This morning, 702 files of government papers have been fully (530) or partially (172) released under the 30/20 year rule. The majority are files which were closed and archived by Northern Ireland departments in 1995, though some precede this. All are available from this morning to search in the PRONI catalogue and available for all to view in the Public Record Office in Titanic Quarter.
As always, the declassified files detail the political talks and developments of the time including exploratory talks between the NIO and Sinn Féin which featured Martin McGuinness for the first time, and “unknown” Lee Reynolds unsuccessful challenge to Jim Molyneaux’s leadership, polling 88 votes – more than expected – at the UUP AGM in March 1995.
The papers were also set against a background of ceasefires, discussion about possible prisoner releases, and a normalisation of security measures. The possible peace dividend was being calculated, with new jobs estimated, offset by a steep decline in security sector employment as well as debate around the merits of a possible UU Springvale campus.
As always, the contents of the cardboard files willed with memos and letters find a way of resonating with present day issues.
The cost of closing Harland and Wolff (if privatisation failed) was being analysed in papers [DED/22/231] released this morning from the late 1980s, while the opening of the new Great Victoria Street station in late 1995 [ENV/13/4/6A] has echoes of the work now underway to redevelop this Belfast transport hub, and discussions about the impact of border checkpoints echoing some contemporary Brexit concerns.
There was also debate in CENT/1/24/24A about the reason for the cross-community voting that had allowed the SDLP’s Joe Hendron to unseat Sinn Féin’s West Belfast MP Gerry Adams in April 1992, and a spot of SDLP infighting as officials recorded conversations with Hendron’s election agent Tom Kelly and tracked the pair’s fight against the election petition raised against the result.
Along with other journalists, I had the opportunity to preview the files ten days ago. The papers also contain much that is mundane, including a file of architectural plans for new science labs at Lisburn Technical College, and decisions on business rate relief for individual MoD premises.
Along with the two posts published this morning, Slugger will dip into another couple of files on Saturday morning. In the meantime, check the extensive coverage by Sam McBride and Eamon Phoenix in the local papers this morning.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about, reports from, live-tweets and live-streams civic, academic and political events and conferences. He delivers social media training/coaching; produces podcasts and radio programmes; is a FactCheckNI director; a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland; and a member of the Corrymeela Community.