Seanad Éireann - Volume 159 - 26 May, 1999

National Archives and National Library: Motion.

Mr. Manning: I move:

That Seanad Éireann, calls on the Government to take immediate steps to fill, on a full-time and permanent basis, the position of Director of the National Library and requests the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands to outline her Department's pro[921] posals for the development of both the National Archives and the National Library and to indicate what steps are being taken to ensure that the archive material currently being held in State bodies which have been or are about to be privatised will be preserved in the same professional way as applies to all State papers.

I welcome the Minister to the House and the debate this evening. It is always a great pleasure to have the Minister in the House. I know archives and the preservation of historical records are subjects dear to her heart. I welcome the opportunity this debate gives us and the fact that we can have it in an air of calm, without confrontation.

The National Archives and the National Library are two of the most important aspects of our cultural heritage. We have not always treated them as well or as generously as they deserve but in recent years there has been a new awareness of the importance of putting resources and expertise in these two important areas of national life. I hope this evening's debate will give us an opportunity to hear some of the Minister's plans in this regard.

It is great pity that the post of Director of the National Library has not been filled on a permanent basis and that this situation has continued for some time. In saying that I am conscious of the huge contribution made by the last acting director, the former Secretary of the Department of Finance and by the current acting director, Mr. Brendan O'Donoghue, former Secretary General of the Department of the Environment.

Mr. Brendan O'Donoghue deserves particular credit because major initiatives have been taken during his time – he is still there – as director. He played a key role in bringing into existence the buildings programme announced recently by the Minister of State, Deputy Cullen, on behalf of the Minister, Deputy de Valera. The library now opens for longer hours, not long enough but for longer than was the case for many years. The new genealogical service has been brought into operation and has to date been a great success. The library's new photographic archive in Temple Bar is complete and is a splendid addition to the library's facilities. A new technical services building has been completed. I pay warm tribute to Mr. Brendan O'Donoghue for his achievements. It would be very welcome if he could become the Director of the National Library on a full time and permanent basis. However that is not my point.

My point is that it has not proved possible to fill the position. The reason is very simple. It is that the level of salary offered for the Director of the National Library is not enough to attract the top professionals in the business. To be specific, the Director of the National Library receives a salary ranging from £41,000 to £47,000 per year. [922] The salary of the librarian in Maynooth goes up to £62,000. The salary of the librarian in DCU goes up to £62,000. An associate librarian in UCD is paid more than the Director of the National Library. I wish to draw the position to the Minister's attention. I do not intend to labour the point but we should persuade the Department of Finance to unloose the purse strings to do what has to be done. Other issues such as relativity may be involved, as is often the case in these things. It is a disgrace we cannot pay the Director of the National Library a salary commensurate with the calibre of person required to fill the position.

On the National Archives, great progress has been made in the past few years. The Bill introduced by the former Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald to set up the National Archives was a pioneering piece of work and an important deed of foresight. By and large the archives have worked effectively and successfully. It is a great pleasure to work in the archives in Bishop Street and experience at first hand the professionalism, dedication and courtesy of the staff. It is encouraging to see much recent research and many publications which probably would not have been possible without the facilities provided by the National Archives. What are the Minister's plans for the new buildings which are needed for the archives and, more important, for the training of staff? There is a shortage of properly trained archive staff to effectively run the library.

The second question I want to raise, and I know the answer to it, is whether Government Departments are complying with the obligation under the law to supply their papers to the National Archives. Under the law all Government Departments are required to deposit their papers in the National Archives and some Departments are seriously behind in doing this. The Department of Agriculture and Food is a particularly bad offender and the Department of Education and Science does not have a good track record. Other Departments also have not fulfilled their legal obligation to ensure that papers are transferred in a regular and organised way to the National Archives.

Are Departments complying in a user friendly way? In some cases they are not. Papers are simply dumped there in an unusable way, putting great extra strain on the staff of the National Archives. It is important that all Departments realise the extent of their obligation under the archives Act as a depository of valuable historical material and take care to ensure that the transfer of such material takes place in a timely and efficient way. I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that because she is in a position in Cabinet to jog the memories of those Departments who are not complying.

My third point concerns State boards. Our history is, in many ways, a history of our great State [923] enterprises – the ESB, RTE, Bord na Móna, Bord Fáilte, Aer Lingus – which have helped to shape Irish life over the years. There is a gap in the legislation. These boards are not obliged to look after their archives, nor are they obliged to transfer their records to the National Archives. This is a serious omission in the legislation and the Minister should bring in amending legislation – or I would be happy to do so in a Private Members' Bill – to ensure that they come under the purview of the National Archives.

