Irish Roots

A polite Oireachtas Committee hearing


If you were watching Oireachtas TV on the afternoons of Tuesday and Thursday the week before last (and of course you were), you would have seen evidence being given to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht.

The Committee was addressing the question of “Developing a Plan to Capture the Full Value of our Genealogical Heritage”, clearly a topic designed to capture as wide a range as possible of opinion. And submissions were indeed heard from every group in Ireland involved in family history: voluntary societies, professional associations, cultural institutions, government departments – all got a chance to represent their point of view and be grilled about it. And I was there, representing no one but myself. Naturally, I made an impassioned plea for reason, compromise, parish records, justice, Mom and apple pie.

It was a very interesting experience. Coming into direct contact with political authority like that allows you almost to smell decisions being made. The feeling of the engines of State power thrumming in the background was very heady. No wonder so many politicians seem to become addicted.

The hearings will certainly have opened the eyes of many on the committee (and the masses watching UPC channel 207) to the bewildering multi-dimensional geometry that faces anybody trying to improve or co-ordinate Irish genealogical services. But the real question is whether it can achieve more than consciousness-raising. True power in this area lies with the high-level civil servants of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and they were in conspicuously short supply at the hearings. Still, bringing the full range of interests, vested and unvested, out into the open can only be for the best and the Committee’s report will make interesting reading.

The main mover behind the hearings was, I hear, Catherine Murphy, Independent TD for North Kildare. Full credit to her.