Declassified files: Most from 1991 – but some date back to the mid-1970s

Hundreds of files are now open
Hundreds of files are now open

The files on which the News Letter report today – and over coming days – have been declassified under the 20 Year Rule and made public at the Public Record Office in Belfast.

The disclosure of many government files after two decades is being phased in to replace the old 30 Year Rule.

In order to catch up, for several years two years’ worth of files are being released each year – one set in the summer and one set at the end of the year.

The files are released based on the year in which they were closed. This batch of files is based on 1991.

That means that files which were closed in 1991 may contain documents which go back several years or a stray file from much earlier can be released late.

In one case, a file which has been declassified goes back to the mid-1970s.

In all, 602 files are being released in full, with a further 189 files – often the most interesting and controversial – released in part, with sections blacked out or removed for reasons such as an individual’s safety or to protect national security.

A further 94 files have been fully withheld from release.

Those documents largely relate to individual prisoners or decisions about honours.

The files include both Northern Ireland Office (NIO) files and those from direct rule departments such as agriculture, environment and education.

From today, any member of the public can visit the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) in Titanic Quarter and view the original files for themselves.

l News Letter political editor Sam McBride and the historian Dr Eamon Phoenix will discuss the declassified files at an event organised by the Public Record Office on September 6.

Secret files and documents from the archives will be on display on the day at the PRONI building in Belfast.

Free tickets for the 1pm event can be obtained at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/secrets-from-the-government-files-6-september-2017-at-1pm-tickets-36852899013