A further problem arises in that some of these bodies are about to be privatised. In the cost-cutting climate which will follow privatisation, there will be a great temptation, especially if the new owners do not have a strong sense of Irishness or of their organisations being part of Irish society, to simply dump all of these records. If that happens it will be a disgrace and will stand as a deed of shame which will seriously hamper historical research over the coming years. I am thinking of bodies like the IDA which shaped industrial policy over a period of 50 to 55 years. There is a whole range of State boards whose papers are in danger of being lost. I ask the Minister to review, as a matter or urgency, the whole question of what will happen to the papers of the State boards. Can legislation be brought in to oblige them to comply in the same way as Government Departments, especially those that are about to be privatised? We need encouragement and sanctions to make sure that this happens.

The proliferation of archives has been one of the healthier aspects of Irish life in recent times. The Minister has a very special interest in this. Her late grandfather ensured that his enormously rich treasure trove of papers would be available to historians for their use over the years. They are now in the archive at UCD alongside the papers of many of his colleagues, McEntee and Aiken, and those of his adversaries, Mulcahy and McGilligan. All the papers are there, and they are of enormous value to historians.

We have seen also the development of the Military Archive. Commandant Peter Young deserves enormous credit for what he has done there. It is proposed to move the Military Archive to Collins Barracks and, given the Army's long association with that barracks, it would be a very fitting place for it. I would ask the Minister, however, not to try to convert part of an old building into an archive. It will be cheaper in the long run to have a custom-built building. Given the technical problems of adaptation and all that could go wrong, it is false economy to try to rig out an old building rather than using the best technology available and starting from scratch.

In regard to tape recordings, film archives and so forth, RTE has been doing a very good job of late in ensuring that valuable film archive material is kept. Might there be a case for moving [924] all that to a central location so that there is, as far as possible, one national archive? Has the Minister a view on whether one central archive would be preferable to a proliferation of smaller and not always well financed archives? Under a Bill brought in two or three years ago, all local authorities are now obliged to have an archive of their material. I know this relates to a different Department, the Department of the Environment and Local Government. However, I would be interested to know whether they are keeping archives, whether it is appropriate to have county archives or whether regional archives might be a better way of pooling resources. Can the Minister shed any light on that?

It is always a great delight for somebody who does research to go into a well run archive, whether in the National Archive in Kew Gardens in London or in Washington, and read material that probably was never intended to be read. There may be a slight sense of the voyeur about it, but there is great pleasure in working in a well equipped archive which is professionally run. Our National Archives and the other archives I have mentioned have attained that state. I am concerned, though, given the ravages of the Freedom of Information Act in certain sections of the public service where people are virtually afraid to write to each other, where a document which was meant to be confidential can be in the public domain legally within a short space of time, that the historians of the future will have enormous difficulty because everything now is done by phone or by e-mail. More and more public servants find it useful not to write things down, not to leave a record, but rather to do as much business as possible off the record. It is one of the down sides of the Freedom of Information Act. Also, even though we are more literate in some ways, fewer people write diaries or long personal letters committing their thoughts, experiences or observations to paper. The historians of the future will, therefore, have a much more difficult time researching and writing accounts of what happened and why.

I thank the Minister for being here tonight. I wanted to raise these issues because they are important and I wanted to do so in a non-contentious way because I know the Minister has the same concern as I and everybody else here to ensure that this aspect of our national culture and heritage is given the priority and urgency it requires.

Mr. Cosgrave: In seconding the motion before the House and in welcoming the Minister, I endorse all that has been said by Senator Manning. We are approaching not only the end of a century but also the end of a millennium, and it is a time to look back. It is important that for future generations records are kept as far as possible.

[925] I endorse what Senator Manning said regarding the Director of the National Library and agree that the issue must be addressed urgently. At times like this some of the additional finance available should be used to look after and protect our heritage and other relevant things connected with the National Library and the National Archives.

On a slightly parochial note, there has been debate and decisions have been made in relation to a national maritime museum in Dun Laoghaire. I understand there has been a change of heart and perhaps the Minister might make passing reference to it. It is important to ensure its tremendous potential is further developed, secured and maintained.

The archive clips shown during the final “Late Late Show” brought back memories and recalled various events. Similarly, John Bowman's radio programme on a Saturday morning recalls anniversaries, etc. and shows the importance of maintaining, securing and holding what has been sacred. Senator Manning is probably one of the experts in the House in this area having done much research for books and having reviewed State papers, and he reminded us of the importance of our heritage and the necessity of ensuring the record of our history is maintained. He mentioned the archives of State bodies and local authorities, departmental papers and papers of political figures and the necessity of maintaining them for the future. Given that there is an extra few pounds in the coffers I hope the will exists to ensure we look after, maintain and develop what we have inherited.

I am slightly surprised that the Government has tabled an amendment to the motion as I hope that on such an issue all Members, who may have varying degrees of interest in the issue, are united in ensuring adequate steps are taken to maintain, develop and restore our heritage in line with modern practice. Doing so will ensure that as we reach the end of the century and look towards the next millennium, we maintain for future generations clear and concise records.

