Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin TD today described the decision to export highly sensitive documents relating to the Irish Peace Process as ill-considered and potentially damaging to the interests of peace and reconciliation. He also questioned the effects of the move on future Irish historical research.
The Fianna Fáil leader has called on the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter TD to clarify why exactly he agreed to donate documents from the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD), the body appointed in 1997 to oversee the process of putting ‘beyond use’ weapons used in the Northern Ireland conflict, to Boston College.
Deputy Martin commented, “The papers relating to the workings of the IICD are highly sensitive given the nature of the organisation’s work. These papers catalogue the details of the engagement of paramilitary groups with the decommissioning process and for reasons of security and safety it is imperative that these papers are not made public for a sufficient period of time. What is of major concern is that these papers have been given to an institution outside the island of Ireland which is now involved in a major controversy about protecting the integrity of its sealed archive.”
Mr Martin referred to ongoing legal proceedings in the United States involving Boston College’s archives. He said that arising from a court action in the United States, Boston College may be compelled to open their archive on the Northern Ireland Oral History Project. He said that clarity is now urgently needed as to whether this has implications for the papers of the IICD also deposited in Boston College.
He continued, “Boston College is an excellent institution with an excellent track record of interest in and support for Irish affairs. However, the fact that there is a question mark over the ability of Boston College to protect sensitive political papers in their archives from premature release is an issue of real concern. Alan Shatter needs to clarify on what basis he agreed to give hugely sensitive papers relating to the decommissioning process in Ireland to Boston College rather than entrust them to the Irish National Archives. He needs to explain whether there are implications for the decommissioning papers arising out of the legal proceedings ongoing in the United States.
“I am calling on him to clarify what measures he has taken to protect the integrity and security of the decommissioning archive.”
Mr Martin also said he disagreed with the decision to give the IICD papers to Boston College from a historical research perspective. He said that he believed that these papers should have been given to an archival institution on the island of Ireland.
“These papers are integral to the history of the Irish peace process and will be of immense historical significance. I strongly believe that they should have been kept on the island of Ireland as they are a key component of our modern history and, in particular, to an understanding of the resolution of the conflict in Northern Ireland.
“There are a host of suitable archives on the island where he could have deposited the papers and which would have been delighted to receive them. I want Alan Shatter to explain why he did not insist on these important records being kept in Ireland. His decision not to keep the papers in Ireland is a bad one in terms of access for future historians and students of the Irish peace process. It means that anyone in the future wishing to undertake serious research on the peace process will, most likely, have to have the financial means to visit Boston. I believe Alan Shatter has shown little regard for Irish historians or the many fine archives we have on the island and he should explain his position.”