independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Editorial: State papers remind us of need for vigilance

IT IS that time of year again, when the State Papers are opened under the 30-year rule and we get an insight into what our politicians and key policy makers were up to back in 1983.

The events of 30 years ago are worth mulling over again for those who lived through them. For the most part, they are no more edifying and did not improve over time.

For younger people they are vital as they serve as a warning about the need for vigilance and courage to assert citizens' rights and freedoms.

Some of the events of 1983 are replete with a comedy of errors and bathos.

But we must never lose sight of their serious side and the dire warnings about our human rights that they contain.

There were accusations of garda phone-tapping powers being used for party political reasons. At least two journalists, including Bruce Arnold of the Irish Independent, had their phones tapped and later won a landmark High Court case.

But the most deeply sinister event of 1983 was the so-called 'Dowra affair', which saw then Justice Minister, the late Sean Doherty, use his influence to have a court witness arrested in the North to prevent his giving evidence in a case in this jurisdiction.

As we ponder the lessons of 1983, we must also question the necessity for a 30-year delay in releasing documents which are, after all, the citizens' property. There are strong arguments for a reduction in this delay-period, while also maintaining restrictions on extremely sensitive material.

It is also high time that judgments on documents so far withheld as being too sensitive under the 30-year rule now be revisited. It is clear that such views generally change over time and it would be doubly ironic if narrow authoritarianism was allowed to rule in such matters.

Irish Independent

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