State Papers: Secrets of the powers that be
Peter Costello reports from the National Archives of Ireland on the release under the 30-year rule of confidential state files from 1988
On Wednesday (January 2) the National Archive made available to the public under the 30-year-rule State files from various government departments from 1986 and earlier.
The most interesting feature of this year’s releases are files dealing with aliens, emigration, and naturalisation in the Free State and Republic running from 1922 up to the 1960s. They contain the material for many new investigations into Ireland’s treatment of emigrants and refugees over that long period, including, for instance, Jewish refugees from Russia, Eastern Europe, and Germany.
Ireland’s policy towards Jews fleeing the Nazi regime has long been a matter of contention, feeding as it does into the anti-Semitism that was so common in public and private life in the interwar years and after.
They will also cast light on the Germans, Bretons, Belgians and others who sought refuge in Ireland for various reasons after 1945 – many of these would have been supporters of Fascist regimes.
The files present a very large idea of the problems facing the Irish Free State as it tried to cope with the presence of potential communist and even anarchist elements.
For the most part the general run of other files were, however, of restricted interest in many cases. Many files relating to North Ireland from the office of the Taoiseach have had documents removed from them.
These are not for immediate release because they might cause “distress or danger” to living individuals. So a large cloud of secrecy still hangs over the Northern Troubles, as perhaps is only to be expected.
But once again the observer is struck by the narrow range of departments releasing files. Once again there is nothing from Health, Social Welfare and Agriculture, large departments that affect very widely and intimately the lives of most people.
The revelations of confidential titbits about some leading figures cannot disguise the fact that as an exercise in truly “open government”, and despite the excellent work of the staff of the National Archives, the politicians and civil servants have once again largely managed to cover their tracks.
The National Archives asks those writing about these releases to quote the file reference number, a request which nearly all the media ignore. These are the number at the end of each article.
The National Archives is located in Bishop Street, Dublin D08 DF85, beside the Dublin Institute of Technology, Aungier Street. The opening hours are 9.15am-5pm Monday to Friday. The records from 1986 and earlier were available to the public from 9.15am on Monday, January 2. For further information telephone: +353 (0) 1 407 2300; or email: email@example.com