Three authors who worked on the Boston College Belfast Project are intending to sue the college after it admitted procedures on when controversial material would be published weren't checked by lawyers.
Ed Moloney, Dr Anthony McIntyre and Wilson McArthur, who carried out the research, are planing to take action against Boston College after it emerged it didn't check with its lawyers before collecting an archive of taped confessions from IRA and UVF members detailing their involvement in murder and other crimes.
They are consulting Dornan Associates, a Washington law firm, claiming that they collected the interviews only after receiving guarantees that they would not be released until the participants were dead.
It has also emerged that Bob O'Neill and Thomas Hachey, executive director of the college's Irish programme, each got a 25% cut from royalties on Voices From The Grave, a best-selling book which Mr Moloney wrote. It was based on the taped confession of Brendan 'The Dark' Hughes and David Ervine, a former UVF bomber who was prominent in the peace process, the first two of the interviewees to die.
In the preface, Mr O'Neill and Mr Hachey described it as "the inaugural volume of a planned series of publications drawn from the Boston College Oral History Archive on the Troubles".
Mr Hughes, a 1970s IRA commander and 1980 hunger striker, admitted his part in the abduction of Jean McConville, a widowed mother-of-10 who was taken from her home in Divis flats in 1972, murdered and secretly buried. Hughes accused Gerry Adams, now Sinn Fein president, of being the IRA commander who authorised Mrs McConvilles disappearance. Mr Adams denies this. Mr Hughes' claims were backed up by Dolours Price, another IRA veteran. Before her death she told a newspaper that she had given an account to Boston College. After this PSNI officers investigating Mrs McConville's murder took legal action to secure the tapes.
This caused consternation among interviewees who were told their confessions would never be disclosed in their lifetimes.
Mr O'Neill now says that it was "a mistake" not to specify that confidentiality only extended "to the extent American law allows". He says he did not run the wording past a lawyer.
Mr O'Neill's statement appeared in a major article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a Washington-based academic journal.
"Boston College's reputation has been tarnished," concluded Beth McMurtrie, the author.
"There's institutional failure there on the part of Boston College," stated Mary Marshall Clark, director of Columbia University's Center for Oral History Research.
Mr Moloney said: "We went ahead on the basis that the contract had been cleared with lawyers and that it was safe for the participants. Had we known the true position, the project would have been stillborn."
STORY SO FAR
Forty-six people gave taped interviews detailing their involvement in terrorist violence to Boston College's Belfast Project. They were assured that the interviews should be released only after their deaths. The first to die was Brendan Hughes, who admitted taking part in the murder of Jean McConville. Now the PSNI is fighting a court battle to get access to the entire archive.