Friday 15 December 2017

Boston College 'to return Troubles tapes' to former paramilitaries

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams at a press conference in Belfast. Pic:Mark Condren
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams at a press conference in Belfast. Pic:Mark Condren

David Young

A US college which is storing an oral history of the Northern Ireland Troubles - part of which was relied upon by police to quiz Gerry Adams about a notorious IRA murder - has said it is willing to hand interviews back to former paramilitaries who took part.

Last year the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) won a legal battle to force Boston College to hand over sections of the archive that related to the murder of Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville.

After his release from custody without charge following four days of questioning, Mr Adams claimed that most of the evidence detectives presented to him was based on allegations levelled by interviewees who had given accounts to the oral project.

Former IRA members Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, both now dead, claimed in the tapes that Mr Adams had a role in ordering the murder of Mrs McConville in 1972.

Prosecutors in Northern Ireland have been asked to assess a police file on Mr Adams to decide if any charges will ultimately be brought against the Sinn Fein president. Mr Adams, 65, vehemently denies any involvement in the crime or that he was ever a member of the IRA.

The 40-plus participants in the oral project had been assured that their accounts would not be made public until their deaths, but that undertaking was undermined by the US court ruling.

Of more than 80 interviews contained in the archive, the court decision saw police obtain sections of 11 tapes.

Amid concerns about the status of the remaining interviews, the college has now indicated its willingness to hand back the tapes to those who were interviewed.

College spokesman Jack Dunn said: "Obviously we'd have to verify that they were the individuals that took part in the process."

Mr Dunn told the BBC: "If they wanted those documents returned, we'd be prepared to return those documents."

The men behind the project - journalist Ed Moloney and former IRA member turned writer and researcher Anthony McIntyre - have criticised the college for not robustly challenging the PSNI court bid.

Mr Dunn rejected that claim.

"Any suggestion that we did not fight hard enough is completely specious," he said.

Last night, Mr Adams again criticised his arrest and the quality of evidence presented to him by detectives.

"The sham that I was put through in terms of the total failure of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to present any evidential link between me and that awful event is not the way to go forward," he told an election rally in Belfast.

"It sends entirely the wrong signal to all of those people out there who vote for the future, who in 2014 thought we had got away from that kind of practice."

Mrs McConville's son, Michael, yesterday alleged that, a number of years ago, Mr Adams threatened him with a "backlash" if he released the names of those he believed were responsible for his mother's death.

Mr Adams rejected the claim last night.

Mr Adams has been a vocal critic of the Boston College project, claiming many of the participants were opponents of Sinn Fein.

He welcomed the indication that the tapes may now be handed back.

"Everyone has the right to record their history but not at the expense of the lives of others," he said.

He added: "I welcome the end of the Boston Belfast Project, indicated by the College's offer to now return the interviews to the interviewees before the securocrats who cannot live with the peace seek to seize the rest of the archive and do mischief."

Later, as Mr Adams resumed his work in the Irish parliament and prepared for an election rally in Dublin, he reiterated his denial of issuing any threat to Mr McConville.

The party leader said his sole purpose in meeting him was and is to help his family.

"I can understand the antipathy they feel toward republicans given the abduction and killing of their mother and the life they subsequently had," Mr Adams said.

"However, I made no threat against Michael McConville and neither did I warn of backlash.

"The family have the right to seek redress in whatever way they choose and through whatever avenue is open to them.

"This case raises in a very stark way the need for the legacy issues of the past to be addressed in a way that brings closure for victims and their families."

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers updated senior ministerial colleagues on the latest developments at the regular weekly meeting of Cabinet at Downing Street.

Online Editors

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