Ever since 1991, the release of the state papers has become an annual ritual for the Irish media. Prior to that, they had to look to state papers being released in Britain, or the US to get information on what was happening in this country.
For views on the early years of Irish independence, historians had to rely on the reports of American, British, and French diplomats based in Dublin.
The reports of Alfred Blanche, the French consul, were regarded as an invaluable historical source after their release in 1972, but that was largely because Irish state papers had not yet been opened to journalists or historians.
Prior to 1967, the British released their state papers under a 50-year rule. This was then changed to 30 years. In 1991 our government adopted a similar approach by releasing all papers from 1922 to 1960, and thereafter this country has released state papers after 30 years.
In 2013, the British decided to change their embargo to 20 years. They are phasing this in over a 10-year period. Each year between 2013 and 2022, they plan to release the papers for two years. Thus this year they are currently releasing the state papers for 1987 and 1988, which means that this country is already two years behind Britain.
Of course, just because Britain does something, does not mean we should follow suit, but in this case, the British perspective on vital events in this country will be released years in advance of our own perspective.
During the past year, many parallels were drawn between the 1966 golden jubilee of the Easter Rebellion and the centenary celebrations during the year ending today. In 1966, most of the younger people knew little about the events of 1916, because it was not taught in our schools over the decades.
When we think back to the events that occurred between 1966 and 1991, surely no rational individual would think that society was being served by the shroud of secrecy that covered government decisions in relation to Northern Ireland during the nascent years of the Troubles.
The state papers currently featuring in Irish newspapers, emphasise the importance of relations between Britain and Ireland in the aftermath of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement. They show how the posturing and demagogic behaviour of Ian Paisley was facilitated by secrecy.
An informed electorate is vital to democracy, and the details of past events which have helped to shape our present should be released as soon as possible.
In the next five years, the British will be releasing the documents relative to the Good Friday Agreement, whereas the corresponding documents in this country will not be due for release until 2028.
The Good-Friday Agreement is a crucial part of our history, and it will be an affront to Irish democracy if Irish historians have to rely on the British version of those events in order to get an inside look at what was happening.
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