The Dolours Price Tapes: The Least Secret Secret in the History of Secrets

Here is the latest commentary on the Belfast Project case by friend of Letters Blogatory Chris Bray. I think it’s worth remembering that because both sides have made submissions to the court under seal, there’s a lot we don’t know. We don’t know what, exactly, is contained in the Price interview tapes, and we don’t know the scope of the UK authorities’ investigation. But that’s not to say that Chris may not be right. As I wrote in another context, “a subpoena doesn’t have to be unconstitutional to be worthy of mockery.”

Dolours Price is an open door, but two different governments are still hammering at the unobstructed doorway with a battering ram. “Open up!” they scream. The door just stands there, open. They go at it with the battering ram some more, grunting and sweating. They will not give up until the open door is opened. And somehow they aren’t kidding.

Acting on a request from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), relayed under the terms of a mutual legal assistance treaty by the government of the UK, the US Attorney’s Office in Boston is working to obtain a set of recorded interviews between academic researchers and former IRA members. Each interview, commissioned and held by Boston College, was supposed to be treated as confidential until the death of the interviewee.

The PSNI is pursuing information regarding the 1972 kidnapping and murder of Jean McConville, a Belfast widow killed as a suspected British Army informer. Chasing that narrative in deadly earnest, federal lawyers have insisted throughout a long court battle that they are assisting in a murder investigation. Secrets will be uncovered. Killers will be marched into court. Justice will no longer be denied.

Journalists covering the case have adopted this very same line, interviewing one of McConville’s daughters on the solemn premise that the family is searching for the truth about what happened to their mother.

But they already know what happened to their mother, and so do the police. You can join in the secret club: the answers are available from, and can be delivered to your front door with next-day delivery. The secret of Jean McConville’s death is, at this point, the least secret secret in the history of secrets.

Yet the absurdity continues.

The first sign that the PSNI was up to something strange and ridiculous came with the first two sets of subpoenas, which sought materials from interviews with two former IRA members, Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price. But Hughes was dead, and his interviews were no longer embargoed. They had been used in a book and a film. The PSNI and the US Attorney’s Office needed a subpoena the same way you need a court order to go to the public library and check out a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Or they could have just watched the Brendan Hughes interviews on YouTube, but never mind: there was super secret international sleuthing to be done, and Google is really complicated.

While Boston College promptly handed over copies of the no-longer-confidential Brendan Hughes interviews, a pair of court challenges have so far prevented the U.S. government from obtaining the tapes of the Dolours Price interviews, as well as several others related to a second set of subpoenas. But the battle in court drives on, and appears to be nearing its end in the United States. (A separate legal challenge is underway in Belfast.) Soon, it appears, prosecutors in Boston will get their hands on Price’s tapes, and we’ll at long last know what happened to Jean McConville. Which we already know, because of the published books and the feature-length documentary that you can stream over the Internet.

Finally, though, the last week has brought the full absurdity of the alleged murder investigation fully into the light. In a series of newspaper and television interviews, Price has said—absolutely plainly, in unembarrassed and detailed statements—that she participated in the kidnapping and murder of Jean McConville, and did so under orders from Gerry Adams. Admitting that she joined a conspiracy to commit kidnapping and murder in two jurisdictions—the IRA took McConville from her home in Belfast, drove her south across the border, and killed her on a beach in the Republic of Ireland—Price faced immediate and devastating legal consequences: she finished her tea and went to bed. The police in the South have not arrested her; the police in the North do not appear to have sought her arrest and extradition. She said she did it, loudly and in public, and nothing happened.

But we must have Dolours Price’s secret interview tapes, so we can get to the bottom of Jean McConville’s murder and bring her killers to justice.

Next they’ll subpoena a candy wrapper so they can find out the ingredients.

2 responses to “The Dolours Price Tapes: The Least Secret Secret in the History of Secrets”

  1. […] One could question why the PSNI are invoking an inter-government mutual legal assistance treaty to access taped conversations that could be difficult to use as evidence in court when the original source is singing like a canary 100 miles south of CID headquarters? It’s a theme taken up by Chris Bray on Letters Blogatory. […]

  2. Excellent summary of the Boston College Belfast Project case. More twists and turns to come i’m sure.

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