BOSTON — An attempt by British investigators to get recorded interviews with former members of the Irish Republican Army has turned into a complicated court battle. And for Carrie Twomey, the legal fight is personal.
She’s the wife of Anthony McIntyre, a former gunman for the IRA who conducted the interviews for an oral history project at Boston College. Twomey has played a key role in trying to sway U.S. politicians that turning over the recordings could endanger her family.
“This isn’t just some dusty old papers in a library,” Twomey says. “This is people’s lives. This is my family.”
Twomey has managed to get backing from some powerful people. Seven U.S. politicians, including Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Charles Schumer of New York, have written letters to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urging them to persuade British authorities to withdraw their request for the recordings.
McIntyre and Irish journalist Ed Moloney, who directed the project, are asking a federal appeals court to block the handover. Arguments are scheduled Wednesday before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
The history project, which began in 2001 and was completed in 2006, is intended as a resource for journalists, scholars and historians after the death of the participants. But Northern Ireland police probing the IRA’s 1972 killing of a Belfast woman want access to the interviews for their investigation.
Moloney says the recordings are explosive enough to damage Northern Ireland’s unity government, in which Sinn Fein represents the Irish Catholic minority. Its stable coalition with the British Protestant majority is the central achievement of the 1998 U.S.-brokered peace accord.
Moloney has said that the interviewees include many IRA colleagues of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and that public release of the testimony could lead to a victims’ lawsuit against Adams, the conflict’s leading guerrilla-turned-peacemaker.
Twomey worries her husband and other former IRA members could be attacked or killed if the recordings are turned over and then used in prosecutions. Some in Ireland have already branded her husband as a “tout,” an informer, because of his role in the Boston College project, she says.
“My husband isn’t an informer, nor are the people who participated in this project — it’s a history project — but police using it as evidence, that changes it dramatically and makes it very dangerous,” says Twomey, 41.
“Traditionally, the penalty for informing is death.”
Twomey grew up in southern California. She met her husband about 12 years ago after reading critical commentary he had published on the way the peace process was being managed and wrote him a letter. They’ve been married for almost 10 years and have two children, an 11-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy.
McIntyre spent 17 years in prison for killing a Protestant militant in a 1976 drive-by shooting.
The couple initially lived in West Belfast but moved to the south five years ago when McIntyre found a job in construction in Drogheda. McIntyre, who left the IRA when the 1998 Good Friday agreement was signed, said their neighbor’s house in Drogheda was smeared with pig excrement in 2010, after portions of the memoir of former IRA member Brendan Hughes — one of the people McIntyre interviewed — were published in a British newspaper.
The vandals probably meant to send him a threatening message but got the wrong address, McIntyre says.
“Carrie wasn’t involved in the project, nor were our children,” McIntyre says. “Her fear and my fear, too, would be the morphing of research into evidence substantially changes the ballgame and would open up the possibility of an attack.”
Twomey’s husband is not allowed to travel to the United States because of his IRA conviction. So for the past three months, she has shuttled between the United States and Ireland, hoping to pressure the U.S. government to drop the bid to turn the recordings over to Northern Ireland police investigating the IRA’s killing of Jean McConville, a mother of 10 who had been branded as a British Army spy by the IRA.
Kerry and other U.S. politicians say they are concerned that release of the recordings could undermine peace in Northern Ireland.
“It would be a tragedy if this process were to upset the delicate balance that has kept the peace and allowed for so much progress in the past fourteen years,” Kerry wrote in his Jan. 23 letter.
Prosecutors declined to talk about the case before Wednesday’s hearing.
In an interview in January, Assistant U.S. Attorney John McNeil said American authorities must provide IRA testimony about McConville’s killing to British authorities as part of treaty commitments to aid each other’s criminal investigations.
“The UK is investigating serious crimes: murder, kidnapping, McNeil said. “The court has already found that it’s a bona fide investigation and that there’s no other source for this material.”
McIntyre and Moloney say Boston College promised the interview subjects strict confidentiality until their deaths, while Boston College officials say they made it clear they would protect the confidentiality only to the extent allowed under U.S. law.
Boston College initially tried to quash subpoenas from U.S. prosecutors seeking the recordings but later decided not to appeal a judge’s order to turn over the interviews of convicted car bomber Delours Price. The same judge dismissed a separate lawsuit by Moloney and McIntyre.
Spokesman Jack Dunn said Boston College decided not to appeal because Price had given a widely distributed newspaper interview in which she implicated herself and Adams in McConville’s abduction and murder. Adams has denied that.