Release of 1990 State files to be delayed due to Covid curbs

Files relating to Brian Lenihan, Ireland’s World Cup and Anglo-Irish relations won't be made public next month

The opening of secret State files under the 30-year rule has become the latest casualty of the pandemic as classified documents due to be released next month will remain shut for now to public scrutiny.

Files relating to 1990 – when presidential candidate Brian Lenihan was sacked from the government, Nelson Mandela addressed the Oireachtas and Ireland made the World Cup quarter finals – due to be released within weeks will remain sealed for some time.

Blaming the Level 5 restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, which oversees the annual transfer of papers to the National Archives, said it was working with other government departments in an attempt to have them opened “in early 2021”.

Dr Tomás Finn, a lecturer in history at NUI Galway who specialises in European, British and Irish history, said the “very disappointing” delay would worsen a growing chasm in understanding recent history as Britain moves to releasing files after 20 years.


Release official files

Both London and Belfast are planning to release official files in December despite the crisis.

The North, which is also phasing in a 20-year rule, will open papers from 1997 at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, albeit with public health measures in place for viewers.

The National Archives in London said it is planning to open its latest files next month with “an online event looking the most likely.”

Dr Finn said: “This delay will only make it more difficult to reduce that gap in our understanding of hugely important issues, particularly Anglo-Irish relations and what was happening in Northern Ireland at that time.”

He said the time-honoured tradition of releasing papers over Christmas also “creates invaluable interest in the past, and increases our knowledge of the past, so we can hopefully learn the lessons of the period involved”.

“It is very valuable and we all learn from these newly released documents. It’s usually a hugely exciting time,” he said, adding that he feared a lost year of insight into events in Ireland and internationally.

“These papers show how much Ireland has changed, and how difficult past relations were with the UK,” he said.

Important role

“Internationally too, they could tell us about Ireland’s important role in facilitating German reunification, the importance of the EU as well as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the cold war.”

In 1990, Charles Haughey was taoiseach, Ireland held a six month presidency of the European Union, the Irish pound coin was minted to replace the pound note and hostage Brian Keenan was released after 1,574 days in captivity in Beirut.

With the Troubles still raging in the North, civilian Patsy Gillespie, along with five soldiers, was killed after being strapped into a van and forced to drive a 1,000lb IRA bomb into a British army checkpoint in Derry as his wife and children were held at gunpoint.