By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal over whether confidential interviews with former Irish Republican militants should be released to police in Northern Ireland.
The legal fight is about whether British authorities, as part of a murder investigation, can access interview transcripts with Irish Republican Army members, which were carried out as part of a Boston College program.
The issue could return to the court, as the legal fight about whether British authorities can access other interview material is set to continue, with a court ruling pending.
As part of a long-unsolved murder, the police in Northern Ireland want access to interviews carried out with members of the IRA and pro-British Unionists.
Investigators in Northern Ireland are seeking to find out who was responsible for the 1972 murder of Jean McConville, who was suspected of informing the British about IRA activities.
Invoking a treaty between the United Kingdom and the United States, the British government asked the U.S. government to subpoena the interviews.
The director of the interview project, Ed Moloney, and one of his researchers - and a former IRA member - Anthony McIntyre sought to intervene, raising objections based on First Amendment rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
They noted that the interviews were conducted on the condition that they would not be made public until either the interviewee agreed or died. They claimed the interviewees could be endangered if the materials were released.
The Supreme Court was asked to intervene after the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ruled against Moloney and McIntyre concerning two of the interviewees, Brendan Hughes and Delours Price, meaning that the subpoenas could be enforced. The Supreme Court temporarily stayed that ruling while Moloney and McIntyre filed their appeal.
That specific issue is now largely moot as both Hughes and Price have died.
The 1st Circuit court is due to issue a ruling soon on whether other material involving different interviewees can be released.
The case is Moloney v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-627.
(Editing by Howard Goller and Christopher Wilson)