Joint Services Committee: Motion.

I move:

That, notwithstanding anything in the Order of the Seanad of 7 April 1993, the Joint Services Committee shall report to both Houses of the Oireachtas before 1 March 1994, on the adequacy of resources available for the library and research service for Members and on how these services might be improved.

I did not expect to have the freedom of the House to speak on this issue. Perhaps the Independent Senators might give me the courtesy of a hearing. This matter arises out of an Order made at the beginning of the life of the current Dáil and Seanad. Both Houses asked the Joint Services Committee to look at the services available to Members in the Library. The committee set up a subcommittee, of which I am chairman. At present we are actively examining the improvements that need to be made to the information available to Members. We expect to complete our report early in the New Year and this will contain specific proposals.

The committee is looking at two main areas, one is the physical features of the Library. I mentioned in a debate some weeks ago on a motion tabled by Independent Senators that there is general agreement our Library is antiquated. Since the foundation of the State the resources given to the Library have been niggardly in the extreme. That did not matter much many years ago when the number of published works was very small and when there was not the enormous flow of information or the range of technological expertise available as there is today.

The Library has remained behind the times. An adequate number of trained librarians has not been provided, with the result that many of the works in the Library are still not catalogued. In the bowels of this House, there is an enormous collection of works which was once part of the Chief Secretary's Library in Dublin Castle. It was moved here at the foundation of the State but has not yet been catalogued. Why? What is the state of the books? How can they be catalogued? There is also the bigger question whether it is appropriate that this collection should be in the Oireachtas, where it has never been used in 70 years. If this collection is valuable, as I believe it is, it should be made available to a major library or institution of higher learning where it could be used by bona fide scholars. That is one of the questions the committee is examining.

Of more particular interest to Members is the old question of IT and the linking of the Library to some major network in the country so that the type of research facilities which Members need to carry out their duties will be available to them. We have, perhaps, the most backward Library of any Parliament in the European Community. In saying this, I am emphatically not casting any aspersion on the people who work in the Library. The Library is under-staffed but is served by a dedicated group of people who give a first class service within the resources available.

However, it is the job of this committee to try to first ascertain what resources are necessary and second, to draw up a report and put pressure on the Government to ensure that, in the interests of all Members, these facilities are made available. We on the committee — Senator Magner, myself and others — would welcome Members' contributions, their ideas about what needs to be done. I have already circulated a note to all Members of both Houses and I have had a number of replies as to what needs to be done. It is important that we get it right this time because we will not get another chance to redesign the Library facilities for a long time.

The committee is actively seeking the support of Members?

We are actively seeking the support of Members right across the House and we have had a good response so far.

I worry about the enthusiasm of Members; there was an exodus when this subject came up. I believe that the state of the Library is almost anti-democratic. We have spoken many times in this House on complex legislation and Opposition parties have no resource other than the Library. It is woefully inadequate and could be summed up as an excellent staff and a lousy Library.

I have no doubt that when the committee present its report, it will involve spending substantial sums of money. The Seanad and the Dáil will then have to support the committee's recommendations in order to get this money. This is one area where we cannot allow the Department of Finance to dictate to us. It is a disgrace.

We are fielding powerful lobby groups here who have access to all the information they require because they can tap into various data banks around the world. Members of Government parties can get information through the system, but Opposition Members are totally dependent on their own resources. We must get to the stage when people can go into the Library knowing the subject they want to research, press a button and get the information. That is how it is done in most Parliaments and it is time it was done here.

I blame the Members over the years because it is not just the Library services which are inadequate but all the services in this House. Accommodation has been deplorable over the years. Members should put their House in order. We in the Joint Services Committee are trying to do that but we need the help and support of everybody. As I said, I have no doubt that, at the end of this period when we have done our work and made proposals, we will need the support of everybody to put it into effect as soon as possible.

There are three speakers remaining; they have approximately two minutes each.

There is great concern about this topic, despite the fact that people have left the House. It was made clear that only a few minutes were being given to each group. When I was elected to this House in 1987 I asked to use the fax machine but there was no fax machine in the building and that was only six years ago. Facilities have not improved much since then, except that there are now more fax machines. There is still no better access to information. Nothing has impressed me more in this House than the courtesy and co-operation of the Library staff, which was mentioned by the previous speakers. They are the most willing people with whom I have ever dealt. They have introduced me to many periodicals and information resources which I did not know about.

I want to take this debate further. I fully support the points made by Senator Manning and Senator Magner. However, it will never come to the stage that one can press a button and get the information, because one has to say what information one wants. That requires research facilities and support. Research assistants are also required to access information. What are required in this House more that anything else are people who are able to guide us through a maze of information, such as the grey list of the European Parliament and the European institutions. We have access to this information but it is so vast and broad that it is like looking into a bush; we cannot get anything out of it. I support this motion and I will be demanding research facilities at group or Member level, as well as other support, such as secretarial facilities. All these matters are tied to resources for elected public representatives.

I look forward to the findings of the committee chaired by Senator Manning and the contribution of his colleagues. I think there is an obligation on the rest of us to submit our ideas to the committee so that it will be better informed. I agree with Senator Magner that if the Library is to get resources, priority must be given to it. That in turn leads to ourselves, what we want and what we are going to do about it. When we have the report we should act on it.

The staff in the Library are invariably courteous and helpful within their limited resources. The quality of our contributions here, whether we are in Government or Opposition — while Ministers are well informed, backbenchers and Senators on both sides also need that support — is clearly linked to the research facilities available, such as the range and quality of material in the Library. As people in public life, we rely to a considerable extent on our day-to-day experience. However, that is inadequate, especially given the complexity of many measures nowadays. Back-up services are essential.

We need more technology. I have observed, as no doubt Senator Manning has, that 18 and 19 year old students are very adept at handling technology. Older people, such as ourselves, may need some guidance, but there is huge potential in terms of what can be provided through technology in the Library. I am delighted the committee has been set up. It is both timely and necessary and I look forward to its findings.

The Joint Services Committee is to be commended on this initiative and I wish it every success. I will not repeat many of the points which were made, other than to agree strongly with Senator Magner that, increasingly, we find ourselves in the hands of lobby groups when it comes to putting together material for debate in this House. We must have adequate research facilities, not so that we can counter the lobby groups because what they present us with is well researched, but sometimes it needs to be rebutted. Sometimes it is difficult to know how best to use the resources to rebut it and this is where the Library should be at our service.

With regard to technology, I was astonished when I came into this House in 1989 that we were still using typewriters and dictaphones. Having come from a business background, I was astonished that the people who were meant to be running the country were reduced to that. Technology is a fact of life. The data bases are there and should be available to us. It should be possible to have access to them in our offices. However, that is a matter for another day.

I compliment and support the committee and wish it success. Seven years ago at a parliamentary meeting of my party I said there was more technology in a little village called Brockagh than there was in Leinster House, and I doubt if many people knew where Brockagh was.

They still do not.

It is a little village between Ballybofey and Glenties in Donegal. I was speaking from experience. We have more technology in Donegal County Council than there is in Leinster House. We can partly blame ourselves for this because we have not looked at this aspect of our business and ensured that we got the necessary backup services. We are part of the European Community and we must have informed people here if we are to contribute to debates. I support the current effort.

I can see the headline tomorrow: "Where is Brockagh?"

Question put and agreed to.