The Minister has had a successful career to date in her Department and I wish her well. I ask her to take account of what I have said and to outline in her reply future developments. I know she will be able to convince her Cabinet colleagues of the benefits of additional expenditure by her in this area.

Mr. Mooney: I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:

“welcomes the initiatives taken by this Government to improve the services provided by the National Library and the National Archives.”

I welcome the Minister to the House and thank [926] Senator Manning for tabling this motion – he can always be counted on to ensure the cultural institutions are kept to the forefront of debate in the House, something for which he is to be commended. The debate also provides an opportunity for the Minister to outline her mission statement in these important areas, which sadly do not always get the recognition they deserve among the wider public. However, there is a general acknowledgement among the population of the intrinsic value and importance of our national cultural institutions, especially the National Library and increasingly the National Archives.

Members and the Minister will be aware of the National Archives advisory council's strategic plan which commenced implementation in 1996. I wish to dwell on this part of the motion as the issues affecting the National Library have been comprehensively dealt with by my colleagues on the other side of the House. My colleague, Senator Ó Murchú, will also address that issue.

I wish to pay warm tribute to the former Director of the National Library, Dr. Pat Donlon, a lady of outstanding intellect, experience and breadth of knowledge. She had enormous credibility not only in Ireland but internationally. We are all aware of the circumstances in which Dr. Donlon relinquished her position as director, although she has continued to make a contribution in other areas of academia. Her departure was not only a loss to the National Library but a loss to the nation.

The Minister will deal with the detail of the motion and the various questions raised. I pay tribute to the hard working and long suffering staff of the National Archives who are labouring in the most difficult of environments, yet without complaint go about their business in a very efficient manner. Earlier today I spoke with the Director of the National Archives and was astonished to learn that in the past 12 months, 20,000 people called to the public office seeking the service of the National Archives. This is a lot of people in the context of any State institution, but it is astonishing that the National Archives attracted such a number. Added to this is the wonderfully innovative decision of the director to establish a National Archives web page which has had 37,000 hits in the past 12 months. The success of the website has been of such magnitude that, increasingly, the staff are dealing with international inquiries on-line. Great credit is due to all concerned that this aspect of its work has been developed and been made available internationally through the marvels of modern technology.

There are other positive aspects of the strategic report which are in the process of being implemented. We dwelt on one of them in some detail a couple of years ago. Shortly after the Minister took office we were anxious to establish if one Government Department was leaving the [927] warehouse in Bishop Street to allow another, the National Archives, to move in. I am glad to say that half of the equation has been completed and the other half is almost complete. I hope it will be in place by the original target date in 2002. The warehouse is being adapted to provide storage space necessary to accommodate departmental records. According to 1994 prices it will be established at an estimated cost of £12 million. I am sure the Minister can tell us how much it will cost.

The biggest difficulty facing the National Archives is its lack of staff. I appreciate the difficulties the Minister must face when she has to approach the Minister for Finance every year for financial support. The Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands is multi-faceted and each sector imposes financial demands on her. It is on occasions like this that Members have an opportunity to impress upon her – not that she needs to be reminded – that a valued institution like the National Archives can only function effectively if it is properly resourced. Eighty per cent of the daily business conducted by the National Archives relates to public business and the remaining 20 per cent is left for the other aspects of its work. Therefore, the staff complement of 35 is in urgent need of upgrading.

Staffing levels must be adequate to cope with the growing technological demands placed upon the National Archives. Its staff and its director are concerned about the maintenance of electronic records. Increasingly, departmental records are reaching the archives in CD-ROM format and stored in that format. Every Member will be aware that another dimension of the technological revolution takes place every week. Within ten years the CD-ROM system will be replaced by another retrieval and recording system. I ask the Minister and her Department to look at the IT aspect of the National Archives. Several aspects of IT have been outlined in the strategic plan but I am concerned about protecting our national assets which are being submitted to the archives by way of outdated technology. The archive section may not have the resources to keep up to speed with the rapid changes taking place in technology.

The Director of the National Archives has made the enlightened decision to put 1,000 items from the archives on a CD-ROM disc as a means of acknowledging the millennium. These items will be representative of its entire collection. I compliment him on his idea. It is a marvellous innovation. I hope the Minister will encourage this type of creative thinking.

I also compliment the National Archives on its initiative in organising travelling exhibitions. One of the exhibitions, A Celebration of 100 Years of Local Government, is close to our hearts, particularly members of local authorities. The exhi[928] bition has been travelling around the country and is accessible to the general public through the local library system. I acknowledge the role played by local libraries and county librarians to ensure aspects of our valuable National Archives are accessible to the general public outside Dublin. I hope this continues but again it is a matter of resources. Members will have done a good job tonight if the Minister responds to our message about resources and staffing, notwithstanding the need enunciated by Senator Manning to ensure that someone is appointed as Director of the National Library.

