- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 17, 2012

DUBLIN — A trans-Atlantic legal showdown could determine whether Gerry Adams, the Irish republican chieftain long at the center of Belfast war and peace, faces trial over his IRA past.

Police probing the Irish Republican Army’s 1972 killing of a Belfast mother of 10 want to seize taped interviews with IRA members that Boston College hoped to keep locked up for posterity. Researchers fighting the handover warn that disclosure could trigger attacks against IRA veterans involved in the secrecy-shrouded project and undermine Northern Ireland’s peace.

The case of Jean McConville, a 37-year-old widow, commands special attention among Northern Ireland’s nearly 3,300 unsolved killings because of allegations that Mr. Adams, the conflict’s leading terrorist-turned-peacemaker, commanded the IRA unit responsible for ordering her execution and secret burial.

Mr. Adams denies the accusation.

However, the researchers who collected the interviews say they include multiple IRA colleagues of Mr. Adams from 1972. They say the testimony that, if made public, could fuel a victims’ civil lawsuit against the Sinn Fein party leader.

“Imagine if these interviews are delivered to the police and their contents come out in court. There’ll be a hue and cry for Gerry Adams‘ political scalp,” said Ed Moloney, a former Belfast journalist who directed Boston College’s oral history project on Northern Ireland.

Mr. Moloney and the former IRA member who collected the interviews, Anthony McIntyre, go to court next week in Boston, seeking to persuade Judge William Young to let Boston College keep the audiotapes out of the hands of Belfast police.

Mr. Moloney said the material is explosive enough to damage Northern Ireland’s unity government, in which Sinn Fein represents the Catholic minority. Their surprisingly stable coalition with the Protestant majority is the central achievement of the U.S.-brokered Good Friday peace accord of 1998.

Mr. McIntyre won the IRA veterans’ confidence by promising their confessions would remain confidential and beyond the reach of British law as long as they lived. IRA members normally never talk openly about the outlawed group.

Mr. Young last month ruled that the interviews of one living IRA veteran, convicted car-bomber Dolours Price, should be surrendered because she discusses her role in the McConville killing. The judge also ruled he would personally review interviews involving 24 other Irish guerillas and more than 100 transcripts to determine if others should be sent to the Belfast police.

To the fury of Mr. Moloney and Mr. McIntyre, Boston College accepted Judge Young’s judgment. They say university officials should have appealed or risked a contempt order by destroying the whole archive.

“If they weren’t prepared to fight to the bitter end like us, then why did Boston College get involved in this kind of project at all?” Mr. Moloney said.