Thursday, 17 April 2014

Questions (24)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

24. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will list, by location and capacity, the total available storage spaces which are being used by the National Archives to store materials; the quality of archival storage facilities and equipment that is available at each site; if he will guarantee that the 70,000 uncatalogued National Archives items are being stored in conditions that meet international best practice; if the available space creates an impediment in itself to the process of cataloguing the backlog; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18053/14]

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Written answers (Question to Arts)

I refer the Deputy to my reply to today's Question No 13 in relation to the National Archives.

On a general note, the Deputy will be aware that all of the National Cultural Institutions, including the National Archives, have unavoidably suffered cuts in their allocations in recent years. This is a difficult reality that every publicly funded body has had to deal with during the economic crisis. I can assure the House that I have done my utmost to minimize budget cuts to the cultural institutions, in so far as was possible, while being cognisant of competing demands on the public finances. The stark reality is that, in the current funding environment, institutions have had to make difficult choices when prioritising the spending of their allocations.

In relation to the National Archives, the Bishop Street headquarters are at capacity and off-site storage has been required for a number of years to house the statutory annual transfer of Departmental records to the National Archives. Cognisant of these matters, my Department had requested that the OPW prepare a development plan for the Bishop Street premises. A plan was prepared accordingly for the phased delivery of the necessary works in the National Archives headquarters warehouse. The plan concluded that the construction of a two storey facility within the existing building will provide an efficient and economically viable solution to the storage needs of the National Archives. A formal Cost Benefit Analysis in respect of the proposed development was completed in October 2013. My Department is continuing to progress this project with OPW and other stakeholders in the context of the Decade of Commemorations.

With regard to the current capacity of the various storage locations used by the National Archives and the facilities/equipment available, the position is set out in the following Table, which will be included in the Official Report.

TABLE:

Location

Capacity

Facilities/Equipment

Four Courts

90,000 boxes

- refurbished, good facilities and equipment

Bishop St front block

125,000 boxes

- good facilities and equipment

Bishop St warehouse

114,000 boxes (including 70,000 boxes uncatalogued)

- substandard facilities and equipment and being addressed as part of development plan

Commercial storage

1,800 boxes

- good facilities and equipment

As the Deputy will be aware, the key obstacles to working on the National Archives backlog are lack of skilled and qualified staff who could carry out the cataloguing and preservation work and a lack of space in which to store the documents when this work is complete. In relation to staffing, I am pleased that my Department recently secured sanction for the filling of 2 Keeper posts, 2 Senior Archivist posts and 1 Senior Conservator post at the national Archives, as well as the recruitment of 2 additional Archivists.