Independent historians to write a ‘public history’ of Northern Ireland

A group of independent historians are to write a “public history” of Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

Prominent academics Lord Bew and Dr Caoimhe Nic Dhaibheid are set to be involved in the initiative announced by Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris.

The independent Public History project will see up to five historians granted full access to UK state archives, to provide an independent and authoritative examination of the UK Government’s policy towards Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

David Trimble funeral
Lord Bew will be among the historians taking part in the initiative (Liam McBurney/PA)

Lord Bew and Dr Nic Dhaibheid will co-chair an independent advisory panel, representing a range of expertise and historical perspectives, that will make recommendations on key details of the project, including the selection of historians to write the Public History.

Northern Ireland Office minister Lord Caine met panel members ahead of their first formal meeting in London this week.

Mr Heaton-Harris said the project will allow a full examination of the Troubles.

“By opening up Government files to independent historians, including the records of previous administrations and those held across different departments and agencies, this Public History will help allow for a fuller examination of the Troubles than has ever been possible before,” he said.

“I am grateful to Lord Bew, Dr Caoimhe Nic Dhaibheid and the panel members, whose exceptional knowledge and insight will play a key role in advancing public understanding of Northern Ireland’s difficult past.”

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Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said the project will allow a full examination of the Troubles (James Manning/PA)

Lord Bew said he had long advocated for a public history and opening up sensitive information to scholars in the interest of securing a fuller picture of the state’s role during the Troubles.

“I am delighted to co-chair this varied panel of eminent historians, which is reflective of the broad consultation we have had with over 40 academics. I am grateful to everyone who has taken the time to share their views, which have shaped the form of this project,” he said.

Dr Nic Dhaibheid added: “As an historian, I am supportive of any endeavour to widen access to archival sources. I welcome the Government’s commitment to doing so via a transparent and rigorous process, and following extensive consultation with the academic community.”

“In line with the recommendations made by Sir Joseph Pilling, this panel is eager to engage with as broad a constituency as possible during the course of this project and I look forward to collaborating with researchers across these islands in the coming months.”