Seanad Éireann - Volume 107 - 13 March, 1985
National Archives Bill, 1985: Second Stage.
Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Nealon) Nuala Fennell
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Nealon): The Taoiseach was extremely anxious to introduce this Bill in the Seanad himself. I could say that he was enthusiastic about the opportunity of bringing it before the House. As the Seanad will be aware, he has taken a personal interest in this matter over a long period and is delighted that the Bill has finally reached the floor of the House. However, as regards the suggestion made earlier by Senator  McMahon, in the most polite fashion possible and without being critical of the Taoiseach who is ill, I think he would prefer to gain a week, fortnight, or three weeks by having the Bill introduced now rather than delay it for his presence here.
As I say, the Taoiseach is ill and, while I regret the circumstances — I share the disappointment of Members of the House that he is not present for this occasion — it is of course a privilege for me to introduce this Bill here.
This Bill is the first attempt, since the foundation of the State, to establish a structured basis for the preservation and general care of archival material. Under the Bill, primary responsibility for national archives will be vested in a new institution to be known as the National Archives. The new body will take over the existing functions of the State Paper Office and the Public Record Office and will also be given a range of functions appropriate to modern archival needs.
Archival documentation is the primary source for the study of aspects of history. Since the foundation of the State, the processes of central Government have generated a huge volume of records, and this material is being augmented every day. It consists of records in various formats, varying from traditional files to the software of computer technology. Hitherto, in the absence of national archival legislation, historians have been largely denied access to this material. This has led to the rather anomalous situation whereby the British administrative archives, some of which pertain to Irish affairs, are available for public inspection after 30 years while corresponding Irish papers are not likewise generally available. The incongruous and unsatisfactory result of this situation is that historians, especially those concerned with the study of Anglo-Irish relations and foreign policy, have been obliged to rely almost exclusively on sources outside Ireland, while of course sources existed here also.
The Bill now before the House will implement arrangements for access to those Government records which are  essentially of historical significance rather than of current legal or administrative interests. Under the Bill, the records of Government Departments and offices attached to Government Departments, as well as other major offices of State, will, in future, be made available for public inspection after 30 years. Of course, there will have to be safeguards to ensure that certain sensitive records such as those relating to security or affecting individual privacy may be withheld for longer periods. The specific grounds on which records may be withheld are set out in section 8 of the Bill, which also provides for the review of the grounds for the withholding of such documents at least once every five years.
It is generally acknowledged that one of the potentially most controversial aspects of any policy for release of Government records is the arrangements that will apply to the retention of sensitive records. There may be fears, for example, that documents will be retained to avoid political controversy. However, I believe that the arrangements which have been incorporated in the Bill will remove the issue of release of specific material from the political arena. In addition to specifying the grounds on which records may be withheld, the Bill provides that the certification of records for retention will be a function of departmental officials — to be designated under regulations to be made by the Taoiseach and subject to overall control by officials of the Taoiseach's Department to provide an insurance against possible over-restrictive attitudes by individual Departments. It is intended that these functions will be exercised under regulations to be made under the legislation, only by very senior officials.
My Department have, of course, some experience in the orderly — if limited — release of Government records. This stems from the decision in 1976 by the then Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave, to institute a policy of releasing Government minutes and supporting records more than 30 years old. This represented significant progress, but researchers interested in our political and administrative  history have been largely constrained to examine Cabinet policy in isolation and have been generally precluded from seeing it reflected in the wider administrative interplay with other Departments. This limited form of public access to archival material has so far covered the period up to 1954. This is very useful but it is also very limited and anyone with any experience of Government Departments — even the limited experience I have had in two Departments — can understand how limited and how frustrating it must be for a researcher working in this area, seeking the elaboration of the documents he has, being unable to find it and being forced into the area of conjecture and speculation as to where the document should or could be very readily at hand. In the area of political commentary it might be that the area of speculation and conjecture would prove more interesting, as some of us know, than the actual facts.
A very important feature of the Bill is that it places a positive duty on Government Departments and other related agencies to preserve records which are of archival value. Some may suggest that Government Departments are notorious for hoarding records but the reality is that the volume of records produced in modern Government administration is enormous and there is ever-increasing pressure on Departments to dispose of unwanted records and documents. It must be conceded that, hitherto, little conscious thought has been given to the necessity of implementing positive archival practices to ensure against the destruction of material of potential value to historians.
