US Leagal Move By British Government Threatens Oral History Projects


The outcome of a case currently before a US Federal District Court could have major implications for oral history projects generally and be especially damaging to the gathering of oral input from participants in global conflict or post conflict situations.

Boston College is fighting a federal subpoena demanding that it release confidential interviews from an oral-history project about the violent conflict in Northern Ireland in the late 20th century. The initial subpoena was issued by federal prosecutors in early May on behalf of the British government to aid in an investigation into crimes related to the conflict. Both sides have exchanged arguments since that time. The subpoena sought information from interviews with two members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, Brendan Hughes, who died in 2008, and Dolours Price.

Boston College believe the British government request is politically motivated because the information sought is selective. The whole process if successful threatens to undermine oral history projects which, in conflict situations, rely on assurances on anonymity being granted to participants.

In June a college spokesman Jack Dunn said, in a written statement:

“Our position is that the premature release of the tapes could threaten the safety of the participants, the enterprise of oral history, and the ongoing peace and reconciliation process in Northern Ireland”.

Text of a `Motion to quash’ the subpoenas submitted by Boston college here:

subsequent response from US federal prosecutors here:


J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information
Celtic League


The Celtic League has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, monitors all military activity and focuses on socio-economic issues.

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