State papers 1993-2003: What files are being released this week?

Official records from Dublin, Belfast and London cover years dominated by planning scandals, the dawn of the Celtic Tiger and a new start for Northern Ireland

Thousands of official documents are being declassified this week in Dublin, Belfast and London spanning the years 1993 to 2003.

The decade began with a change in government when Albert Reynolds was elected taoiseach in January 1993.

That year also saw major social change with the decriminalisation of homosexuality and calls for an easing of abortion ban following the 1992 X case in which attorney general Harry Whelehan was granted an interim injunction preventing a 14-year-old rape victim from travelling to the UK for a termination of her pregnancy. The order was set aside after a Supreme Court appeal.

Whelehan was again at the centre of controversy in 1994 – this time over the handling of an extradition request for paedophile priest Brendan Smyth to Northern Ireland. It saw Whelehan being forced to resign as president of the High Court after just two days in office, while Reynolds’ government also collapsed.

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Irish culture was riding high internationally – Ireland won four out of five Eurovision Song Contests in the years up to 1996 (the last year to see an Irish victory), Roddy Doyle won the Booker Prize (in 1993) and Seamus Heaney the Nobel Prize for Literature (in 1995).

Economically, the decade got off to a rocky start as a European currency crisis led to the Irish pound being devalued by 10 per cent in February 1993.

Mortgage interest rates were running at 16 per cent at the start of that year and the average price of a house was €68,275 (when converted to euro), according to CSO data.

1993 was also a year of planning scandals – The Irish Times ran a series of articles by Mark Brennock and Frank McDonald on abuses of the planning process. One front page headline read “Cash in brown paper bags for councillors”. Four years later, amid further investigations by media outlets, the Flood tribunal was set up - later becoming the Mahon tribunal.

The term “Celtic Tiger” was first used in 1994 in a report by economist Kevin Gardiner as the shoots of Ireland’s economic growth appeared. This coincided with deeper European Union integration – the punt was replaced by the euro in 2002.

The Troubles continued to dominate Anglo-Irish affairs. In 1998 the Belfast Agreement brought an end to years sectarian violence. However, the slow pace of progress in decommissioning by the Provisional IRA and loyalist paramilitaries led to the first of many political crises at Stormont.

Documents released by the National Archives this week comprise records for some government departments for 1993 and Anglo-Irish files from 1994-2003. They will be available for public inspection at the archives at Bishop Street, Dublin 8, from January 2nd 2024.

Official documents are normally released for public viewing in the Republic after 30 years but this gap is being reduced on a phased basis to 20 years due to legislative change in 2018.

The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (Proni) is also phasing in a 20-year rule to bring it in line with the British national archives.

Files released by Proni this year mainly cover 2001. Their counterparts in Kew are releasing British cabinet office files for 2003, although much of the material relates to the years immediately preceding that.

Included in the files are records relating to the troubled birth of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which was suspended in October 2002 over allegations of an IRA spy ring in Stormont.

Ongoing disagreements over implementation of the Belfast Agreement meant the assembly was not restored until 2007. It has been suspended twice since – between 2017-2020 and from May 2022 to date.

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