This Bill sets out to remedy that deficiency. The Bill also indicates the specific, restricted circumstances in which the destruction of departmental records may be permitted — records which are no longer required in connection with the administration of a Department will have to be scrutinised by the Director of the National Archives before they are destroyed — while envisaging special provision for the destruction of routine and repetitious administrative records. I would like to assure this House and the  public alike that under this procedure, which the Taoiseach initiated informally by personal directive some time ago pending enactment of this legislation, decisions concerning destruction of official records will be made with the greatest care and will adhere to a preordained process.
A new National Archives Advisory Council, in respect of the membership of which some specific provisions are made, will be established under the Bill. The council will have a major role in advising on archival matters and this will be particularly crucial in the establishment of the new archival arrangements. It would be unrealistic to expect that teething problems will not arise particularly with regard to the huge volume of records that will become available after enactment of the Bill. The advice of the council on these and related issues will be vital.
Problems may arise from the release, over a relatively short period of time, of a large volume of departmental records. Clearly, the already overstrained accommodation available to the Public Record Office and State Paper Office will be totally inadequate to deal with such an influx of material. Preliminary planning work on a purpose-built centre has commenced. It is envisaged that this will be provided on a site already in State ownership.
In the meantime, arrangements are being made between the head of the State Paper-Public Record Offices and the Office of Public Works to provide satisfactory interim space to accommodate the influx of records which will be accelerated by the enactment of this Bill.
I have every confidence that this Bill will meet the reasonable expectations of historians. We in this State are deeply indebted to past historians. Their work helped to shape national consciousness in the early years of this century. It is only appropriate that we should facilitate the work of the present generation of historians whose contribution to the understanding of our history has in recent decades been immense. I think that it is particularly apt that this Bill should have  its First Reading in this House as, over many years, several distinguished historians have contributed with distinction to its work. It is perhaps worth recalling that as long ago as April 1924, Senator Mrs. Alice Stopford Green, a distinguished Irish historian of her day, urged that the State should undertake the systematic publication of manuscript materials. We are, then, to some extent now returning to the completion of unfinished business.
As a final word, in the preparation of this Bill dealing with national archives, archives all over the world have been combed and inspected with a view to producing the best possible format that we could conceive. I commend the Bill to the House.
Séamus de Brún Séamus de Brún
Séamus de Brún: Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit ó Roinn an Taoisigh. Is trua linn nach bhfuil an Taoiseach anseo linn ach tá ionadaí maith aige agus tá mé cinnte go ndéanfaidh sé an gnó díreach chomh maith. Tá aiféala orm go bhfuil an Taoiseach tinn agus tá súil agam go mbeidh sé go maith sar i bhfad. Ba mhaith liom ina theannta sin buíochas a ghabháil leis an Taoiseach agus anois lena ionadaí as uacht an Bille seo um Chartlann Náisiúnta, 1985, a thionscnamh sa Teach seo. Ní minic a déantar amhlaidh agus is onóir dúinn é sin. Fáiltím roimh an mBille seo. Ní mheasaim go mbeidh morán aighnis anois faoi na forálacha agus mar sin measaim freisin go nglacfar leis go ginearálta ar gach taobh.
I welcome the Minister of State from the Department of the Taoiseach here this evening and I also welcome the Bill which he has initiated here. The Bill is non-contentious and will therefore receive general acceptance on all sides of the House. The term “national archives” has wide and far-reaching connotations. Within its range comes responsibility for the custody of and security for the most secretive State papers and also serious concern for the preservation and propagation of all the basic elements of our native culture. It is to the latter aspect of the Bill that I shall briefly direct my attention. No doubt other Senators will  be more interested in the legal and security provisions of the Bill.
The Explanatory Memorandum puts the Bill's purpose and main provisions in very clear perspective. In the introduction, the purpose is concisely outlined under four headings:
(a) to provide for the amalgamation of the Public Record Office of Ireland and the State Paper Office to form a single administrative entity under the title “the National Archives”;
(b) to provide for the preservation of Departmental records and for the disposal of records which are no longer required in connection with the administration of a Department of State and which, in the view of the National Archives, have no archival value;
(c) to provide for the transfer to the National Archives and the making available for public inspection of Departmental records more than 30 years old, except for records which may be retained on certain grounds;
(d) to provide for the establishment of a National Archives Advisory Council.
In short, the main thrust of the Bill is to centralise the availability of our national archives of whatever dimension and to establish a national advisory council to be responsible for the entire operation. I welcome this decision and I wish it success.
