Government has no plans to release ‘treasure trove’ of historic documents

Catherine Murphy queries why Land Commission records available in North but not in State

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said millions of Land Commission records, which date back to the early 1890s, should be released now.

The Government has been urged to to release a “treasure trove” of up to eight million documents of historical and cultural importance as the State goes through a decade of centenary commemorations.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said the Land Commission records, which date back to the early 1890s, should be released to give a "lasting legacy in the same way as the military pension records resulted in a lasting archive in relation to the 1916 commemorations".

The Kildare North TD said the archives are an all-island set of records, which were split in 1922 and the Northern Ireland records up to the foundation of the State are now “publicly available in Northern Ireland but completely private in the Republic”.

The Department of Agriculture has responsibility for the Portlaoise-based records but has consistently declined to release the archives on the grounds that they are “still working documents” involving land and property transactions.


The Land Commission collected documents including wills, correspondence, State records, family tree records, lease books, tenants’ lists, maps and deeds to establish title.

Ms Murphy raised the issue in the Dáil with Minister for Heritage Josepha Madigan, who has responsibility for the decade of centenary commemorations.

The Minister said the Department of Agriculture had “no immediate plans” to make the records available. She said it was a “very complex and sensitive area” and many of the documents were fragile and irreplaceable if damaged.

Data protection

Ms Madigan also said they "contain private and personal information and as such are subject to data protection, including estates' title deeds lodged with the former Irish Land Commission by landed families when the land was being transferred".

Ms Murphy said there was nothing to prevent pre-partition documents being released as those affected were long dead and the documents were of enormous genealogical value.

“While our lifespan is pretty good I do not think it stretches back to the early 1880s or for most people the early 1920s.”

She said the Minister was refusing to release the archives and it was a “missed opportunity” especially in the context of the decade of centenaries “because land played such an important part in our history”.

Ms Madigan said the State did not hold records in the same way as Northern Ireland and “we cannot make them available for public scrutiny”.

She said that the National Archives had received 154,579 files relating to the termination of fair rents by the Land Commission but was unable to make them publicly available because of a lack of suitable storage space from which they could be retrieved for public inspection.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times