#20YearRule Another 639 public records released at PRONI

Another 639 public records archived by NI government departments have been released. They’re all available from today for the public to view in the Public Records Office down in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter. You can find PRONI’s opening hours and public transport links on the PRONI webpages.

158 of these files have some level of redaction, often removing sensitive personal information about names and addresses (exempt from the right to know under the Freedom of Information Act), but allowing the majority of their contents to be released without further delay.

Today, and over the next couple of days, Slugger O’Toole will dip into some of stories contained in the archives. You’ll also find extensive coverage in the News Letter and the Irish Times as well as other newspapers which will also dip into the London and Dublin releases.

We’re in a transition period between the ‘30 Year Rule’ and the new ‘20 Year Rule’, so papers are being released twice a year (August and December) until PRONI has caught up. Records with ‘terminal dates’ of 1992 (ie, were closed in 1992) have just been released. These do not all refer to 1992: many of the files stretch back much further into Northern Ireland’s past.

Amongst the economic reports there’s one asking for approval to prosecute retailers illegally importing milk from the Republic of Ireland. Alongside files detailed the preparation of first day briefs for new ministers of state, there are thick files documenting discussions around the beginning of the three-stranded Brooke talks initiative in 1991 (and a complaint that Dr Paisley was locked out of his toilet).

Peter Robinson’s 1990 vision of devolution can now be read along with the civil service commentary on his constituency speech. So too can the machinations over whether an Irish Medium education report should be published bilingually.

Who knew that in 1990 the Tory/Unionist pressure group The Monday Club proposed a two month amnesty for terrorists to the Secretary of State Peter Brooke?

Amongst the weighty matters, there are delightful moments of indiscretion and honesty as well as quirky asides recorded in minutes and memos: what the head of the civil service really thought about the Alliance party, annoyance that emergency planners had to hear about the fate of a feared falling satellite on the radio news when Whitehall failed to alert them.

Many of the issues covered in the files chime with contemporary matters: the recalcitrant attitude towards refugee resettlement in Northern Ireland in the early 1990s is at odds with welcome made to Syrians under the current Home Office vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, but is in line with sentiment often seen screaming out from some newspaper headlines. Discussion about where to host talks resonates with the current suggestion that the stalled political talks are taken out of Stormont.

All these papers can be leafed through by visiting the Public Records Office in Titanic Quarter. Bring a passport or driving licence with you to register the first day you visit. You’ll be given a card and a ‘reader number’ and have free access to order up and browse these public records.

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