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UK's 100-year-old list of Irish spies to stay secret over dissident republican revenge fears

By Ralph Riegel

Published 07/09/2015

The Irish historian asked for the Home Office, Metropolitan Police and the UK Information Commissioners to release the file
The Irish historian asked for the Home Office, Metropolitan Police and the UK Information Commissioners to release the file

The British Government is refusing to release archive material on paid Irish police informants from over 100 years ago - amid fears their descendants could be shunned or even targeted by dissident republicans.

Irish historian Barry Keane argued the 100-year-old files may hold vital clues to such critical events in Ireland as the Phoenix Park murders of 1882 and precisely what Britain knew about plans for a rising in the years before 1916.

"I believe this file is absolutely critical to our accurate knowledge of major events in Irish history and there is clearly no reason why it cannot be released," he said.

"It is patently obvious that anyone mentioned in this file is now long since deceased."

However, a Freedom of Information tribunal rejected Mr Keane's appeal against the refusal by the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police to release the files.

Mr Keane said he was shocked when evidence was offered by a counter-terrorism expert from behind a screen despite the fact the last surviving subject in the archive file died more than 60 years ago.

His appeal was later rejected by a two-to-one majority. The reasons cited included the damage to the UK's ability to recruit informants, exposing their Irish descendants to boycott or even possible targeting by dissident republicans.

The majority "believed it is by no means fanciful to suggest that on revelation that a person's ancestor was an informer, elements of the local community might choose to shun him or her, causing them distress".

However, the tribunal minority accepted all of Mr Keane's arguments that not to release information of such antiquity "simply fails a very basic common sense test".

Mr Keane had told the tribunal that it was ridiculous to suggest members of the Provisional IRA, Real IRA, Continuity IRA and other versions of the IRA would act on information over 100 years old against the descendants of people long since dead.

Mr Keane and barrister Brian Leahy launched the challenge at a special tribunal in London.

The Irish duo asked the commissioners to direct the Home Office, the Metropolitan Police and the UK Information Commissioners to release the full contents of the file discovered in 2013.

The file was entitled 'Paid Informants in Irish Secret Societies 1886-1910' and was unearthed by the historian during research in the UK National Archive.

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