I welcome this opportunity which was provided by Senator Manning. I eagerly look forward to hearing the Minister's views on an area to which I know she is deeply committed and on which she has already taken initiatives outlined in the strategic plan. She has two years to achieve the rest of the objectives outlined in the plan. At the rate of progress that the Minister has shown since she took office in 1997, I have confidence that she will have gone by then a considerable way to achieving those objectives.

I reiterate my unbounded admiration for the work of the National Archives and the National Library. This was an ideal opportunity to highlight an aspect of our State treasure that is not given the exposure it deserves. Twenty thousand people every year know this treasure exists and I hope many more will discover it. The staff of the National Archives will not be pleased with more visitors unless they are given more staff.

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera): I thank Senator Manning and his colleagues for tabling this motion because it gives us an opportunity to highlight two great assets, the National Library and the National Archives, the work that needs to be done on a continuing basis to maintain them and to take every opportunity to improve both institutions.

These are two of our foremost national cultural institutions in which I have always had a keen interest. The National Library and the National Archives are in a sense the repositories of our collective Irish memory. In the National Library the books and works of the great writers of Ireland and the records of momentous past events are collected and are available for the scholars and writers of today. In the National Archives, in addition to official records of great happenings, one can also find the accounts of many of the everyday affairs of the ordinary citizen through the records of Government Departments and offices. It cannot be said that one collection is more interesting than the other. We are used to hearing or reading enthralling accounts of the comings and goings of past notables, but the account of the ordinary person's life in the past can be just as enthralling and can give us a better [929] appreciation of the quality of life for the majority of people.

This debate provides an opportunity to consider recent developments in these institutions and plans for further developments. Before discussing general developments, I would like to outline the position in relation to the post of Director of the National Library.

Senators are probably aware that early in 1997 my Department asked the Civil Service Commission to organise a competition to fill the post of Director of the National Library. The library had the benefit of the part-time services and the excellent direction of Mr. Seán Cromien, the former Secretary of the Department of Finance who agreed to act in the position while the competition was taking place. It did not prove possible for the Civil Service Commission to fill the post and I agreed, at the request of the Council of Trustees of the National Library, to appoint Mr. Brendan O'Donoghue, a former Secretary of the Department of the Environment to act as director on a limited basis. In 1998 I agreed that the arrangement should continue for a further year.

While some people have in the past criticised the post of acting director in the National Library in an attempt to score political points, the person concerned has had a long and distinguished career as a public servant in, among other places, An Bord Pleanála and the Department of the Environment. He has placed his exceptional administrative and managerial skills at the disposal of the National Library which has profited significantly as a result. During his period in office and with the full back-up support of the staff in the library and of officials at departmental level a number of issues critical to the library's development have been greatly enhanced.

I reviewed the matter of the director post in consultation with the council of trustees and I put preliminary arrangements in train to recruit a full-time Director for the National Library through the Civil Service Commission. I hope the post will be advertised shortly. It is my intention that the National Library will become an autonomous corporate body by activating the relevant provisions contained in the National Cultural Institutions Act, 1997. Therefore the new director will have to manage the transition of the National Library from the Civil Service to separate corporate status under the direction of an appointed board.

I agree with the points made by Senator Manning on the salary question and I have been in contact by way of letter with the Minister for Finance to outline the need for a higher salary for the Director of the National Library.

Senator Norris: Well done.

Miss de Valera: Thank you. Since coming into office I have continued my personal interest in [930] the main cultural institutions, particularly the National Library and the National Archives. I have ensured that their fortunes will show notable improvements during my tenure as Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. Over the past two years there have been real achievements and I take the opportunity to apprise Senators on the current position and my plans for the future development of these two institutions. My primary objectives are to enhance their physical infrastructure and their ongoing resources. These are the core issues for any national institution, particularly a national collecting institution that provides a service to the public.

I have achieved considerable improvement in the level of funding for the National Library. The total funds allocated to meet the operating costs of the library in 1999 amount to £3,395,000, an increase of over £1,027,000 or 43 per cent on the 1997 figure. With this much greater level of resources and assisted by tax relief provisions, the library has made some major acquisitions such as the 16th century Nugent Manuscripts of Irish bardic poetry, the estate and family papers of the earls of Wicklow, a correspondence series between the Connolly and Fitzgerald families of Kildare and a correspondence series of the novelist and satirist Eimar O'Duffy. The National Library continues its crucial work of acquiring new collections of national importance that enhance the fine collections in its care. Five additional heads of staff were provided from a redeployment pool enabling new services such as the newsplan project and the photographic archive to be progressed, and the library to deal with the arrears of cataloguing and other work in various departments. The library requires increased resources in the years ahead to address the issues that it will face. I thank the Senators for their support, particularly Senator Cosgrave who supports an increase in funds for these institutions.

