I propose to take Questions Nos. 494, 517, 518, 522, 523 and 524 together.
The statutory functions of the Director of the National Archives primarily relate to “Departmental records” and “archives in the custody of the National Archives”. There are limited “non-Department archives” in the National Archives and as Minister with responsibility for the National Archives, I have no authority over access to and publication of archives not held in the National Archives and not encompassed by the National Archives Act 1986.
The provision of access to specific departmental or non-departmental records can be constrained by various practical factors, such as storage resources in the National Archives and in Government Departments or other transferring bodies as well as competing archival priorities. The physical condition of the records can also be a factor in the degree of accessibility that can be granted, or the time it takes before such records may be made fit for release to the public as per section 10(7) of the National Archives Act, 1986, in terms of preservation and conservation work, cataloguing, listing and digitisation.
The National Archives also has no specific role in relation to records held in other repositories and/or public service organisations, except those that are listed in the Schedule to the National Archives Act 1986, or any organisations whose establishing legislation has brought them under the remit of the National Archives Act.
The Irish Church Act Amendment Act, 1881, dissolved the Church Temporalities Commission and transferred its remaining functions to the Irish Land Commission. The Church Temporalities Commission records are therefore “Departmental records” as the Land Commission is a body listed in the Schedule to the National Archives Act, 1986. Whilst some records of the Church Temporalities Commission have been deposited in the National Archives by the Department of Agriculture, the National Archives currently does not have staff or physical working space to process the records in order to make them available to the public in a safe and secure manner, nor the necessary accessible long term storage space to accommodate the records at this time. The specific reference to the Irish Church Act Amendment Act, 1881 in the main body of the text of the National Archives Act, 1986 is in Section 18:
18.—(1) except as provided by law— (a) a person shall not remove archives from the National Archives; (b) a person shall not remove from the Irish Land Commission records transferred thereto under the Irish Church Act Amendment Act, 1881;
In relation to additional storage requirements of the National Archives, the new Repository building project will convert the warehouse at the main Bishop Street building into a secure environmentally controlled repository complying with internationally accepted storage standards while providing an increase of two-thirds in the total storage capacity of the National Archives. Work has already been competed on the removal of archives from the warehouse of the National Archives as well as investigative works and other preparatory works. The project is being overseen by the Office of Public Works.
In March, I was delighted to give approval to the Office of Public Works (OPW) to progress the project to contract stage. The total cost of the project is estimated by the OPW at circa. €24 million and the OPW envisages a 16 month construction period for this project once they award the contract. Following completion of construction, the installation of the shelving would take up to a further 6 months. As the project has been delayed due to COVID-19, it is estimated that the project will now be completed in 2023.
Finally, the Data Protection Act, 2018 was progressed through the Oireachtas by the Minister of Justice and it is the responsibility of individual Departments and State bodies to ensure they abide by the provisions of that legislation.