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Annual releases

Selection of guides available in the PRONI search room Volumes in a PRONI strongroom Visitors conducting research in the PRONI reading room

What is the PRONI Annual Release?

The annual release of selected official files continues against a background of greater public access through the Freedom of Information Act (2000), balanced against the need to protect personal information.  The FOI Act (2000) created a new access to information regime and all records were reviewed in accordance with both that Act and the Data Protection Act (1998).
The files are being released under the 30/20 Year Rule.
Annually since 1976, official records held by PRONI which were 30 years old have been reviewed with a view to making them publicly available (“the 30 year rule").  In September 2011, the Assembly accepted a Legislative Consent Motion to reduce the time limit for release from 30 years to 20 years (“the 20 year Rule”). This is underpinned by the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the amendments made to it by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.
The 20 year rule is being phased in over 10 years, with two years worth of records being reviewed and released each year.  This year sees the records of NI Departments and the NIO with terminal dates of 1987 being released in August 2015 and the records of 1988 brought forward in December 2015.
This involves the referral of the files to the responsible authority for sensitivity review. This entails a page by page examination to ensure that a record contains nothing sensitive as defined by the FOI Act and DP Act.
Records Released – December 2015
464 files being deemed as suitable for release as “fully open”.  A further 156 files are open but subject to blanking out of some content. 91 files remain closed in full, the bulk of which are individual prisoner files.
The main file series being released includes Central Secretariat and Northern Ireland Office files.
Some of the main issues covered by the 1988 release include:
  • Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council (A.I.I.C)
  • Meetings with NI political parties and other groups
  • Economic cooperation and negotiations (involving Ireland, UK, USA and Europe)
  • The MacBride Principles (on discrimination in the workplace)
  • High level and operational security matters (including on the border and within the penal system)
  • Child abuse (repercussions resulting from investigations and Public Inquiry)
  • Pollution
  • United Nations Convention Against Torture
  • The Travelling Community
  • Soviet Union – interest in the NI prison system
  • Black Taxi operations
  • Psychopathic patients – NI Mental Health legislation
  • Paramilitary financing
  • Homelessness
  • Women and rape
  • Community relations
Records may be closed either fully or in part only. Blanking out involves the removal of a limited number of papers from the file that have been deemed as exempt from the right to know under FOI. To facilitate the release of as much information as possible, redaction can be used to blank out sensitive data within individual documents that would otherwise prevent release. All information which is withheld in the manner outlined above, however, must be retained in accordance with the exemptions contained within the FOI Act. In the majority of cases, the reason for extended closure was the application of section 40 – the personal information exemption – of the FOI Act. This means that personal information is exempt from the right to know if it would breach the Data Protection principles.
Please note that any file reference which ends with an ‘A’ denotes an open part of a file which has had certain information partially removed or blanked out under a specified FOI Exemption.
More recently, PRONI publishes:
A full list of all files brought forward for release in a given year, containing:
  • Access decision
  • PRONI reference number
  • File covering dates
  • Short description (usually no more than one line)
  • Department file number
A highlights list of ‘opened’ files which may be of particular historical significance, containing:
  • PRONI reference number
  • File covering dates
  • Longer description (usually a paragraph)
  • Department file number
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What was released this year?

2015 Annual releases (end December, 2015)

What was released in previous years?

Files released in previous years are listed in the Annual Releases archive.
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PRONI records on CAIN

A selection of digital versions of documents released under the annual release scheme are available at the University of Ulster’s CAIN (Conflict Archive on the INternet) website Opens a new browser window. .
The records selected by CAIN are ones which relate to the politics and conflict in the region. The records mainly cover the period 1968 to 1984. There are 1041 PRONI public records on the CAIN site comprising approximately 4400 pages.
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Further Information