The conditions in which the collections are held are as important as the acquisitions. Significant improvements have been implemented and there are exciting developments planned to improve the library's physical infrastructure. Its new photographic archive in Temple Bar was fitted out and opened to the public in autumn of last year. It contains the largest collection in the world of photographs of Irish provenance with over a million views of countryside, towns, cities, individuals and political events. A new technical services building at Leinster Lane opened in spring 1998. It accommodates a new bookbinding unit, a conservation unit, newspapers and periodicals section and a new newspaper microfilming unit which enable the library to play a full part in the newsplan project.

A phased strategic development plan for the National Library was drawn up with the active [931] co-operation and personal support of my colleague, the Minister of State at the Office of Public Works, Deputy Cullen, and in conjunction with the library and my Department. This plan provides modern, safe and secure facilities for the storage of the library's growing collections as well as improved facilities for visitors. With the current boom in the building industry it is difficult to get precise estimates for these types of major works. I am advised that the order of cost of the development plan will exceed £37 million.

These major developments for the National Library came about as a result of planning to respond to the accommodation difficulties which have beset the library since the 1970s. Phase one of the development plan was a small project to reroute services and has been completed. Phase two involves work on an important fire protection and security project at nos. 2 and 3 Kildare Street at the cost of £1.6 million and has commenced. Phase three is the refurbishment of the former National College of Art and Design building for the library. Work on this project commenced this year and will cost about £6 million. This project is a clear indication of the Government's commitment to the future development and enhancement of the National Library.

The new NCAD facility will accommodate improved genealogy research and advisory facilities, an area that has grown. Visitors to the National Library wishing to avail of the vast wealth of source material on family and local history will be accommodated in more comfortable surroundings. New microfilm reading facilities will benefit those wishing to consult the library's collection of newspaper material under the newsplan project. The library's research collection of more than 90,000 historical prints and drawings will be accommodated in the new prints and drawings department, accompanied by modern reading facilities. It is appropriate that this department is located in the Art College building, considering that it originally housed the drawing section of the Royal Dublin Society, which was the predecessor of the National Museum and National Library and the original owner of many prints and drawings in the collection.

In preparing the plans for this development, great care was taken to preserve the essential architectural and historical features of the NCAD building while providing a facility worthy of one of our foremost cultural institutions. Detailed plans are being drawn up for the further six phases of the strategic development plan so that the potential of the library's premises will be realised. These physical developments will help to prepare the library to fulfil its role in the 21st century.

Collections and buildings are of little value if the public cannot access its heritage. When I became Minister concerns were expressed about [932] the opening hours of the library, particularly the Tuesday and Wednesday morning and lunchtime closures. The opening hours of the reading rooms have been extended to resolve this problem. The National Library now opens from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Monday to Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.

Personal history and a sense of our roots and identity are important to Irish people at home and abroad. The acting director of the library, Mr. Brendan O'Donoghue, did tremendous work in this area. A genealogical service came into operation last summer which dealt with inquiries from 5,500 people – many of them from abroad – before the end of 1998. It was provided with additional resources enabling a record number of grants of arms to be made to individuals and corporate bodies. These increased from ten in 1997 to 29 in 1998 and a similar increase is expected this year. Other developments include the opening of a new library shop, which has greatly assisted in bringing sales of library publications to a record level, and the establishment of a research studentship in Irish history in co-operation with the Irish Committee of Historical Sciences. A new computer system has also been installed in the library. A website has been set up and the conversion of the library's card catalogues to computerised format is almost complete.

At the time I became Minister, the National Archives Advisory Council had identified the lack of significant capital investment in facilities for the archives as a major constraint on the National Archives playing its full role. In the report, A Future for Our Past, the provision of improved and extended accommodation for the archives material was identified as a primary strategic objective. This issue is now being tackled.

Senators will be aware that I have announced the provision of £13 million for new storage facilities for the National Archives at Bishop Street. As part of the planning process for this project, the Office of Public Works commissioned the architects Building Design Partnership to prepare a report on the best way to achieve the adaptation of the warehouse situated at the rear of the National Archives Bishop Street premises for the storage of archives. I have asked the Office of Public Works to proceed with this project so that the extended facilities for the National Archives can be provided as soon as possible. The quantity of archives currently held by the National Archives is the equivalent of about 210,000 archive standard boxes. The extension project on completion will enable the archives to more than double its capacity to approximately 450,000 boxes which will be a significant achievement for storing future archives.

The Director of the National Archives, in common with the Director of the National Library, is [933] a member of the newly created Council of National Cultural Institutions, established by me in line with the Government programme commitment to provide a forum for co-operation to assist development for all the major cultural institutions.

