BOSTON, Oct 17 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked a bid by authorities for access to interviews with a fighter from Northern Ireland’s “Troubles,” a temporary win for a pair of academic researchers.
At issue is whether authorities in Northern Ireland can obtain records from an archive at Boston College. The case has been closely followed on both sides of the Atlantic as it could show in uncomfortable detail the possible roles played by current political figures during the sectarian conflict, including Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams.
Adams, a member of the Irish Republic’s parliament, has said he has nothing to fear from the college’s materials.
In a brief order, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer stayed an appeals court decision that would have turned over material from the archive to police in Northern Ireland.
Breyer’s order will last until Nov. 16, or until the resolution of an appeal of the lower court ruling that the researchers plan to bring to the Supreme Court soon.
The researchers - including journalist Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre, once a member of the Irish Republican Army - were part of a project that interviewed dozens of fighters from both sides of the conflict, which ended with a U.S.-brokered peace treaty in 1998.
Interviewees were told their words would remain sealed until their deaths. But after a series of news articles several years ago, the Police Service of Northern Ireland sought Boston College’s records to help solve one of the most notorious killings of the sectarian conflict - the 1972 death of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10.
McConville was killed by the IRA on suspicion of being an informer, an accusation her family has denied. Her body was recovered in 2003.
The U.S. Justice Department had demanded the records on behalf of the Northern Ireland police, citing legal-assistance treaties, despite opposition from U.S. politicians worried the case could damage the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Since the legal battle began, the Northern Ireland police have gained access to archived interviews by Brendan Hughes, an IRA figure who died in 2010. But access to interviews with eight other IRA figures remains in dispute.
Technically, the matter before the Supreme Court concerns only interviews with Dolours Price, an IRA member who was jailed for her part in the 1973 bombing of London’s Old Bailey courthouse that injured more than 200 people. The court’s decision in her case will likely determine the fate of the other interview material, said Eamonn Dornan, an attorney for the researchers. (Reporting By Ross Kerber; Editing by Peter Cooney)