Dáil Éireann - Volume 479 - 13 May, 1997
Ceisteanna—Questions. - Irish Genealogical Project.
Mr. B. Ahern Mr. B. Ahern
1. Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on the Irish Genealogical Project, sponsored by his Department up to August 1996. [12040/97]
The Taoiseach John Bruton
The Taoiseach: The Comptroller and Auditor General wrote to the Secretary of my Department on 7 September 1995, advising that he wished to carry out a detailed value for money study of the Irish Genealogical Project.
The main issues to be examined were: whether prior appraisal of the project was adequate; the extent to which the project had achieved its objectives within time and budgetary targets, and the systems and procedures established for managing the project.
The result of that study is the report on value for money examination of the Irish Genealogical Project which I laid before the Dáil on 22 April 1997.
In the study, the Comptroller and Auditor General concentrated on the extent to which the project had succeeded in creating a computer database which would provide a family history research service and the study also examined the management of the project.
The study concluded, inter alia, that by the end of July 1996 just over 29 per cent of the estimated 29 million records had been included in the database and that monitoring of progress in implementing the project had been ineffective.
I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the report. It provides a committed and hardworking team of genealogy tourism service providers throughout Ireland with an independent assessment of how improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of their operation can be put in place in the years ahead. Focusing as it does on the effectiveness of the management of the project and the extent to which it has succeeded in creating the computer database, it highlights  several important needs. Chief among these is the need for the project to establish clear targets and to periodically assess progress relative to those targets. As the report itself acknowledges, following the appointment of a chairperson and chief executive officer to Irish Genealogy Ltd. — IGL — a company established to function as the project's central co-ordinating agency — clear targets have now been set for the creation of a central referral index and for the development of a marketing plan for the project. The research methodology employed in the compilation of the report provides a sound basis on which IGL will continue to plan and monitor progress.
As stated on page 32 of the report, recent management developments in the project are designed to ensure that the necessary leadership and direction are provided to build on the expertise, energy and enthusiasm of the many participants engaged in the project, whether in the Irish Family History Foundation centres, or as members of the professional genealogists associations North and South, or in IGL and to ensure that the objective of providing a comprehensive family history research service, based on a countrywide network of centres and independent professional genealogists, is brought to completion.
The Irish Genealogical project will build this service for posterity which will be to the benefit of countless future generations of people of Irish ancestry.
Mr. B. Ahern Mr. B. Ahern
Mr. B. Ahern: As the Taoiseach will be aware, I was actively involved ten years ago in the establishment of the Genealogical Office and its services by one of his predecessors and in its endeavours to initiate various schemes and programmes in parishes nationwide to build on its records. I too welcome the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Is it the Taoiseach's understanding that the Comptroller and Auditor General undertook its preparation because the demands on its services could not be met? With the huge interest by tourists in this issue — the National Library informs me that a huge number now check baptismal and other family records to trace their roots — does the Taoiseach agree it is time we recruited some trained genealogists to raise the standard of the services and expertise and to ensure its computerised information data is of the highest possible standard?
The Taoiseach John Bruton
The Taoiseach: At present 65 full-time staff are employed overseeing the collection of the data. There are 39 full-time and 27 part-time genealogical researchers in the centres and 24 independent genealogists working for them in respect of the service. In addition, 516 trainees, co-ordinators and researchers from FÁS are working under the appropriate supervision. There is a very significant staffing commitment.
In attempting to put this data on computer and assemble it in a co-ordinated form for the first time, the Government of the day entered unchartered  territory. Unduly optimistic expectations were probably expressed about how quickly this work could be done when it commenced, which was recognised in the report. There were also a number of difficulties. All offices were not set up at the same time and some were slower than others to be set up. As of July 1996, parts of the country had not yet been covered by centres, particularly south Cork, Wicklow, Monaghan and Louth, which explains part of the non-capture of the records. It has proven more difficult to gain access to some of the targeted records. The 1911 census, for example, was expected to be more accessible than it has proven to be. I understand the same is the case with the General Register Office data from the Department of Health.
It is not good enough that only 29 per cent of the targeted records have been entered after this length of time and there is a need for improvement. Targets have been set to ensure the project, while maintaining the necessary local autonomy and enthusiasm which is the secret of its success, is managed in a more pro-active way so that the work will be done as quickly as possible and we will be able to offer a comprehensive service covering the entire country to visitors, no matter where their ancestors lived.
Dáil Éireann 479 Ceisteanna—Questions. Irish Genealogical Project.