Northern Ireland

Boston Tapes: Secret recordings to be handed to police

Interviews Anthony McIntyre gave to Boston College have remained in secure storage

The interview was recorded by Anthony McIntyre
The interview was recorded by Anthony McIntyre

Secret recordings about a former IRA member’s Troubles-related activities are to be handed over to police before a deadline for investigating their content, the High Court has ordered.

The interviews Anthony McIntyre gave to Boston College in the United States have remained in secure storage for more than five years amid a legal battle to prevent any disclosure.

But after lifting a prohibition on the PSNI accessing the tapes, senior judges decided they can be released on April 26 - five days before all conflict-era inquiries must end under the government’s new Legacy Act.

The handover date also gives Mr McIntyre’s legal team a chance to lodge any further appeal.

Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan said: “We think that is the just and proportionate outworkings of our order.”

Mr McIntyre was one of the main researchers for the Boston College project to compile an oral history of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Dozens of ex-paramilitaries provided testimonies on the understanding their accounts would be kept secret while they are alive.

Those assurances were dealt a blow after police secured transcripts and tapes of interviews given by former IRA woman Dolours Price and loyalist Winston “Winkie” Rea.

Detectives want access to Mr McIntyre’s recorded recollection of his own IRA activities as part of investigations into alleged terrorist offences nearly 50 years ago.

A subpoena seeking copies of his interviews was served on Boston College by the British government.

The move involved an International Letter of Request (ILOR) setting out alleged offences under investigation, including a bomb explosion at Rugby Avenue in Belfast in 1976, and membership of a proscribed organisation.

In 2018 Mr McIntyre began a legal challenge to ensure the recordings and transcripts remain sealed and confidential.

Although PSNI officers brought the tapes back to Northern Ireland, they have been kept under lock and key at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast.

Previous attempts to obtain an injunction to restrain police and Director of Public Prosecutions from making any further use of the interviews were dismissed.

With the tapes being sought before the May 1 deadline for continuing Troubles-related investigations under the Legacy Act, lawyers for the chief constable argued that all routes of appeal have now been exhausted.

On Tuesday, a panel of High Court judges backed the PSNI’s case and ruled there they had no legal power to retain the material.

A draft order was drawn up for the recordings to be delivered to a named chief inspector on Wednesday.

But counsel for Mr McIntyre, Ronan Lavery KC, sought a stay on the handover so that an appeal can be advanced.

Claiming police had shown no urgency to obtain the tapes, he added: “This material will (only) have any use to the police up to May 1.”

Tony McGleenan KC, for the chief constable, resisted suggestions that the handover should be put on hold for 14 days.

“If you extend to that date it takes us past the point where the Legacy Act takes effect in respect of criminal investigations,” he submitted.

“It hollows out the scope for the PSNI to do anything.”

Confirming the new date for police to take possession of the dates, Dame Siobhan said it would “facilitate any further steps that the appellant may wish to take”.