Previously secret records relating to the 1981 Hunger Strike reveal that the then Bishop of Derry, Dr. Edward Daly, told the British Government its hardline policy had only “succeeded in putting the IRA back into business.”
The new selection of material deals with the year 1981 - one of the most traumatic years of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’ - and covers such topics as the republican hunger strike, Anglo-Irish relations as well as ongoing political and security matters relating to Northern Ireland.
One item of local interest is a letter from Dr Edward Daly to Lord Elton, the then Education Minister, in which the Derry bishop describes the overall situation as “most depressing”.
His letter, dated May 18, 1981 - during the height of the Long Kesh protest - goes on: “I feel that Mrs. Thatcher has succeeded in putting the IRA back into business as regards recruits and support.
“Whilst the present policy may have short-term success, I fear that it will be disastrous in the long term.”
At the time of Dr. Daly’s letter, two prisoners had already died on hunger strike. Two more - including Derry man Patsy O’Hara - would die within days and a further six before the end of that summer.
Culture Minister Caral Ní Chuilín, who launched the new resource, believes the material provides “valuable additional research material for students, citizens and researchers.”
She added: “In the period ahead, I wish to see even greater access to public records since this can only help to enhance our understanding of the past.”
Dr Brendan Lynn, CAIN Deputy Director, added: “The information is easily available and free of charge.
“We believe it will of great use to students, researchers, teachers and lecturers or to anyone with an interest in the political and social history of Northern Ireland.”
The newly declassified documents - which are now available online - have been added to the Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN) website as part of ongoing work between the University of Ulster and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI).
Staff from the University and PRONI have worked together to make the records freely available on http://cain.ulster.ac.uk/proni.
In October 2010, an initial selection of records for the years 1968 to 1979 was made available. This was made up of hundreds of government records, formerly classified as restricted or secret.
The CAIN website has received more than 15 million visits since it was launched in March 1997.