Video: Archivist says Stormont politicians can’t block declassification of files

All but two of the files on which we today report are from the Stormont archives which have been released at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI).

The documents — which are open to the public at the new PRONI building in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter — are declassified under the 20-year rule, which is replacing the old 30-year-rule, and is being phased in by releasing two years’ records in a single year.

PRONI Public Records Office Northern Ireland files secret files.

PRONI Public Records Office Northern Ireland files secret files.

In Northern Ireland, that is being done by releasing one year’s records in the summer and the second set of records at the traditional time at the end of the year.

The National Archives in London which holds the Cabinet papers and files from Whitehall departments, is implementing the new rule by releasing two years of files at the end of December.

The National Archives will release its files from 1985 and 1986 tomorrow.

The Republic of Ireland is still only opening its files after 30 years, and its files from 1984 were released at the end of last week.

In Belfast, 570 files have been declassified in their entirety. A further 179 files have been partially opened, with sections blacked out under freedom of information or data protection legislation.

A further 21 files have been kept entirely closed. The vast majority are closed under exemption for ‘personal information’ or ‘health and safety’, although some have also been retained for reasons of ‘national security’ or ‘international relations’.

Graham Jackson, an archivist at PRONI who plays a key role in deciding what gets released, said that he did not come under any pressure from senior politicians about decisions which involve sensitive material about them.

“Current ministers don’t have a facility to come in and tell us what we should release,” he said.