I would like now to refer to the fundamental place that all native Irish traditions must always hold in our National Archives. To demonstrate this one need only refer to the monumental achievements of two great scholars, namely, Seán Ó Donnabháin and Eoin O'Curry. The former travelled Ireland on foot at great physical hardship collecting, investigating and editing all the local lore for the Ordnance Survey Office. Meanwhile, his brother-in-law and contemporary, Eoin O'Curry, spent his time working  in the Royal Irish Academy and Trinity College interpreting and adapting the old Irish manuscripts which resulted subsequently in his very important series of lectures entitled “The Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish”. Without these documents Ireland would be culturally a much poorer country. It will be seen that the combined efforts of these two great men re-established in Ireland after almost two centuries of oblivion the ancient scholarship that has been so badly disrupted with the decline of our monastic educational system which resulted from the brutal ravages of conquest. The fruits of the labour and lore of Ó Donnabháin and O'Curry must surely be compulsive material for our National Archives.
I want to say a brief word about the vast archival material collected by our various voluntary organisations. In addition to the Irish language, folklore and traditions of the country were very central to the Irish revival movement since its inception. This was aptly crystalised by Dr. Douglas Hyde when he said that the ultimate aim was to render the present a rational continuation of the past. The founding of the Irish Folklore Society was part of this aim. This body later became known as the Irish Folklore Commission. Under the guidance and direction of the late Professor Séamus de Largey, who held the Chair for Folklore in University College, Dublin, the commission received State recognition eventually and were granted funds to operate on at least a semi-statutory basis. Collectors were appointed and assigned to various regions of the country. Their achievements have exceeded all expectations.
The Irish Folklore Commission have now in their custody the most varied, extensive, richest and most important archives of native culture of any country in Europe. In the early days there was a difficulty. This material was being stored away in the society's headquarters and was therefore inaccessible to the public. Of late, these archives are housed in the folklore department of UCD and are now more readily available to the public. This  is very welcome. The nation may be proud of this vast and rich collection of ancient materials. Other voluntary organisations have also done great work in the collecting and preservation of native archival materials. Ever since their foundation in 1961 Comhaltas Ceolteóirí Éireann have been constantly engaged in collecting, editing and storing various forms of our national lore, music, song, customs, etc. It is gratifying to record that their efforts to date have been very successful. Proof of this is to be found in the organisation's headquarters, Cultúrlann na hÉireann, in Monkstown. A very representative library and an extensive collection of tapes, records and material hitherto unrecorded are preserved and carefully stored there. The tapes contain three and a half thousand hours of listening material. Edited and catalogued, these tapes are readily available for inspection by the public. It is perhaps ironic that at a time when Comhaltas are doing such great work of national importance, the annual grant to the organisation from the Arts Council should be considerably reduced and a national network of valuable entertainment is thereby put at great risk.
In this connection I would like to invite Members of the Oireachtas to visit the Cultúrlann at any time to see for themselves the activity and extent of the work that takes place there. Had he been here, I would have been particularly glad to have extended a céad míle fáilte to the Taoiseach to visit the Cultúrlann at his earliest possible convenience. By so doing, he would be in a position the better to appreciate and evaluate the national importance of the entire operation being conducted from there. Let me also respectfully add that he would then be in a better position to understand why Comhaltas are so steadfastly convinced that the organisation are so very inadequately funded by the State. Ar aon nós beidh fáilte roimh an Taoiseach agus roimh aon duine eile ón Oireachtas am ar bith a thagann siad chugainn.
I must now refer to two sections of the Bill. Section 5 provides for the appointment of a director of national archives.  In view of the basic importance of the Irish language to this appointment the person appointed should have a good working knowledge of Irish. Only thus will he or she be in a position to discharge efficiently and effectively the duties attached to that very important office. Therefore, I would urge the Taoiseach to give this recommendation serious consideration.
I come now to section 19 which provides for the establishment of a National Archives Advisory Council. I very much welcome the proposal in general but I have reservations about the restrictive composition of the council. The Bill stipulates that the council shall consist of a chairman and not more than 11 other members appointed by the Taoiseach on such terms and conditions as shall be determined by him after consultation with the Minister for the Public Service. I believe this number could be augmented to allow for a more broadly based council. That, of course, is a matter of opinion. It is my opinion that the council would be better for being more broadly based.
