As stated by the fictional character of Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes Minister ‘Open Government is a contradiction in terms. You can be open, or you can have government. The Thirty Year rule is a good example of this situation.
The thirty year rule allows for the release of Cabinet Documents after the efflux of a thirty year period from the year in which they were created. Section 10 of the National Archives Act allows for the inspection of records except where they are less than 30 years old (s.10.1 (a)) or older than 30 years where their release may be contrary to the public interest, breach of statutory duty or cause damage or distress to living persons (s. 8.4). The documents which are the subject to the provisions of s 8.4 can be reviewed after a period five years by a member of the Government Department responsible for the records. Furthermore, under s.10.6 a Minister, or member of Government, is entitled to grant access to departmental document prior to the elapse of this thirty year time period. This section was used in 1992 to allow for the release of Cabinet Documents in the wake of the confusion of the Hamilton Judgment.
In England, the release of Government and Public Documents is governed by the Public Records Acts 1958 and 1967. The original time limit for the retention of Government documents without exceptional circumstances was 50 years. However, the Public Records Act 1967 changed it to the Thirty Year Rule as known today. The release of documents is further controlled by the ability to further restrict documents on grounds similar to the Irish National Archives Act 1986. These grounds restricted the release of information which could cause distress or embarrassment to living persons or their descendants, information received in confidence by the Government, certain papers relating to Ireland and certain Commonwealth documents and papers of a sensitive nature to the State.
However, Freedom of Information has changed the position slightly. In England the changes are not as dramatic as the Irish Situation. In the Original Freedom of Information Act 1997 cabinet papers could be the subject of an FOI (Freedom of Information) request after five years. Of course the request would be subject to the usual restrictions but it was an element of progress. However, the amendment act of 2003 pushed this time limit to 10 years. Therefore documents relating to Cabinet Records from April 1998 could be requested in line with general Freedom of Information Requests.
The English procedures with regard to the release of Government Information were not the only aspect of Whitehall style cabinet procedures that turned Merrion Street into a carbon copy of Whitehall practices. The adoption of the procedures of the nearest and closest relative to a jurisdiction is fine and well at the embryonic stages of democracy. However the point must be asked if the English system which is controlled by the over arching principal of Parliamentary Soverenity is the most apt for a representative democracy, like Ireland, that is founded on the people being the source of power. Therefore in a broad context of political reform the information relationship between the citizens and the Government is developing but should be under constant review.