Boston College to be sued over Belfast Project tapes

The tapes are being held at Boston College The interviews with former republican and loyalist terrorists were conducted at Boston College

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Boston College is to be sued by former paramilitaries who contributed to an oral history project of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The lead case is being taken by former IRA man Richard O'Rawe.

Mr O'Rawe alleges the university breached its contract with him by not advising him that his testimony might be released by a court order.

More than 40 former gunmen and bombers active during the Troubles gave interviews to the college.

Both republican and loyalist paramilitaries gave personal accounts to researchers working on the so-called 'Belfast Project'.

It was intended their accounts would not be released without their permission or until after their deaths.

After a legal battle, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) gained access to some of the tapes.

What are the 'Boston tapes'?

  • Dozens of former paramilitaries were interviewed in Belfast and other cities and towns from 2001-2006 as part of an oral history project known as the Belfast Project
  • Details about internal politics and activities of the IRA were revealed on tape, including accounts of a hunger strike in prison in the 1980s
  • Overall the project cost about $200,000 (£118,520), mostly provided by an Irish-American businessman
  • Each interview was transcribed, sent by encrypted email to New York and then the material was sent to Boston College, where it was placed under lock and key at Burns Library
  • Following a lengthy legal battle with the college, the Police Service of Northern Ireland gained access to a small number of the interviews last year

Mr O'Rawe is one of four people suing the college.

He said he had suffered "serious intimidation and distress together with reputational damage as is evidenced by recent widespread graffiti appearing in west Belfast".

He claims there was misrepresentation and breach of confidentiality together with negligence based on the failure of Boston College to advise him that what he said could be subject to court orders as part of other litigations.

As Boston College has a subsidiary company based in Dublin, under European law the case can be taken in the High Court in Belfast.

Some of the material gathered for the US project was used by Northern Ireland police to question Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams.

He was arrested at the end of April over the 1972 IRA murder of Jean McConville. He was released without charge and a file is being sent to prosecutors.

Speaking on Monday night, Mr O'Rawe said: "I entered into the project in good faith in order to contribute to an important historical narrative of the conflict.

"My contribution never mentioned anything at all about the disappearance and murder of Jean McConville, because I know nothing about it.

"Despite that, the police were still able to get my recordings. They should never have been allowed to do that.

"I blame Boston College for the mess and I want them held accountable for putting me in this position."

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