Today the News Letter continues our in-depth coverage of the Government files from 1987 which have been declassified at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) as the new 20 Year Rule continues to be phased in.
The contents of the hundreds of files which are now released twice a year provide crucial new perspectives on aspects of both political and social life from the recent past.
This year the declassified documents have revealed that Ian Paisley was privately more pragmatic than his uncompromising public image, have suggested that the security services may have provided intelligence on purely constitutional unionist political parties and reveal police concerns about an increase in reports of child abuse — an issue which then was beginning to be understood more fully and which today remains a serious problem in society.
The documents are now held in vast secure vaults at PRONI’s new Titanic Quarter headquarters in Belfast, a magnificent purpose-built home for most of Northern Ireland’s most important records where the public can avail of state of the art facilities to search through its collection.
At a time of budget cuts across the public sector, it would be easy for some ministers to look at PRONI as something of a luxury rather than a front line public service. But to do so would be to seriously underestimate the importance of history to the present.
It is all too easy for politicians and the public to forget the mistakes of the past. In Northern Ireland, past mistakes have often led, directly or indirectly, to carnage and bloodshed.
Public bodies like PRONI will face belt-tightening over the coming period and it is crucial that Northern Ireland’s huge public sector is made significantly more efficient.
But the fine work of PRONI, an agency whose utterly apolitical work benefits the entire community, should be recognised by civil servants and by ministers as they set their budgetary priorities over coming months.