Subsection 3(a) again specifies that the members of the council shall include not less than two members of the Irish Manuscripts Commission and not less than two archivists not employed by the National Archives. While I fully agree that the agencies named in that subsection should be so represented on the council, I respectfully submit that the national voluntary organisations should be given some representation on the council. I urge the Taoiseach to consider this seriously and give the matter his close attention. Voluntary bodies such as Conradh na Gaeilge, Comhdhail Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, the GAA, Comhaltas Ceolteóirí Éireann, if indeed I may put it last, and any council concerned with archival materials in this country should have representation.
The Minister referred to historians and to Professor Stopford Green who was a distinguished Member of this House. I believe in the representation of these voluntary bodies who are themselves engaged in the collection, promotion and  fostering of important elements of our native culture. Any council would benefit by representation from at least some of these bodies. I ask the Minister to urge the Taoiseach, who will have the final say, to consider that recommendation from me when he appoints the council.
Sin a bhfuil le rá agam ar an ócáid seo. B'fhéidir nuair a bheidh an Bille i gCoiste go mbeidh tuilleadh le rá agam faoi na forálacha éagsúla a thiocfaidh faoi dhíospóireacht ag an tráth sin. Bille tábhachtach é seo go mba cheart a bheidh os comhair an Oireachtais agus reachtaíthe ag an Oireachtas blianta fada ó shin. Fáiltím roimhe agus guím go nglacfar leis le fonn ar gach taobh den Teach.
Mr. M. Higgins Mr. M. Higgins
Mr. M. Higgins: I would like to join with Senators who have welcomed this Bill and, indeed, welcome the Minister of State to the House. I compliment him on the elegant speech with which he commended this Bill to us. Let me begin with a minor reservation, that having combed the best of the legislation that prevails in European countries and further abroad, that this should in no way preclude him from acknowledging such humble amendments as might be offered on Committee Stage from this domestic Legislature.
It is a Bill that will be welcomed by many people, not only professional people who have been discommoded in the past in relation to access to material; it is a Bill that is of importance to every citizen. One of my correspondents on this topic made the point that the epigraph over the door of the National Archives of the United States is, “What Is Past Is Prologue”, which was translated for him by a taxi driver as, “You ain't seen nothing yet.”
I think all of us who are interested in this Bill will see that an importance, which is not limited by professional concern, attaches to the adequate care of records. There are several different elements in the Bill which I agree should be teased out perhaps most appropriately on Committee Stage. One is the matter of definition. The Bill contains a number of important aspects. The first part of the  Bill abolishes in many ways a survival of the old pre-Treaty regime, the State Paper Office, which was a depository for the papers of the Office of the Chief Secretary for Ireland in the British administration. It also removes the old constraints on the Public Record Office which was a depository for court records and, following disestablishment, certain Church of Ireland records, and obscure provisions about items stored in other places and so forth.
The Bill removes constraints, which is important. Section 8 contains the important principle of providing access to certain documents. It has a freedom of information dimension. It seeks to balance two principles to which the Minister adverted in his speech. These are the normal protection which should be afforded to the citizen in terms of sensitive information and the right of the public to have access to information which is in its interest. The period suggested in the Bill is a good balance. This, however, raises an important question. It relates to the material to which this Bill will/apply. It is something we can tease out a little more on Committee Stage.
There may be some problem about the definition of “archives.” There is a need to draw some distinction between the material that is held in existing sources which falls under the ambit of the Bill and the material which does not. The Public Record Office was destroyed in 1922 and has never since recovered its former status. Its professional staff have been run down from ten before World War I to three in the 1960's. The only subsequent improvement was the creation of five posts of archivist in 1974. However, this increase in staff was not accompanied by the necessary increases in support staff, supporting legislation and accommodation. If I welcome nothing else, I welcome the advertance of the Minister to the fact that legislation is only as strong as the provisions made for its implementation. Therefore, he acknowledges the need for additional staff. His commitment to the provision of space of an interim nature and also of a permanent  kind is welcome. I would regard the legislation standing on its own as being a very insufficient response.
To return to my original point. The Public Record Office having been destroyed, attempts were made later to more or less accept bundles of material of a different nature on the basis, for example, that one could perhaps match documents and secure copies of documents that had been destroyed. This means that what exists at present is of a very mixed nature. We welcome a commitment to provide such staff as is necessary to enable us to know the proportion of material that is central to the work of the State and material that is not so, material that is peripheral. The point I am making relates to the existing material held.
