Ireland’s stringent 30-year rule limits understanding

The British are moving to release official files after 20 years

Official files are released for public viewing after 30 years at the National Archives in Dublin. Photograph: Frank Miller

Official files are released for public viewing after 30 years at the National Archives in Dublin. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

For some years now there has been an anomaly when considering diplomatic records in Anglo-Irish relations.

The British are moving incrementally towards a 20-year release date for official files, yet Ireland still maintains the original 30-year rule.

An example, when considering Anglo-Irish relations in 1987, is Irish material is now becoming available whereas British documents on, for instance, how a Haughey-led government might approach the Anglo-Irish Agreement have been in the public domain for some time.

One such document reveals how David Goodall – a key British negotiator of the agreement – circulated an account of a conversation he had with Bryce Harland, the New Zealand High Commissioner in London.

Harland was also accredited as ambassador to Ireland, and on a visit to Dublin before Christmas 1986, he was assured by Seán Donlon that should Charles Haughey be elected taoiseach he would have no option but to broadly operate the agreement.

Harland then met Haughey himself and was “somewhat surprised” to find him taking “a robustly hostile” view. He quoted Haughey as stating “the Agreement must go” because it did nothing to secure the “paramount objective” which was “to get the British out of Northern Ireland”.

While Haughey said he would not be denouncing the agreement – as it had been internationally agreed – he then elaborated on an inherently implausible scenario in which he outlined how he would push the British into renegotiating the agreement and abandoning Northern Ireland.

Goodall noted Harland’s opinion that Haughey had presumably intended his arguments “to reach British ears”. While robustly dismissive of Haughey’s scenario, Goodall circulated this intelligence widely and it is implausible that it would not have been seen by those on the British side who dealt with Haughey when he returned as taoiseach in 1987.