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Death of Dolours could be a major game-changer

The unexpected death of Dolours Price shows how history moves at its own - often unpredictable - pace. And much the same can be said for the upper tiers of the US judicial system in which Price's life was so deeply entwined in the last years of her life.

Speculation as to whether or not Price's death means that her archived Boston College interviews will now be released is just that: pure speculation.

The biggest legal hurdle to a handover is as big as you can get: the US Supreme Court.

Last October, Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer issued a stay of a federal appeals court ruling that the interviews be surrendered to US Justice Department officials seeking the tapes on behalf of the PSNI.

The stay was ordered to give Boston College's former lead researchers on its Belfast Project - Anthony McIntyre and Ed Moloney - time to file a formal Supreme Court appeal. They did so in November.

Last July, in upholding Judge William Young's December 2011 ruling, rejecting Moloney and McIntyre's effort to block the Price tapes's surrender, First Circuit Court of Appeals chief judge Sandra Lynch said they hadn't proven they had individual rights that trumped America's obligations under 1994's US-UK Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (US-UK MLAT).

That treaty commits each country to pursue criminal cases on the other's behalf, if asked.

Citing a 1972 Supreme Court ruling that journalists can't use confidentiality vows as justification for non-compliance with subpoenas, Judge Lynch wrote: "The choice to investigate criminal activity belongs to the Government and is not subject to veto by academic researchers."

Moloney and McIntyre launched their own separate bid to block the tapes's surrender in August 2011, after accusing Boston College of mounting a half-hearted defence of the archive.

To date, all court rulings have gone against the pair and, to a lesser extent, Boston College.

Moloney and McIntyre, along with some very high-profile sympathisers, like Secretary of State in-waiting John Kerry, have argued that peace process stability considerations must take precedence over the tightly-written treaty obligations of the MLAT.

Thus far, futile efforts to secure State Department intervention may see a reversal of fortune under Kerry. But that is far from certain. And, with concerns such as the bubbling turmoil in Africa, the issue will probably not be Kerry's top priority during his first few weeks in the job.

It may be only weeks before the Supreme Court announces whether or not it'll hear Moloney and McIntyre's appeal.

Without question, the unexpected death of Dolours Price has the potential to be a game-changer in the judicial machinations surrounding the Boston tapes.

But, at the end of the day, until the fat lady at the Supreme Court finally sings, the bottom line is that the Boston College tapes won't be going anywhere.