Declassified files: Why policy on importation of deer is off-limits

The declassified files can be viewed by the public at PRONI
The declassified files can be viewed by the public at PRONI

Files which have not been released to the public range from one withheld because it appears to involve communications with the Royal Family, one which is about policy on the importation of deer and several which are being withheld on grounds of national security.

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

Some 527 files have been released in full. A further 227 files have been opened in large part but sections have either been blanked out or pages removed and will not be released in full for decades to come.

A further 35 files remain fully closed. Many of these relate to the conferring of Royal honours or are individual prisoner files.

One apparently significant file which has not been released is entitled ‘Divis Joint Development Committee’ which ran from 1986 to 1993 and was held by Stormont’s Central Secretariat. It has been withheld under sections of the Freedom of Information Act which exempt material “for the purpose of safeguarding national security”. It has also been withheld under the exemption relating to personal information and national security – provisions which in the past PRONI has used where it judges there could be a threat to the life of someone named within the file if it were to be released.

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 1993.

That means that files which were closed in 1993 may contain documents which go back several years or a stray file from much earlier can be released late.

A Department of Health ‘General Confidential File’ from 1988-1993 has been withheld under a section of legislation which relates to communication with the Royal Family or “conferring by the Crown of any honour or dignity”.

Among the files withheld because they contain personal information are: Appointment of LEDU Board Members 1990-1993, Problems of Helicopter Flights over Named Address, Appointments to the Fair Employment Commission 1992-1993, Press and Private Office Enquiries – Overseas Branch (NI) and ‘Operations Branch 2 (Client Groups) death of a baby Named Individual’, a file dates 1992-1993.

The files include both Northern Ireland Office 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 without charge.

• 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 Monday, September 3.

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

Free tickets for the 1pm event can be obtained by registering at https://goo.gl/7SN6Rp.