRA members, Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price.  The Hughes interviews had previously been turned over, and the Price interviews are scheduled to be produced.

A second round of subpoenas is still under review in the US First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, in an appeal by BostonCollege.   The briefing has been completed in that case, and a decision is awaited.  In its action on Monday refusing to hear the challenges of Project researchers Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre, the Supreme Court refused to postpone its action to await the First Circuit Court’s coming decision.

In its new appeal, Boston College raises the same constitutional challenges to subpoenas that it had raised unsuccessfully in the earlier round of litigation.

A federal judge in Boston, in reviewing the second group of subpoenas from the Northern Ireland police, ruled in January 2012 that BostonCollege must turn over the complete files of interviews made with five individuals, and individual interviews with two others.   Those individuals’ identities have not been publicly revealed, but the judge concluded that their remarks could have some bearing on the Northern Ireland investigation.

That investigation focuses on the kidnapping and murder in 1972 of Jean McConville, a former member of the IRA who allegedly had served as a British informer.  She died in an execution-style killing for which the IRA has admitted responsibility.

Meanwhile, lawyers for Moloney and McIntyre, while conceding on Monday that their legal challenge to the subpoenas was now at an end even while Boston College’s challenge continues, urged US Secretary of State John Kerry to intercede with UK officials to help assure that the Northern Ireland investigation does not interfere with the peace process under the so-called “Good Friday Accords” that the US government helped to broker.

The attorneys noted that New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, who is chair of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had asked Secretary Kerry earlier this month to take action to avoid a situation in which the Northern Ireland investigation could “have the effect of re-opening fresh wounds and threatening the success” of the peace agreement.

The Boston College Archive,” the Menendez letter said, “could be a monument to that troubled time and a means for future generations to appreciate their complicated history and achieve mutual understanding.”   

Senator Menendez sent a copy of his letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder, whose Justice Department lawyers have been seeking US court enforcement of the IRA subpoenas.