Apart from these developments I have also engaged in novel ways of promoting research within the National Library and National Archives. I have done this through the women's history project which commenced late in 1997 and which is currently cataloguing much of the source material held in these institutions relating to women. This will be of benefit to researchers for many years to come. From 1997 to the year 2001 I will have provided a total funding package of £353,000 for the women's history project.

Part of the motion proposed by Senators asks what steps are being taken to ensure that archive material currently being held in State bodies which have been or are about to be privatised will be preserved. I do not wish to comment on specific organisations which may be about to undergo significant changes in their legal status or commercial structure.

My function in this area is in relation to the operation of the National Archives Act, 1986. This Act deals primarily with the records of Departments and offices of State. It also provides that public service organisations can be brought within its scope. Public service organisation means any type of body that receives some level of public funding. In such cases, records of public service organisations can be made transferable to the National Archives by virtue of a general power contained in the Act. This would require that I, as Minister, but only at the request of the body concerned, would declare that the records or any part of them of the public organisation concerned are now subject to all the mandatory provisions in the Act. There is also an option for appropriate organisations to donate their records to the National Archives. This could, in theory, include private companies in special cases. In general terms, the Act does not cover purely private companies that are not funded, directly or indirectly, by the State.

Records relating to any public service organisation within the meaning of the Archives Act created prior to that body becoming semi-State and in the custody of the original parent Department would be transferable in the normal course with the National Archives after the 30 year period has elapsed. However, records of organisations relating to a period before they became semi-State which are their property would not be transferable.

I would be pleased to explore with any public sector company or semi-State body any plans it might have in relation to the care of its archival records, but any such initiative should come from the company itself. My attitude to such records [934] would have to take into account the resources at the disposal of the National Archives and its need to prioritise the holdings of records of the Departments and offices of State. It may interest Senators to know that some public service companies have in the past voluntarily placed their records in the care of the National Archives and that currently the Arts Council is doing so.

The issue of the care of archival records and artefacts of national importance held in semi-State companies are but two of many heritage matters that I am currently looking at in the context of the forthcoming national heritage plan which is being developed in my Department. If any of the Senators have any suggestions or ideas to contribute in this regard, I would be pleased to examine them.

I hope that Senators will appreciate from what I have outlined the significant developments in relation to the library and archives and I urge them to support both institutions.

Mr. Norris: It is always a pleasure to welcome the Minister to the House because she is in the not totally unique situation of being a Minister who is motivated in her job, has a genuine interest and is on top of her brief.

I notice the motion has once again been amended. I wonder if it is possible to negotiate an agreement when the sides are so close together. There was such a negotiated agreement when I had Private Members' time. If people are put under pressure, it gives one a good opportunity to bargain if one is looking for something. It provides the possibility of calling a vote, which is always pleasant when some of one's colleagues are not here. It notches up the batting average, but I understand that may not happen this evening for practical reasons. I gather from listening to the contributions that there is a general consensus on this issue, so there is no need to make a political football out of it. The result of this debate is to strengthen the Minister's hand in seeking further financing.

I was fascinated by Senator Manning's speech which was informative, useful and altruistic. We are talking about these fields being underpaid at £41,000 to £50,000. The associate librarian in UCD gets considerably more than the national librarian and than Members of this House. We should recognise our own altruism and say these people are underpaid but at a less significant rate than we are as legislators.

Archives are significant and important and we do not always recognise the importance of what might appear to be trivial. I remember some years ago when I was chairman of the Friends of the Library in Trinity College Dublin going to a wonderful lecture by Louis Cullen about the records of a small early 18th century manufacturing company in England which had been lost and were brought to the public's attention again in [935] the blitz when an area of Manchester was bombed. They were a remarkable deposit because they gave a lateral insight into that period.

I recently bought the records of the Georgian Society and it is interesting the curious things one finds in them. I was glad to find that a relation of my grandmother was a member of the committee. Then I discovered that one of the subscribers was a Mrs. Albany Fetherstonhaugh and her address was my house in North Great George's Street. When I looked further at the list of subscribers I found that a Mr. George Shackelton, whose family I also know, was living in a house called Anna Liffey, which is significant. We always knew the phrase Anna Liffey came from Abhainn na Life, but many people believed it had been coined by James Joyce. The name of that house is the first record of Anna Liffey I have come across prior to Joyce's usage of the phrase in Finnegan's Wake, although variations of it arise. When firms throw things out, they do not know they may be throwing out all types of information that could give an unusual insight into past life.

It is reasonable that we should discuss this issue in this wonderful building. The library started in this building in 1877. It was originally the library of the RDS in Leinster House before it was transferred to the building next door. I know that because my wonderful efficient secretary retrieved a lot of material from the Internet. The Internet can only operate in so far as archived materials are deposited within it which can be transcribed into an accessible form. Even though we think a great deal of mechanical regurgitation, we cannot retrieve material without careful archiving.

