Posted By: March 26, 2018

The UK refuses to reveal secret Irish history guide given to ministers

Brian Hutton. The Times. London. Monday, March 26, 2018

The British government is refusing to disclose a secret version of Irish history that it hands to Northern Ireland secretaries when they take office.

The dossier covers more than 800 years of turbulent events on the island of Ireland and its relationship with Britain. The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) said it would not be in the public interest to reveal the file after a freedom of information request.

Darragh O’Brien, Fianna Fail’s foreign affairs spokesman, said the refusal was “more than curious” and suggested the NIO could not support its account of events.

“It would raise one’s suspicions as to why they deem that their version of history is something that they couldn’t publicize,” he said. “I could stand over what is my view and my party’s version, and I’m not saying everyone would have to agree with it, but I could stand over it.”

Mr. O’Brien said he would understand if sensitive parts needed to be redacted, “but not releasing the whole document to me is rather curious, to put it mildly.”

He added: “It would be of interest to all to know what is the British government’s official version of Irish history. If they can stand over it, well why wouldn’t they release it?”

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP’s justice, and a legacy spokesman said there were so many versions of Irish history that the public would have little interest in the NIO’s account.

“No doubt if it was published there would be many who would take issue with their version, I doubt we are going to get an agreement on Irish history at this juncture,” he said.

“All it would do is open up a debate that frankly is futile because, in the end, we are not going to agree on many of the things that happened in the past and the interpretation of those events.” Diarmaid Ferriter, the historian, and UCD lecturer said some secretaries of state arrived as a “complete blank page” on Irish affairs and divulging what they were told would add to the public understanding on decision-making.

“Wouldn’t we all love to know what way they spin history,” he said. “I’m already ascribing a negative motive, but in the absence of the public being allowed to see it, you can only speculate as to what’s in it. I’d love to see it.”

The documents were alluded to by Theresa Villiers, the former secretary of state, in an interview with the UK’s Institute for Government think tank. In it, she said: “When I arrived [in Northern Ireland] they gave me the whole transition set of papers including a history of the island of Ireland from 1171, which says a lot. Some people think that is when the trouble started and others say it is much earlier than that.”

The NIO accepted that disclosing the potted history would give a better understanding of decision-making, but said this was of “modest weight” compared with arguments against releasing the papers.

“This information was provided with a provided to ensure ministers had a written briefing supporting their induction into the department,” a spokesman added.

The decision is being appealed.

Daniel McCrossan, the SDLP West Tyrone MLA, said it “beggars belief that the British government believes it’s not in the public interest” to disclose the documents.

“If the British government wants to show the entire community, not just those who vote for the DUP, that it is committed to working in the interests of all peoples across these islands hand in hand with the Irish government it should be transparent,” he said.