British government refuses to release information about Irish spies
The UK government is refusing to release 100-year-old documents that could give us a greater understanding of the events in the late 19th century as well as the build up to the Easter Rising.
The file is titled ‘Paid Informants in Irish Secret Societies 1886-1910’ and was discovered by Cork historian Barry Keane in 2013 as he was carrying out research in the UK National Archive.
The British Home Office and the Metropolitan Police are refusing to release the files.
Keane appealed against the decision but his case was rejected by the UK Freedom of Information tribunal by a two to one majority.
A UK counter-terrorism expert gave evidence from behind a screen at the tribunal, despite the fact that the last surviving subject in the file died over 60 years ago.
Keane believes that the documents include vital evidence that would give us a better understanding of some of the key events in Irish history.
Keane told the Irish Independent: “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.”
“It is patently obvious that anyone mentioned in this file is now long since deceased.”
However, the British government has said that it won’t give up the documents and that it could cause heartache and trouble for the descendants of the spies.
It said that the descendants could be shunned or even targeted by ‘dissident republicans’. Another reason given was that it would also make it more difficult for the UK to recruit informants.
The majority at the tribunal 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.”
The minority had agreed with Keane’s argument that it was ridiculous to suggest that members of the Provisional IRA, Real IRA, Continuity IRA and other versions of the IRA would persecute anybody due to information that is over 100 years old.
They said that to withhold the documents, some of which are 127 years old ‘simply fails a very basic common-sense test’.