The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, T.D., has received the Interim Report of the Archives Advisory Group. The Group, which is chaired by Professor Mary Daly, UCD and includes a number of eminent Irish historians, was appointed by the Minister in February of this year to:
- Advise the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the historical value of the archive of national security records which it holds, or are under its control, which are over 30 years old;
- Advise the Department on the arrangements it could put in place to make these records available for the purpose of advancing bona fide research, including any guidelines and conditions that could be applied by the Department in granting access to the records for that purpose.
The Group's key recommendation is for the transfer of these records to the National Archives, in stages over the next 12 months. This would follow the completion of the formal certification procedures, as set out in the National Archives Act, 1986. This development will ensure that historians, researchers and the general public can have unrestricted access to this important historical archive.
The Tánaiste congratulated the Group on its painstaking work to date and noted "This Report deals with records held by the Department relating to security and Northern Ireland matters from the foundation of the State up to 1956. By any standards this archive represents a veritable treasure trove of material from the perspective of Irish historians.
The Department of Justice has long been stereotyped as a secretive and closed institution. In fact my initiative to open up the records to public access has been strongly supported by the senior officials in the Department and it is gratifying that the Group's conclusions have vindicated and confirmed my own view, and that of my officials, as to the historical value and significance of this archive."
The Group has adopted the Opinion of its legal member, Dr. Gerard Hogan, SC., on the interpretation of certain provisions in the National Archives Act, 1986, under which Certifying Officers in Departments can certify that particular records, which are over 30 years old, should continue to be withheld from public inspection.
The Tánaiste believes that this legal advice will be of great value to Certifying Officers in Government Departments in discharging a particularly difficult aspect of their work.
He also confirmed that he and his officials will fully implement the recommendation made by the Group to put in place a standing arrangement to ensure that Certifying Officers in the Department will be guided henceforth by professional advice on archival matters, particularly where there are difficult issues over release decisions.
The Tánaiste has also agreed to the Group's proposal, in the next phase of its work, to examine later records in the same archive which are over 30 years old, as well as looking at other categories of records held by the Department which are over 30 years old.
He looks forward to receiving further reports on the Group's work. The Tánaiste concluded "The end result of this exercise is that several new chapters of Ireland's 'secret history' in the twentieth century will now be put before the Irish people."
The Report will be available on the Department's website this afternoon.
25 September, 2006.
Notes for Editors
The Archives Advisory Group comprises the following persons:
Professor Mary Daly, Principal, College of Arts and Celtic Studies, UCD
Professor Ronan Fanning, Professor of Modern History, UCD
Professor Dermot Keogh, Professor of History, UCC
Professor Eunan O Halpin, Professor of Contemporary History, TCD
Dr. Gerard Hogan, Lecturer in Law, Law School, TCD
Dr. Margaret O'Callaghan, Lecturer in Politics, Queens University, Belfast.
Mr. Thomas Quinlan, Senior Archivist, Head of Records Acquisition, National Archives
Mr. Val O'Donnell, former Assistant Secretary, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform