Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Release of state files crucial to democracy

The annual release of state papers give a fascinating glimpse into the thinking of diplomats and ministers at certain points in recent history. Due to the passage of time we know how things played out, but what the hitherto secret documents reveal is why governments acted in the way they did based on the various sources of information which they had gathered.

This year's release of papers from the Irish Government contains one astounding claim - that Gerry Adams set up the IRA gang that was shot dead at Loughgall. The rumour passed on to officials in Dublin by Fr Denis Faul, now deceased, was that Adams feared some members of that hardline unit were considering shooting him because of his attempts to move the Provos away from violence and towards politics.

Another astonishing claim was that the Israelis believed the late Rev Ian Paisley was trying to import guns to the province in the 1980s as IRA violence increased following its arms shipments from Libya. This was later believed to be a misunderstanding by the Israelis of Dr Paisley's real intentions of creating greater border surveillance.

What the papers show is that during the Troubles it was often difficult to separate fact from fiction, and the dirty war spawned all sorts of conspiracy theories.

Formulating a coherent political response to the violence was made more difficult since much of the information about IRA or loyalist intentions was based on speculation and rumour as well as fact.

Yet we should be grateful that both the British and Irish Governments take democracy sufficiently seriously to ensure that these papers are released annually.

They can on occasion contain information which is embarrassing to the administrations, but are invaluable as the first draft of history.

And on that point it is important to laud the role of newspapers in particular, but also other media, for doing the heavy lifting when it comes to sifting through the blizzard of documents released annually.

At a time when the media is accused of selling fake news, the work of trawling through state papers and bringing important elements of them to the public's attention cannot be underestimated.

If it was not for the media, the public would remain ignorant of the content of these documents, having to wait until historians or other academics decided to publish their research, often years later.

Belfast Telegraph

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