Archives and history

Tue, Jul 23, 2013, 01:10

Sir, –I wish to support strongly Prof Eunan O’Halpin’s call, in his fascinating article on Lemass (“Sean Lemass’s silent anguish”, Weekend, July 21st), for the immediate release of the military service pension archive.

Military service pensions were first introduced by Cumann na nGaedheal in 1924 and were blatantly partisan, with eligibility limited to those who could prove service in the National Army during the Civil War. This restriction was hardly surprising, coming so soon after the end of the Civil War. In 1934, Fianna Fáil, having decried the jobbery of the pensions for nearly a decade, extended pension eligibility to those who had taken the republican side in that fratricidal conflict. Pensions of varying value were awarded to all levels of personnel; by 1961 over half of the pensions still being paid were to the lowest grades. There was also a wide geographical scope in the award of pensions. For example, in 1956 there were 193 pensioners in Waterford city and county, which would not have been considered one of the more active parts of the country.

The military service pension archive will provide a truer picture of the role of women, youths, expatriates and trade unionists in the fighting of Easter Week, the War of Independence and the Civil War. We will have a different view of military and other actions from the perspective of the rank-and-file. The contribution of all parts of the country to the fight for independence will be well documented. It will also serve as an opportunity to examine how the Irish State treated the veterans of the revolution that led to its establishment.

The decision to release the archive was announced by the then taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 2006.

At the present lamentable rate of progress, the Irish public will be lucky to see it before the centenary of the Rising. – Yours, etc,

Dr MARIE COLEMAN,

School of History

and Anthropology,

Queen’s University Belfast.

Sir, – The General Register Office, a repository vital to Irish genealogists and with records of birth marriage and death miraculously intact since 1845/1864, is to be moved from its central location in the Irish Life Centre to a former dole office in Werburgh Street (Home News, July 20th).

While most other Irish records of genealogical relevance are now digitised and available online, problems with the GRO digitisation programme mean that the database has not yet been released for the use of the public, who must continue to carry out research manually and at considerable expense. The GRO is an agency now under the Department of Social Protection and it surely does not make sense that the Minister involved, Joan Burton, should have to add genealogists’ needs to her concerns.

There is a solution, which only bureaucratic inertia opposes, and that is to allow competent voluntary and commercial organisations to undertake completion of the GRO digitisation project and place the birth, marriage and death records online, for free or a fee as appropriate.

This is the procedure which is now being followed by the National Archives in respect of prison, court, tithe and other records, and costs the taxpayer little or nothing. There would be an added bonus in relation to GRO records, in that as fees are currently charged to users, a revenue stream would continue via licensing and indeed would probably increase once the diaspora can access the records via the internet. – Yours, etc,

SEAN MURPHY,

Cliff Road,

Windgates,

Bray,

Co Wicklow.