Oral History Probe May Uncover the Unexpected

US Federal authorities acting on behalf of the United Kingdom government are seeking access to a University oral history project in the United States as part of an investigation into deaths in Northern Ireland forty years ago.

In the late 1990s as the conflict in Northern Ireland wound down interviewers from Boston College collected memories of the conflict from both republican and loyalist paramilitaries, people who were able to comment on some of the most violent and grim episodes from `the troubles’. Interviewees were promised their comments would be confidential i.e. sealed until after their deaths.

Now, however, College authorities have been served with a subpoenae by federal prosecutors acting on behalf of the British. The subpoena is the first indication that investigations are underway and it seems at this stage the focus is on a possible prosecution of former republicans.

The use of the Boston College oral history collection to build possible criminal cases is a development that has alarmed archivists, not least because of the difficulties which may arise for academics collecting oral testimony in other post-conflict situations.

As indicated the focus of the current investigation seems to be aimed at republicans. However, the current British investigation if it succeeds in opening the files may throw up some unexpected information. Loyalist testimony in the archives may shed light on bombings and murders committed by loyalist death squads run by British intelligence which operated in the 26 counties during this period.

See New York Times article link:

J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information
Celtic League

16/05/11

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