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.