Certificates reveal what files Government wants kept hidden

Analysis: Releasing files might cause danger to individuals or lead to defamation action

British army soldier standing in front of republican mural depicting Margaret Thatcher’s stand against the hunger strikers in the Maze Prison in 1981. File photograph: Alain Le Garsmeur/Getty Images

British army soldier standing in front of republican mural depicting Margaret Thatcher’s stand against the hunger strikers in the Maze Prison in 1981. File photograph: Alain Le Garsmeur/Getty Images

 

A bundle of certificates signed off by the Taoiseach’s office and, in some cases, by Garda special branch, offers a tantalising glimpse of the kind of information the Government considers too sensitive to let the public see, even 30 years on.

Files from 1981 to 1984 containing information about Northern Ireland, about bombs in London, about the hijacking of an Aer Lingus plane and about the Whiddy Island disaster, were all withheld from the National Archives.

Traditionally, journalists spend several days at the national archives every December poring over batches of files released under the 30-year-rule in an effort to shed some light on historic events and political issues.

But some files are not released and, under the National Archives Act, certificates must be issued to state why.

Reasons may include that it would be contrary to the public interest, that it would be a breach of statutory duty, that releasing them might cause distress or danger to living individuals, or that the release might be likely to lead to a defamation action.

Withheld list

Some files withheld were signed off by the Garda special branch as they related to criminal intelligence matters.

A file marked “Comment on the suggested approach to Mrs Thatcher – list of media contacts” dated 1980 to 1983 was withheld.

Correspondence from members of the public to prisons in Northern Ireland during the hunger strikes of 1981 also remain under wraps.

Records of US reaction to the hunger strikes were also withheld by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Another Department of Foreign Affairs file held back is titled “Alleged links between elements in Iran & the IRA”.

Beef

Details of the hijacking of an Aer Lingus aircraft en route from Dublin to London were also withheld.

The 1982 file may refer to Aer Lingus flight EI 164, which was hijacked with 113 passengers and crew on board the previous year.

Hijacker Larry Downey’s demand was that Pope John Paul II make public the Third Secret of Fatima.

The Attorney General’s office also held back records from 1978 to 1982 relating to the remuneration and pension of the chief executive of Aer Lingus.

A file on the showing of “pornographic films” in a pub in Dublin’s north inner city in 1982 was also held back by the AG.

A file from 1983 entitled “President of Ireland – Applications for Post” is noted as dealing with “requests/advice from public relating to applications for President”.

“Much of this may be coming from people of unsound mind,” a note on the schedule of withheld files states.