Most importantly, the Bill deals with the creation of a certain philosophy and a set of procedures for the implementation of a policy on material of historical value among contemporary records. I am not clear as to the operation of section 8. This is something I will come back to on Committee Stage. I will be asking about the decisions to be made, by whom they will be made, the review period and so forth. I am not clear how that section and later sections will be implemented. As I understand it, material may be retained by the Department if it is necessary for the functioning of the Department, as may sensitive material. Such material retained will be reviewed after a period of five years. What procedures will there be to ensure that such a review takes place? What sanctions, if any, would exist in relation to the non-review of material, etc? These are matters I intend to pursue in more detail on Committee Stage.
The Bill is about the creation of a philosophy which would value material and, more importantly, a set of procedures towards the attainment of a certain policy. We have a flair for national self-delusion in relation to what our attitudes have consistently been towards archives and so on. Basically, they have not been good. In many ways a commitment to a policy on archives would have contradicted our other tendency, which is the  invention of pasts for ourselves, recent and farther back. Our capacity for myth construction will be damaged by the existence of objective records to which scholars will have access.
I welcome the existence of such historical pointers. In relation to tragic past events, we have a long memory which often becomes more inaccurate as it lengthens. Therefore, we must welcome the fact that we will have procedures for the keeping of records.
The Minister has dealt with most of the points I had intended to make. I could not emphasise sufficiently the importance that attaches to staff. When this Bill is passed and is being implemented there will be an enormous strain on existing staff. It would be highly improper and inappropriate for us to pass laws and have only such staff provision as would enable them either not to be applied at all or to be imperfectly applied. There will be a need for staff not only to deal with the temporary situation of the transfer of documents and their examination, but also a need for a permanent allocation to handle the question of staff needs. The procedures we are setting up include ones of evaluation as to the relative status, importance and appropriateness of different documents within Departments. It is not simply a matter of moving other staff sideways. New skills and specialities are involved in the kind of policy towards which we seem to be moving. Correctly, it is broad in its scope in relation to the material with which it will deal. It also creates certain real pressures in relation to the type of skills required. It will be necessary for us to deal with the question of staff not only in terms of numbers but with staffing requirements in terms of the necessary skills and training if our policy is to be positively implemented.
If we are to have a National Archives Advisory Council — and I welcome it — and if it is to be broadly based, it should be sufficiently sharp to represent those who are to guide its policy in the most effective way, both in the short and medium terms. We are bringing into  existence something to be known as the National Archives.
Someone discussing this Bill with me a few days ago asked me what distinction did we draw between the National Archives and the national attic. Obviously, it raises the question again as to the status of the document, both current and historical, with which we are dealing, the evaluation of these and the procedures and criteria which would be used, which in turn refers back to the importance of having not only a comprehensive policy but one that would be effective and operable. In that regard, one has to try to work out what is the relationship of other institutions and other libraries to the new National Archives. Here there are a number of problems involved. Firstly, we are saving material by bringing into existence the National Archives and putting a certain form of protection over the material constituted by the National Archives.
I must confess to some difficulty about the use of the words “archive” and “archives” in the Bill, its plural and singular usage. I have a difficulty in working out whether it refers to the actual item in storage, the location of the storage, bundles of items in storage and so forth. It is not too clear in sections of the Bill. I will come back to that point on Committee Stage.
In regard to the question of the relationship of the new National Archives to other institutions and places of deposit, I must say that we are setting up procedures for the identification of documents that should be protected in the national interest and around which we are placing a certain protection. The point is that some material which could find itself in the Public Record Office at present may not need this time period. There may be other material that may be more sensitive. I am interested in material to which the terms of this Bill might unreasonably be extended. In that respect the work of the policy side of it and the early reports of the National Archives Advisory Council will be very important.
Another question which arises from the Bill, one which is more appropriate  for teasing out on Committee Stage, is the status of items placed on deposit and their relationship to original items and copies. In many cases what might make good sense in relation to ease, and facilitate the transfer of documents from one location to another, may reduce the status of the documents in relation to their usage for legal purposes, as evidence and so forth. Will documents as they arrive be stamped? What is the status of the seal being placed on documents, and so forth? These are items we can take up when we are looking at the sections. I am interested at this stage in welcoming the general provisions.
