Sunday, April 11, 2010

Action on Archives Committee to find solutions to Irish Archives in Crisis

Archives in Crisis, a symposium to debate the future of archives in Irish society, was held yesterday, Saturday, 10 April, 2010 from 3:00pm to 5:00pm at the Robert Emmet Lecture Theatre, Arts Building, Trinity College, Dublin. The moderator was Diarmaid Ferriter, Professor of Modern History, University College Dublin. The panel speakers included Catriona Crowe, Chairperson of Archivists' Branch, IMPACT; Fintan O'Toole, Columnist and assistant editor of The Irish Times; and Eunan O'halpin, Bank of ireland Professor of Contemporary Irish History, Trinity College, Dublin. The event had been organised by Dr. Peter Crooks of the Medievil History Research Course of Trinity College who is to be congratulated on his initiative and organisation skills. The lecture theatre was filled to capacity with people standing in the back and in the aisles; probably in excess of 250 people.

The forum had been organised to debate a proposed merger of the National Archives of Ireland and the Irish Manuscripts Commission into the National Library of Ireland. A stark question was posed; what will be the state of Irish archives in 2022 on the centenary of the Public Records Office destruction in the Four Courts blaze in 1922?

Presentations discussed the cultural significance of archives in Irish society. Audience members then had an opportunity to pose questions and share views on archival policy in Ireland. The meeting concluded with Dr. Peter Crooks asking participants and interested parties to contribute ideas and committee nominations to a new Action on Archives Committee which will seek to make representations to appropriate bodies. Dr. Peter Crook's email is and his teleephone number is +353 (0)1 896 1368.

Irish genealogists were well represented at the forum. This writer observed the following genealogists in the audience and probably missed several others. From the Association of Professional Genealogists of Ireland were Paul Gorry, Maire Mac Conghail, John Grenham, and Eileen O'Duill. The board of the Genealogical Society of Ireland was represented by Michael Merrigan, Fiona Tipple, Seamus O'Reilly, and John Hamrock. John Hamrock was also representing the Irish branch of the Irish Genealogical Research Society and Ancestor Network Limited. Brian Donovan participated from Eneclann Limited.

Several interesting contributions were made from the audience including:-

-Paul Gorry cited the entreaties genealogists have made over the years to safekeep and to ensure public access to the archives in the Registry of Deeds, the General Register office, the Land Commission and the 1926 census of Ireland
- Ireland needs a national digistisation strategy modelled perhaps on the American Memory project which would need dedicated funding, but has been a success at the Library of Congress
- include the Oireachtas Library in the debate
- Brian Donovan of Eneclann made an argument to show that the Irish public archives are a key motivation for overseas visitors to come to ireland and that related businesses in Ireland generate approximately euro 1 billion annually in archival related services such as genealogy and digistisation. He also noted that the budget for the combined National Archives and National Library of ireland is euro 19 million per annum versus euro 170 in the United Kingdom
- Establish a National Action on Archives Committee for a period of one year to 18 months; Diarmaid Ferriter to serve as ad hoc be chair until the committee elects an appointed chairman; representative groups to nominate committee members

In one of the closing contributions from the audience, Michael Merrigan of the Genealogical Society of Ireland advocated that a structured approach to this issue is essential, and as far as practicable and appropriate, a planned strategy should:-

- avoid an open an needless confrontation with the Minister on this so called "budgetary measure"
- welcome the possibilities afforded by the new required legislation to achive the many goals articulated in the TCD meeting
- possibly concede 'legislative amalgamation that ensures a maintenance of seoarate functions and identities of the Irish Manuscripts Commission, National Library of Ireland, and the National Archives of Ireland
- called for a meaningful public consultation on the whole governmental proposal in advance of the production of the draft legislation.