Saturday 20 January 2018

Eilis O'Hanlon: No need for secrecy on State soup

There's no reason why we must wait 30 years to learn what is going on behind closed doors

A MATTER OF DIPLOMACY: Margaret Thatcher with Charlie Haughey in May, 1980 (Photo: Keystone/Getty Images)
A MATTER OF DIPLOMACY: Margaret Thatcher with Charlie Haughey in May, 1980 (Photo: Keystone/Getty Images)
A MATTER OF DIPLOMACY: Princess Diana with Prince William in July 1982, (Photo: Snowdon/Camera Press)
A MATTER OF DIPLOMACY: Julian Assange

Christmas always comes a week late for historians, with the release of the State papers, an event which is now as traditional as All-Ireland final Sunday or the presentation of the shamrock to the US president on St Patrick's Day.

Each year, another tranche of official papers is taken out of cold storage at the National Archives, where they've been languishing for decades, and formally handed back to the nation. Historians blow off the dust and get to work. For a few weeks, they're in constant demand, writing scholarly precis for the newspapers or popping up on TV and radio to discuss the significance of each new snippet.

Sometimes what is revealed by the State papers is of undoubted importance. The papers from 1982 released this New Year fleshed out, for instance, the tensions between Ireland and Britain over Northern Ireland and the Falklands conflict; as well as the contrasting closeness between the then government and the Catholic bishops in advance of the abortion referendum.

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