PRONI Records on CAIN
Launch - 6 October 2010
Members of the panel at the launch at the University of Ulster's Magee campus of the PRONI public records on the CAIN Web site: (front left to right) Aileen McClintock, Director PRONI and Sir Ken Bloomfield, along with (rear left to right) Dr Brendan Lynn, Deputy Director CAIN, and Professor Gillian Robinson, Director ARK.
Address by Sir Ken Bloomfield
Address by Aileen McClintock
A new online resource that gives the public access to recently declassified secret records from the early years of the ‘Troubles’ has been launched by the University of Ulster and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland today.
Staff from Ulster and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) have worked together to make the records freely available on the University of Ulster’s CAIN (Conflict Archive on the INternet) website (cain.ulster.ac.uk/proni).
The records cover a broad range of issues including security, politics and education. They comprise a selection of material for the period 1968-79 which is already in the public domain, having been published under the “30 year rule” – the time frame within which official documents are kept hidden from public gaze.
The records provide a valuable online digital resource for researchers looking for information on the ‘Troubles’ and politics of Northern Ireland during this period.
The new archive was officially launched by Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, a former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, at an event in the Great Hall, Magee. The records include part of the period when he was a senior government official.
Dr Brendan Lynn, Deputy Director of CAIN, which is based at the Magee campus, said: “We have been delighted to cooperate with PRONI in order to add to and supplement the existing resources on CAIN. It has also allowed CAIN to pursue one of its long-term objectives of working with individuals, groups or organisations with relevant material to make digital versions of their materials more accessible to a wider audience.
“The information is easily available and free of charge. It will be of great use to students, researchers, teachers and lecturers or to anyone with an interest in the political and social history of Northern Ireland.”
Aileen McClintock, Director of PRONI, said: “This resource provides researchers based anywhere in the world with direct access to some of the key documents held by PRONI relating to the Troubles.
“These records are the raw material of history and will let students evaluate important events and personalities for themselves. PRONI is keen to work in partnership and this has been a particularly successful collaboration with CAIN, which will be of real benefit to researchers. “
The aim of this pilot project, called ‘PRONI Records On CAIN’, was to make a limited selection of material released by PRONI under its ‘Annual Release Scheme’, available to a wider audience.
This collection is the latest resource to be added to the continually expanding materials available on CAIN - the internationally recognised resource on the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’.
Note to Editors
- For further information contact Sinead Johnson, Press Officer, University of Ulster (028) 90368390 or the Communications Office, Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Tel (028) 9051 5047 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- The CAIN website provides an extensive range of information and source material on the conflict and politics of Northern Ireland from 1968 to the present day. The site is used by a worldwide audience and has received over 14 million visits since it was launched in March 1997.
- CAIN is a component of ARK (Access Research Knowledge, http://www.ark.ac.uk/) a resource providing access to social and political material on Northern Ireland that inform social and political debate in the region and raises the profile of social science research. ARK is based within the University of Ulster and Queen’s University, Belfast, and is currently core funded by the Economic and Social Research Institute.
- The Economic and Social Research Council is the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s planned total expenditure in 2009/10 is £204 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk
- The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) is a division of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, and is the official archive for Northern Ireland. It aims to identify and preserve records of historical, social and cultural importance and make them available for the information, education and enjoyment of the public.
- PRONI closed to the public at its Balmoral Avenue site on September 3, 2010 as it began moving 40 kilometres of archives to new premises at Titanic Quarter. The new state-of-the art building is due to open to the public in April 2011.
For further information, please contact:
Telephone: 028 90368390
Email: Sinead Johnson
Address by Sir Ken Bloomfield at the Launch of PRONI Records on CAIN, 6 October 2010
I am pleased to be here today for a number of reasons. There has never been a time when alliances and partnerships have been more important, and the partners in this exciting enterprise come from the two worlds in which I have spent much of my working life; the first four decades working for governments, both national and devolved, and the next couple in close contact with education, in particular as the first chairman of our Higher Education Council. And I have the happiest memories of many visits to Magee, where we have always been received with the greatest hospitality and kindness. As someone who sat at cabinet meetings many years ago, listening to a debate on what long-term future (if any) Magee would have, it is exhilarating to find this historic city a most important centre of higher education, and at a time when the city as a whole has been chosen to be a cultural beacon. The Public Record Office hold the detailed minutes of cabinet discussions about Magee over many years, with government, the Lockwood Committee, the University Grants Committee, the Magee trustees and the Presbyterian Church amongst the protagonists.
The government partner is PRONI, the Public Record Office for Northern Ireland. I have known down the years not a few of the distinguished Deputy Keepers like Kenneth Darwin and Brian Trainor. This is, as it happens, the bicentenary year of my old school, the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, and amongst our famous sons we take pride in Sir Samuel Ferguson, knighted in 1878 for his services as Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland. One of Ireland’s greatest tragedies, to rank with the destruction of the famed library of Alexandria, was the holocaust of Irish records at the Four Courts. Now our PRONI pauses before it takes possession of new premises meeting its contemporary needs. I confess that I will preserve a certain nostalgia for the welcoming and somehow cosy premises in which I as a latter-day amateur historian, have spent many happy and fulfilling hours. I confess that after I had filled in the request slip and was awaiting the arrival of the papers I sought, I would often dip at random into one or other of the serried volumes of the DNB; and it is a happy accident that its current editor is a History don at my old college and has agreed to speak next month at our prize day.