The Minister of State referred to the kind of access which affects professional researchers. He was very apposite in his remarks. He referred to the ease with which people have had access to records in Northern Ireland and the difficulties of having access to documents here. We have been very valuably served by the generation of historians and social historians who preceded the existing generation of young scholars in these disciplines. It was they who carved out the importance of social history as a necessary amendment to our stories of heroes, of battles won and lost and the diet of blood and land upon which some of us were reared. They have corrected the mythic excesses in that regard. They have undone many prejudices in relation to the existence of the homogenous peasantry. They have told us about our capacity to savage each other, be it in terms of land, the peasantry and so forth. They did this by the careful amassing of such records as were available to them from private sources and private collections. The people who studied under them now compose a very valuable generation of scholars to whom the deviant would be the person who would ignore social or economic history. They are now producing work of first rate value. These people will, undoubtedly, welcome all the possibilities for access to public documents that this Bill creates. I agree with the Minister of State in that regard, that it makes their task much more easy.
I would like to make a point that relates  to staffing. Is there going to be a new situation following the passage of this Bill in relation to the transfer of material? Some time ago there was in existence a list of material deposited of a valuable kind and I hope that there will be sufficient staff made available so that such material can be indexed and that we will be able to see the type of material being transferred. This is of more than professional interest because one could from the examination — indeed, the Minister referred to legislation in other countries — be able to see material that was being systematically excluded or not transferred.
I am not happy about the terms regarding the retention of material. I know too well the ease with which a Minister in charge of a Department, or a very senior departmental official, may decide that a document is, as the Bill would put it, necessary for the orderly functioning of the Department, is sensitive or whatever. I am not happy about the review period and the sanctions for non-compliance with the review period. Equally, in that regard there should be an appeal system which is sharper than the one envisaged in the Bill. If material is withheld and a person is in dispute with a Department about the availability of a document — I am not talking about the professional person seeking access but of the citizen — that person should be entitled to envisage the Taoiseach raising the matter, if it is a generic body of material, with the Cabinet and that it would be a matter for a Cabinet decision. I ask the Minister to think about that before we come to Committee Stage.
It is good to hear the Minister of State say something as hopeful and as positive as a new purpose built building will be erected on a site that the State already owns. I welcome that. I will not stray into this matter of rental policy by the State but if we own sites we should build on them. We do need a purpose built building if we are to have a proper place of deposit. This is adverted to in the Minister's speech and in the Bill by the specification of the material in such a broad way, including material for electronic  storage, retrieval and so forth. That is important.
I will come back to all the questions about the definition of the material and of categories of material on Committee Stage. It would be improper to raise those matters now. The Minister might think of ways which would assist in defining documents at different levels of importance. One of the worries I had when reading the Bill — it was the only one I had — was that there might be an element of arbitrariness in interpreting the Bill in relation to certain kinds of records. The Minister should consider that before Committee Stage.
I will conclude by saying that my references to any of these items of detail are motivated by an interest in this area. It is interesting and valuable that this Bill has been welcomed by both sides of the House. When one says that one is going to the Seanad to speak on the National Archives Bill, people begin to wonder if there is an element of antiqarianism in it. We should dispel that notion. Our possession of records is very important, but our commitment to preserving them, and more importantly, allowing access to them, is a reflection of the state of maturity of our democracy. It is only the cowardly in present times who would want to hide aspects of their past. There are fewer people in the present time who would not want there to be a future record of not only their achievements but also of their failures, their cogitations, their half-achieved tasks and also of their total failures and so on. In that sense it represents a very significant maturity to have a policy.
It is important for us to realise that this Bill is long overdue. I join with Senator de Brún in making the point of complimenting all those bodies who over the years made representations to various Heads of State asking for a policy, for legislation and for resources. We are indebted to them. It is important that when the Bill is passed that it will be enacted with enthusiasm and commitment. For that reason I most heartily welcome it, particularly the commitment  I believe I heard to provide such physical and staff resources and facilities and such endowment as is necessary for us to have an effective policy. I have great pleasure in welcoming the Bill.
Professor Hillery Professor Hillery
Professor Hillery: I wish to extend a warm welcome to the Bill. It is not before its time. Successive Governments have seen the need for such a Bill. I wish to focus on the importance of making available for public inspection departmental records which are more than 30 years old and, secondly, to emphasise points that have already been made in connection with the urgent need for adequate staffing and accommodation so that the provisions of the Bill can be implemented in a meaningful way.
