Bid to release certain State papers after 20 years

Proposal comes amid concerns over historical impact of similar move by UK

 Minister for Heritage Heather Humphreys will bring a memo to Government containing a proposal that the 30-year rule be reduced on a phased basis. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Minister for Heritage Heather Humphreys will bring a memo to Government containing a proposal that the 30-year rule be reduced on a phased basis. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The Cabinet will on Tuesday debate a proposal to release certain State papers after 20 rather than 30 years amid concern that a British view of key moments in Anglo-Irish relations is becoming the accepted history.

Following a decision five years ago by the UK’s ministry of justice to, on a phased basis, release the papers after 20 years, there has been growing concern among Government officials and historians that Britain’s take on such events enters the public domain long before Irish files become public.

Memo

Minister for Heritage Heather Humphreys will bring a memo to Government today containing a proposal that the 30-year rule be reduced on a phased basis. Britain began releasing state papers after 20 years on a phased basis beginning in summer 2013. There will continue to be two sets of releases a year in the UK until 2022, when files from 2001 and 2002 will be released.

“The Minister believes unless action is taken, an incomplete view of our shared history with the UK will develop over the coming years,” Ms Humphreys’s spokeswoman said.

It is expected that the departments most closely associated with Anglo-Irish matters would be the first affected, including the Departments of the Taoiseach, Foreign Affairs and Justice.

Northern negotiations

Events likely to be covered by such a move would, on a phased basis, include the 1993 Downing Street Declaration, the Belfast Agreement of 1998 and the talks preceding that deal, which commenced in 1996.

Recently released comments from Bertie Ahern, taoiseach at the time of the Belfast Agreement, show that there was significant distrust between the two governments during the Belfast Agreement talks.

“We were deeply suspicious, and still are to this day, of the Brits,” Mr Ahern told the Edward M Kennedy Oral History Project, a research project involving the University of Virginia’s Miller Centre, in 2010.

“We were very suspicious of what games they might get up to. We trusted Blair but worried about the MI5 and MI6. We were worried about all the games that can go on in the British system.”

The National Archives Advisory Council warned that extra resources and staff would be required if State papers were to be released to the public after 20 years in its 2012 annual report, which was brought to Cabinet last year.