Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Flag row could impact on Boston College tapes saga

It's a no-brainer that the violent protests over the flag controversy at Belfast's City Hall haven't done Northern Ireland's image in the US any favours.

But, in a roundabout way, the violence could end up affecting the fate of another Northern Ireland story which many Americans have been following: the Boston College IRA tapes saga.

With its core case being the heartbreaking tale of mother-of-10 Jean McConville - murdered by the IRA in 1972 - the Boston College saga has been covered by many US media outlets since 2011.

There is no polling data regarding how many Americans support, or oppose, the tapes being surrendered to the PSNI.

But the argument made by Boston College's two former lead researchers, Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre, that handing over the tapes could damage the peace process, has been echoed by several members of Congress.

And the congressional voice now looming largest is that of Massachusetts senator John Kerry, president Obama's shoo-in choice to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state when she rides into the sunset.

"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 14 years," Kerry wrote in a letter to Clinton last January.

As a practising Catholic, bearing an Irish-sounding surname, who represents America's most Irish-American-laden state in Congress, many people have always assumed that Kerry's ancestors were from the Auld Sod.

In reality, he hasn't a drop of Irish blood in his veins. His Jewish ancestors emigrated to the US from central Europe in 1905.

All the more striking, then, that he bothered to write to Hillary Clinton last January, asking her to help persuade the UK to drop its request for some of Boston College's archived IRA interviews.

Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court still hasn't announced whether or not it will hear Moloney and McIntyre's appeal.

Statistically, the pair have always faced pretty stiff odds in getting America's highest court to even consider hearing their case.

Annually, it receives about 10,000 petitions requesting a hearing. Of these, no more than 90 are usually granted per term.

The Supreme Court's main function is to review appeals resulting from lower federal court rulings on topics as diverse as freedom of speech, privacy and the death penalty.

The flag riots have been all over the US media lately. And top judges have no doubt seen reports of the potential peace process implications of the violence.

Having a case before them in which the petitioners (Moloney and McIntyre) are warning of a separate threat to the peace process may just be enough to entice members of the Supreme Court, who pride themselves on the range of their intellects, to take on the case.

Then again, John Kerry might beat them to the punch - if Hillary doesn't beat him to it first.

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