A very important contribution was made by Dr. Jasper Joly. The genealogical office is significant for tourism because many people come here, particularly Americans, in search of their roots. I was glad to learn more about the newspaper plan because these are fragile materials. News print degrades very quickly and it often contains fascinating material. I have already given an archive of theatre programmes to the library in Trinity College. It looks flimsy in comparison to Joly's collection of 25,000 documents. I gave 500 books to the James Joyce Centre.

I also have a curious collection of press cuttings about the gay rights movement from its inception when the word was unacceptable in print. It follows the complete development of a social ideal. I want that to be preserved because news print degrades quickly and I am aware that it must be done professionally with proper conservation techniques. It is exciting that these records of our past, which can be lost easily, will be kept because of the good work done by the library.

I have received representations with regard to opening hours. I intended to raise the matter this evening. The letter I received stated:

[936] Another thing concerning this matter is the lack of access of various repositories. The National Library is not too bad but the National Archives closes every day at 5 p.m. and never opens weekends or public holidays. The only people who can research there are the unemployed and those on shift work. If you work constantly 8 to 4, 9 to 5 you can forget about the National Archives.

There is a similar problem with the office of the registrar of births, deaths and marriages. I welcome the accessibility of the library but a good point has been made in regard to the National Archives. People with a professional or research interest do not always have working hours which allow them to use the facilities. What has been done in the National Library with regard to flexible opening times could be done in the National Archives.

I refer to another correspondent of mine, who is a responsible person actively engaged in the Civil Service. He discovered that in 1932 a local Protestant minister in his village in the west published a record of the village. It dealt with its religious history and family data about what was described as “the gentry”. The history was greatly loved by the local people and this man was looking for it. He discovered a great deal of archive material but he found that, before any of it could be published, permission had to be sought from various Departments, not just one centralised authority. The Ordnance Survey must approve publication of its material, such as maps, and it is a similar case with the National Library, the National Archives and churches, if one wishes to publish extracts from registers of births and deaths. Why should this be so for material that is more than 100 years old? It could be simplified and made more efficient. I am not sure why this cumbersome permissions procedure is necessary. It is a problem.

I welcome greatly the women's history project and the funding that is being made available for it. This is another aspect of our history that has in the past been lost easily. It is fragile and more difficult to recover unless the material is stored in an appropriate manner. We have seen how material disappears. Several tribunals have discovered that documentary evidence has gone astray from different Departments and we know that material has turned up in skips. Departments are not always careful about these matters when they should be.

We will face a problem eventually because so much of our past is with us now, so to speak, that there are storage problems. We are almost in danger of being overwhelmed by our past. Whereas material from between the 12th and 14th centuries is very sketchy and, thanks to the blowing up of the Four Courts, many other periods are sketchy, we are now able to recover and retain many visual images. The Minister referred to photographic records, which are very important, and the film archive, which did not exist until Liam O'Leary made it a labour of love [937] and handed over his material to the State. This is extremely important because we will have to find ever more modern methods of conserving and retrieving such material.

The Minister has lived up to the intent of the motion. We asked for and received a great deal of positive information, but perhaps not quite everything that Senator Manning would have liked. However, we are behind the Minister in her energetic attempts to provide an even better service in the library. I am glad that she referred to the advisory council chaired by Margaret MacCurtain, who is an excellent person. It will give good advice and I know that the Minister will give her a sympathetic ear.

Labhrás Ó Murchú: I acknowledge the positive tone set by Senator Manning in this informed debate. It is not intended to press the amendment and I thank previous speakers, particularly Senator Manning, for sharing their vast knowledge. The National Library was perceived in the past as a place where one found genial professors and posturing academics. That was unjust and unfair, but it is certainly not the case now. There is nothing more heartening than the public demanding more information in the context of the library and the archives. As a result of the extra capital made available by the Minister and current resources, it was possible to improve access for the public with longer opening hours in the library.

Virtually anybody would support something with cultural focus and significance and I wish to add a further dimension to the debate. I am from provincial Ireland and while I do not suggest that the National Library or the National Archives should be fragmented, local and regional archive material may never find its way into the National Archives. Over the years many people have made an effort to establish local archives and they should be encouraged. I like to think of them as outreaches in the current archive structure.

I attended two very different functions in County Tipperary last Monday, one of which was the opening of the new vocational college. The chairman of the VEC, Mr. Brendan Griffin, chose to talk about the location of Cahir in relation to Tubrid, the birthplace of Seathrún Céitinn who provided the first comprehensive history of Ireland several hundred years ago. That evening I attended the launch of a biographical dictionary of County Tipperary by a non-academic, Mr. Martin O'Dwyer, which was a fine work. It was launched by Monsignor Dean Lee, who is a knowledgeable local scholar and historian, and it was highly praised. Strangely enough, he also referred to Seathrún Céitinn, who was in a cave in the Glen of Aherlow when he wrote most of his comprehensive history of Ireland. It seemed to me that we were talking of something that was living rather than something of the distant past and that it was coming into community perception. It is important we bear that in mind when [938] discussing the National Library or National Archive.

