Thursday, 29 April 1999
Dáil Éireann Debate
Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera): My Department completed a comprehensive review of the Irish Genealogical Project, IGP, earlier this year. The purpose of the review was to consider whether the IGP should continue. The central issue addressed by the review was whether the investment of additional public resources in the IGP was required or warranted. My Department's review considered, inter alia, the past performance of the IGP, the findings of the Value For Money report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the IGP and its future potential. The review concluded that the IGP still has the potential to produce significant economic, social, cultural and political benefits to Ireland. The key strategic issues, in respect of which action must be taken if the IGP is to be a success, were iden tified by the review and recommendations made as to how these issues should be addressed. The review concluded that the priority should be to deal with those issues which would have an impact on the project as a whole and that accordingly there exists a compelling case for supporting and resourcing the central management of the IGP to enable it to address an agreed programme of work directed at tackling the critical areas.
The board of Irish Genealogy Limited, as managers of the project, was given the opportunity to consider the report of my Department's review and to comment on its contents. Having considered the review and the response of the board of Irish Genealogy Limited I decided, with the agreement of the Minister for Finance, to provide Irish Genealogy Limited with funding of £210,000 in the current year. This funding will be conditional on Irish Genealogy Limited preparing and agreeing a business plan with my Department covering the period 1999-2000. The business plan will have to address and prioritise a number of critical tasks identified in my Department's review. The implementation of this business plan will be closely monitored by my Department.
Mr. Kenny: I thank the Minister for her reply, but we would need more time than is available here to deal with the matter. The Minister spoke about her Department's internal assessment, but what is the current status of that report and at what level was it conducted? Will the Minister publish the report? The Heritage Council commissioned a report which was finalised last December and given to the Minister. Will she publish that report also? Has it been analysed and have any decisions been made on it by the Department? What is the relationship between the Department's internal report and the final conclusions of the report of the Heritage Council?
Miss de Valera: As I pointed out in my initial reply, the review of the IGP by my Department was a comprehensive one. It had to be because of the concerns that had been raised. In addition, we wanted to see what we could do for this project. To do so we had to find the strengths and weaknesses of the IGP. That is why a business plan will now be drawn up, in consultation with my Department, to cover the period 1999-2000, and to target in the best possible way the £210,000 that will be allocated by the Department.
I assure the Deputy that the reports are very comprehensive and certain recommendations were made. It is now time for us to go ahead with those recommendations which have already been initiated. The next move will be to hear from the IGP about its business plan and once that is agreed we can get on with the business.
I was not aware the Deputy was interested in the reports being published. I do not believe they will shed any greater light on the matter than I have already done. It is of interest that questions have been raised, not necessarily in the report,  but by the general public as to whether a dedicated workforce should be put in place to deal with a number of issues regarding local databases. That was one of the weaknesses that was revealed by the report. It was not so much the fact that the databases existed, but that not all of them had been completed.
The FÁS personnel who have been involved in collecting information at local level have been exemplary. Because of that there is no need to put in a workforce as some people have suggested. The work that has been done by people on these FÁS schemes has been particularly good. It is a question of seeing how best we can manage to get all the databases around the country drawn up.
Mr. Kenny: Given that Ireland has not had a tradition of professional expertise in genealogical practice, and given that the whole area is riven with internal tension, jealousies and a great deal of envy, it would be helpful if the Minister laid copies of the internal report of her Department and the final report of the Heritage Council in the Dáil Library, and published them.
Will the Minister account for the work to date in respect of the proposal to transfer personnel to Roscommon? What is the status of activity at the general registry office? This year £210,000 is being allocated on condition, by the Minister for certain works, which is right and proper. However, the Minister has been working on this project for two years. There is an opportunity for her to make an outstanding contribution to genealogy, but she appears to be merely tinkering around the edges. When one considers that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – the Mormons – provide free internet access to microfilmed genealogical records dating from the mid-1800s, it makes a mockery of what we are trying to do. The Minister should take this issue by the scruff of the neck and lead from a ministerial point of view. There are tremendous opportunities and potential. The Minister could set an example for many other countries to follow, but in the current international context we are very far behind.
What does the Minister think £210,000 will achieve this year? Is it her intention to lay out a three-year comprehensive development plan that will see the genealogy project creating genealogical practices for users both at home and internationally to achieve economic advantage from tourism roots? Is that the Minister's intention and where does she stand on the issue?
Miss de Valera: We all recognise the tremendous work that can be done in the area of genealogy, not least for the tourism industry in dealing with the personal interests of those concerned. The Deputy will be aware that the IGP came under the Department of the Taoiseach and only in recent times was it transferred to the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. After being transferred, we had  to find where the strengths and weaknesses were in order to see what we could do about funding to improve the operation for those who wished to use the service. As we discovered, the IGP is of significant interest not only to local people but also to tourists. Many economic, social, cultural and political benefits stem from this matter.
The business plan will be drawn up between the board of Irish Genealogy Limited and my Department. At this stage it would not be fair to pre-empt any such decisions. The plan is being drawn up and will provide a clear focus on where we want to go, particularly with regard to this year's funding totalling £210,000 for the period 1999-2000. Much work remains to be done. We must combine the tremendous work that has already been done at local level with the national overview to co-ordinate our efforts. When the IGP's functions were transferred to my Department, we had to examine what the situation was in terms of strengths and weaknesses, and work from there. That is exactly what we are doing. I agree with the Deputy that there is a wealth of knowledge to be correlated, and that is being done at local level. There is still a good deal of work to be done, but it is a question of planning in a co-ordinated way. That can best be done in the approach we have initiated between the ITP and my Department.
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