The university partner is, of course, CAIN. We all remember the famous passage from Dickens: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times”. I have often commented that I became a civil servant in 1952 expecting to operate in a relatively quiet and obscure backwater, but that the gale of events, some inevitable and some readily avoidable with more wisdom, blew us into the turbulent mainstream of history, to encounters with prime ministers and presidents and every living journalist of renown. One of the standard trick questions is: “Do we ever learn from history?” The repetition of fatuous error by oneself and others gives reason to doubt, but starvation is inevitable if there is nothing available to consume. And to a remarkable degree, and in a huge enterprise, CAIN has collected and made available the muscle and sinew, indeed the very DNA, of our sad disorders.
Of course, this field of endeavour, like so many others, has been transformed by developing technology. The collaboration between PRONI and CAIN will allow the scholar, or the lay interested person, whether in Stranocum, San Francisco or Singapore, to see on the screen the individual bricks from which the history of our times can be constructed. For me, and I have already sampled the material, which is only a fraction of what will become accessible by these means, it has a dual fascination.
Close though I was to the centre of events for quite a long time, some of these documents are new to me, informative and occasionally surprising. While others have at the bottom the unmistakable, if not always very legible, signature “K.P. BLOOMFIELD” it should not be assumed that the content is immediately familiar. Recently, for example, that most excellent local historian Jonathan Bardon, in a revealing book about the struggle for integrated education, reproduced a memorandum which I have no recollection whatever of having written. Happily, when I read the views of this doppelganger, I rather approve of them.
I found myself at a hearing of the Bloody Sunday Tribunal reminded of tense situations many years ago. One appreciates the fragility of memory, which makes the contemporary written record so important. An honest man or woman, confronted by a contemporary diary, would have to admit to some loss of perspective at the time. Whatever the position in the spiritual sphere, claims of infallibility in the temporal sphere are to be regarded with the greatest scepticism.
These fascinating documents are part of the truth of our times, but can never be the whole truth. The written report, of (let us say) a meeting between Liam Cosgrave and Brian Faulkner, is not a verbatim record but a summary, lacking the tone and atmosphere in which such words were exchanged.
From 1963 to 1972 I drafted minutes of the meetings of the Northern Ireland cabinet. In accordance with previous practice I would record the contributions to the discussion, identifying the speakers by the office held; the Minister of Education said this or the Minister of Finance said that. During the all-too-brief life of the power-sharing Executive of 1974 we adopted a more reticent practice. We would indicate the competing views prior to a conclusion, but avoided identifying the sources. We were frankly nervous of readers picking holes in the flimsy fabric of coalition. I wonder how the secretariat in London react to the unfamiliar reality of coalition in Britain.
And I have worries for future historians. Freedom of Information laws can encourage reticence as much as enable disclosure. The rich tradition of letter-writing is superseded by the swift e-mail. We will, I fear, never see again anything like the letters written at the cabinet table during the First World War from H.H. Asquith to Venetia Stanley. Where would readable history be without indiscretion?
On the other hand, the whole concept of “official secrets” outside certain areas of great sensitivity becomes ever more unreal. When I wrote a memoir in 1994 I was careful not to remove the veil from various sensitive events, and many years passed before I was comfortable to be frank about controversial matters. Now, it seems, former ministers are hardly out of the cabinet room before entering into discussion with publishing houses about broadcasting the peculiarities and failings of their very recent colleagues. I think that decency rather than truth is at issue here, since we never believed all cabinet colleagues, even in a single-party government, loved and trusted each other.
As an avid reader and an occasional writer of history, and as a possible minor footnote in the history of our times, I congratulate PRONI and CAIN on a partnership which brings together the skills of the archivist, the historian and the technologist. You have wrapped a present for the future.
Address by Aileen McClintock at the Launch of PRONI Records on CAIN, 6 October 2010
Good afternoon and thank you to Professor Gillian Robinson for giving me the opportunity to say a few words today.
I am delighted to be involved in the launch of this important new online archive resource – PRONI records on CAIN.
As many of you will know, PRONI is the custodian of a broad range of historical records and we are perhaps best known for genealogy. However as the national archives for Northern Ireland, we have been receiving records of Government since the early 1920s and making them available for research.
I am keen to promote wider access to these official files, which not only record the business of government via the decisions of politicians and civil servants (on which I am sure Sir Kenneth Bloomfield will comment further) but also contain details about the wider community. The Northern Ireland files provide a real insight into what was happening on the streets of Northern Ireland and help us to understand our present from our past.
This resource covers a wide range of official files, primarily charting the period 1968-1979 and relate to key activities such as civil rights, internment, the introduction of direct rule, power-sharing, education, prisons and so on.
The documents reveal what happened at the time and what might have been, in a constantly changing situation.
This is the raw material of history and will let students and researchers evaluate key events and personalities for themselves. This is of critical importance when history is often used by our communities to present or misrepresent particular views and traditions.
This launch of this resource provides researchers based anywhere in the world with direct access to some of the key documents held by PRONI relating to the Troubles. I hope this will whet their appetite to visit Northern Ireland and perhaps include a visit to PRONI’s new premises in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter when it opens next Spring.
The investment of £29.5 m in this state of the art building highlights the commitment of the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure to the work of PRONI across its functions and will ensure that PRONI is equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
The decant of some 40 kilometers of records is underway and we are set to re-open to the public in April 2011.
CAIN is an acknowledged first class resource, and one which is used by my PRONI colleagues in their own research, so I am pleased that we have been able to co-operate so effectively on this project.
I would particularly like to thank Dr Brendan Lynn who spent many days in PRONI selecting the documents from the official files and then worked with his colleagues to ensure these were presented appropriately.
Effective collaboration such as this is essential in the current budgetary environment and PRONI is keen to work in partnerships such as this which will be of real benefit to researchers.
Finally, than you again to CAIN and I commend this new resource to everyone here today. I am confident that it will attract visitors to CAIN and to PRONI.