Up to now, only Cabinet minutes have been released from the Taoiseach's Office. They have provided only very limited insights into political and administrative decisions in the past. The availability of departmental records will be widely welcomed by researchers, historians, sociologists and political scientists, to name but a few. When the Bill is implemented researchers will, for the first time, have the opportunity of examining the sources of ideas and the arguments for and against on many issues that eventually resulted in a variety of decisions. The availability of these records will greatly enrich our understanding of, inter alia, Government policy-making in Ireland in the past. Up to now we have seen how the British and the Americans viewed various issues affecting Ireland based on their own public records which were released after the 30-year limit. When this Bill is enacted we will be able to get our own side of the story through the study of Irish departmental records. I welcome the fact that the political responsibility for the national archives will be located in the Department of the Taoiseach. This, I believe, will lead to a more effective implementation of the Bill.
The availability of the departmental records will greatly assist researchers in understanding policy-making and administrative decisions in the past. I would  take a somewhat different view from that stated in the Minister's opening remarks when he said that the Bill will provide for access to Government records which are essentially of historical significance rather than of current legal or administrative interests. I feel that these records will also assist researchers in making policy proposals for the future. I am not an historian but in the course of my own professional work in UCD I am engaged in industrial relations research. I am quite hopeful that the records will show very important background material on, for example, the Trade Union Act, 1941 and the Industrial Relations Act, 1946 which established the Labour Court, This material from the departmental records will, in turn, likely serve as an important aid to making proposals for change in our industrial relations system in the future. Thus our role in the Department of Industrial Relations at UCD in provoking discussion and in stimulating change through our research work in industrial relations will likely be assisted by the study of the relevant departmental records which will be made available when this Bill is implemented.
I have already warmly welcomed the Bill, but I put it to the Minister of State that it will not be worth the paper it is written on unless adequate staff are provided for the National Archives. I do not think that the staffing aspect is spelled out in the Minister's opening statement, whatever about the building proposals which I heartily welcome. The Bill just cannot become operational without a considerable increase in staff at all levels. At present, for example, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, which has about half the archival material that we have got, has more than double the staff of our Public Record Office. The staffing needed to implement this new legislation must be estimated and I want the Minister to give the House a firm assurance that the staffing needs will be estimated and that the provision of the essential staff will actually be made.
When the provisions of the Bill become effective in two years time — Senator Higgins has already referred to this —  masses of records will become available. Trained archivists will be essential to preserve, to store and to conserve this material. Some of the existing problems in our Public Record Office stem from the inadequate number of staff at executive, clerical and secretarial levels. This means that the valuable skills of archivists are devoted to purely routine work from time to time. Therefore, in addition to more trained archivists there will also be a need to increase a range of support staff.
Linked to the question of staffing is, of course, that of accommodation. There is an immediate need for temporary accommodation and, looking ahead, the question of long term accommodation also arises. I welcome the indications in regard to accommodation that the Minister has made in his statement, but in his reply — perhaps it will be the Taoiseach who will reply in due course — I would like an indication as to whether the proposed purpose built centre will be adequate to meet the long term requirements of the National Archives. I recognise that the required staff cannot be provided overnight. What is needed now is a Government commitment to increase staff over a planned period of a few years. I earnestly seek an assurance from the Minister when replying to Second Stage in respect of increased staffing.
I should now like to focus on the position of Director of Archives which is provided for in the Bill. The responsibilities of the post are vital ones concerning the integrity of public records. It is essential that the post carry a status within the public service hierarchy which will ensure that the director can act with a due degree of independence within the accepted framework and also that his voice will carry clear authority. The present salary level is too low. It should be seriously considered that the post carry the grade of Assistant Secretary. It should certainly not be less than that of the directors of the National Gallery and the National Library, namely principal officer.
The establishment of a National Archives Advisory Council is both welcome and necessary. Its main functions  should be to provide advice on the categories of records which warrant scheduling and preservation. Secondly, to act as a users' council furnishing suggestions regarding access to and use of records and the efficiency of the search room and finding aids. Finally, the council should formulate recommendations on archival policy. This advisory council, I would urge, should have a representative membership, but should in particular have a proportion of young working historians who will be frequent users.
Like previous speakers I hope to raise a number of issues on Committee Stage. In conclusion, I again wish to emphasise that unless the essential staff are provided this Bill will be a dead letter. I look forward to the Minister's reply and I warmly support the Bill.
Mrs. Bulbulia Mrs. Bulbulia
Mrs. Bulbulia: I, too, should like to welcome the Minister of State for coming here at, no doubt, short notice and, of course, I also welcome the Bill. I express my own enthusiasm for it. I was intrigued to hear Senator Higgins linking the public perception of the Seanad as a place where aged people discuss ageing matters with this National Archives Bill and suggesting that there was a certain appropriateness attached to our discussing the Bill.