I was in America some years ago when the national treasures of Ireland went on tour there, a short time after the treasures of Egypt went on tour. I always remember the excitement of the Irish community that these treasures were coming, as they would enhance that community's image and inflate their pride. It gave them a nice way to show off the antiquity of our inheritance. Would it be possible to bring some of the artefacts in the National Library and National Archive on tour to regional areas? If it was possible to overcome the security problems of bringing Irish national treasures outside Ireland it should be possible to display them in the regions. It would make the institutions relevant to people. I am not saying that people do not travel to Dublin but I am thinking of making local communities aware of what is available. This is underlined by reference to the genealogical service available in Dublin, because there is also a very extensive genealogical service available throughout the country. There are 33 family history centres in Ireland which have access to at least 95 per cent of church records made available by the different Churches. Those are being indexed with great assistance and encouragement from the Minister's Department. The important aspect of this is that people from North and South are involved and both traditions are involved in a representative manner. Archive material has not only been preserved and computerised but made accessible to those who look for it.

It would be sad if someone of Kerry extraction came back to Ireland from America or Australia after five generations and had to go to Dublin to trace their roots when they could go to Killarney. Someone of Wexford extraction could go to Tagoat and so on, as there is much more to tracing one's roots than getting the bald facts. One wants to breathe the air and perhaps find the original homestead. One can certainly visit the burial grounds – in south Tipperary we have copied 230,000 inscriptions from gravestones and we are in a position to direct a person to burial grounds.

This approach was pioneered in Corofin, particularly through the work of the late Doctor Naoise Cleary. He received a doctorate for his work, although, unfortunately, he did not live long enough to enjoy that – go ndéana Dia trócaire air. He set this process moving in Corofin and the whole country responded subsequently. I saw a small example of the emotion attached to tracing one's roots in County Clare when a family was shown where its homestead was. The building was gone but there were clusters of stones with grass growing over them. It was impossible to get the people away from there. They were picking up pebbles and talking about what the house looked like when it was occupied.

My argument is that while it is necessary to centralise and Dublin city has a particular claim, I would love to think that the Department and [939] the Minister, who has been so innovative in so many ways, would look at the possibility of this outreach approach for the National Library and the National Archive. In the past, archives were collected and kept secure but they were never put back in the public domain for people to learn from and develop an affinity with them. The way to do that is to encourage regional archives.

I compliment the Minister on her informative speech. It is obvious that we are talking about a vibrant matter, not something that has been put on the long finger. The major capital investment earmarked for the two institutions gives us much encouragement. I thank the Minister for this information and I compliment Senator Manning on the way he promoted this debate.

Mr. Manning: I thank Senators and the Minister. I am glad we do not have to have a division as there is no difference between us and it would be a pity if we had a vote. I thank Senator Ó Murchú and the Minister for agreeing to accept the motion.

It has been an interesting and useful debate. There was a time long ago, as the Minister may remember, when one of my tasks was to mark the Minister's essays and examination papers and to award her marks. If I was marking her speech tonight I would have to give her alpha, if not alpha plus, as she answered virtually all the questions. That indicates her full commitment to the most interesting job in Government – I certainly envy her. She is going along the right lines and doing well.

The Minister made the position of Mr. Brendan O'Donoghue very clear, as I did. We are lucky to have people of his calibre. The Minister indicated, as did I, some of the changes that have taken place under both Mr. O'Donoghue and Mr. Seán Cromien before him. I am glad that the problem of the director's position will now be resolved in a way that is very satisfactory. If the present acting director could be persuaded to apply it would be very worthwhile as he has done a great job.

My one area of concern is the matter of so-called public service organisations and State bodies. The Minister made it clear that she can only do what she is empowered to do by the 1986 Act, yet there is a problem in this regard. Some of these bodies have a very good record, such as the ESB, but some do not and do not see this matter as a priority. I disagree with the Minister when she says the initiative should come from them. I think that is wrong because the Minister represents the public interest and she should take the initiative, as they will not, particularly those likely to cause trouble. It would be very useful if the Minister called a meeting between representatives of these bodies and representatives of the National Archive. The archive's work could be explained to them and those bodies which have not paid attention to date might pay attention and act – I refer specifically to the bodies which are [940] about to be privatised. The Minister represents the public interest and should take the initiative. If she does not these bodies will not act.

The Minister did not address the matter of compliance by various Departments but perhaps she will inform me of the situation in this regard at a later date. I thank all contributors to this enjoyable debate. I compliment the Minister on the work she is doing.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion agreed to.