It is necessary to say that people who have a sensitivity for history, a sensitivity for the institutions of State and a feeling of patriotism and love of country should be enthused about the fact that this Bill is before the House today. I am one of those people and I particularly warmly and enthusiastically welcome this measure. I pay tribute to the Taoiseach who has personally backed the Bill and put a great deal of his own experience into it. I regret that he is ill today and cannot be here to inject his personal style and enthusiasm into the presentation of the Bill. Nevertheless, the Minister of State did a perfectly good job and I am grateful to him for being here. I hope, however, that the Taoiseach will be well enough to respond to the Second Stage debate next week.
 This important measure will be welcomed by all fair-minded historians and archivists. It is obvious from a perusal of the various sections that wide and detailed consultations have been undertaken by the Department in drafting the Bill. Nevertheless, I take the point made by Senator Higgins that if amendments come from this House, despite the fact that consultations and examinations of archives Acts elsewhere have taken place, those humble domestic amendments should be given the consideration they deserve.
The making of adequate arrangements for the preservation of a country's records is an inescapable duty of Government in any civilised society. That is precisely what we are about today. This legislation provides for the formal amalgamation of the State Paper Office and the Public Record Office to be called the National Archives. There will be a new advisory council with new powers and increased responsibilities. The Bill is being introduced against a background where the principal legislative arrangements for archives are now over 100 years old. I am speaking about the Public Record (Ireland) Act, 1867. It is surprising that no legislation affecting archives has been enacted since the foundation of the State. It is a hallmark of our maturity as a nation that we should busy ourselves in this area and ensure that we have good, adequate, up-to-date legislation on this matter. It is for this reason that I warmly welcome the Bill.
It is important on Second Stage to look at the context of the legislation. It is worth studying the principal features of the Public Record (Ireland) Act, 1867 and of the State Paper Office which was set up in 1702 and which became the Records Department of the then Chief Secretary's Office. The papers of that office were transferred to the Public Record Office after 50 years.
The principal features of the Public Record (Ireland) Act, 1867 were to establish the Public Record Office of Ireland and to vest responsibility for its management in a deputy keeper of public records. It also provided for the deposit  in that office of certain records which were at the time mainly court records. Between 1867 and 1922 the Public Record Office of Ireland was primarily a court repository. There were no ordinary departments of central Government functioning exclusively in Ireland and the only body of departmental papers to be received were those of the Chief Secretary's Office which were deposited in the State Paper Office before transfer after 50 years to the Public Record Office of Ireland. This same office also held other records such as ecclesiastical records, records of births, marriages, deaths and records of the old Irish parliament, that is, Grattan's Parliament.
In 1922, as we all know, the Public Record Office of Ireland, which was a depository for this large collection of both civil, testamentary and ecclesiastical documents, had a disaster when during the Civil War the Four Courts building was bombarded and the destruction virtually eliminated the office's holdings of pre-18th century documents.
The destruction of what was then the bulk of Irish public records, a rich, proud and valuable heritage was one of the most magnificent collections in the whole of Europe of medieval records, was a most tragic episode in the emergence of our State, the consequences of which we are living with to this day. We are all impoverished as a result of it. It was one of the major archive disasters of modern Europe and it not only disheartened Irish archivists but has resulted in deflecting public interest and attention from the enormous collections which either survived or have since been acquired in the State Paper Office and the Public Record Office.
It is interesting to note that other countries such as Germany have recovered from World War II archive losses and have built up their archive service. It has taken us a long time to do it and a long time to pursue a very necessary task but I am very pleased that by this legislation we are doing just that. It is important that the needs of the research people, and the needs of the public in general,  should be serviced by this kind of legislative provision. The situation in the field of archives in Ireland seems to be suffering from the late after effects of the destruction of the Public Record Office in 1922. Since then the Public Record Office in Dublin, which was set up 100 years ago by the Public Record Act, 1867, has never got equivalent professional archivist staff and equivalent budget to what it had in the period of British administration. I share the concern of other Senators, particularly Senator Hillery who spoke on this that it is an earnest of the Government's intention that staffing and resources be made available to this new national archive.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: As it is now 4 p.m. will the Senator move the adjournment of the debate.
Seanad Éireann 107 National Archives Bill, 1985: Second Stage.