Report critical of rationale for merging State archives and National Library

 

The thinking behind the plan to merge the National Archives into the National Library “does not look compelling”, according to a report sent to Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan and released under a Freedom of Information request.

The Government has also been criticised for its intention to replace the boards of the National Library and the National Museum with a single advisory council operating within the ambit of Mr Deenihan’s department. The council would focus on fundraising and philanthropy and have a statutorily independent director.

Historian Diarmaid Ferriter resigned from the National Library’s board last May in protest at the Government’s amalgamation plan, while former director of the National Museum Pat Wallace described the proposals as “a very mistaken idea”.

Cultural tourism

Economist Jim Power wrote the report that said the proposed merger of the National Archives into the National Library would “seriously undermine” the ability of the “already very strained” bodies to deliver on their statutory obligations.

The June 2012 report was commissioned by the trade union Impact, which opposes the merger. It was released to The Irish Times by the department following a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

“Ireland markets itself on the basis of a strong cultural and heritage tradition and this is used to promote the cultural tourism offering of the country,” stated Mr Power’s report.

“The proposed merger of the NLI [National Library of Ireland] and the NAI [National Archives of Ireland] would undoubtedly damage these credentials without significant financial investment in both entities.”

The report criticised the decision to merge the institutions “without any consultation” with the affected bodies. “This is not how decisions should be reached or policy implemented.” It warns that an “ill-conceived” merger would send out a “very negative and ambiguous” message about the attitude of policymakers towards an important aspect of the economy, “and indeed of Irish democratic principles”.

The report continued: “An investigation of the savings that could be made from shared services such as HR, finance, storage, security and support services should be undertaken, but the rationale for a merger does not look compelling.”

Mr Deenihan outlined what he described as a pragmatic, programme of reforms for the 12 organisations funded by his department last month.

He said annual savings of at least €1 million would be secured, the numbers on boards would be reduced by up to 50 per cent and fees for board memberships would be eliminated.

“These reforms will save money at a time of scarce resources and will also modernise how these institutions co-operate and work with each other,” said Mr Deenihan.

He had told the Dáil: “I cannot accept the proposition that examining reform possibilities amounts to an attack on the cultural infrastructure of the nation, as has been suggested by some. In fact, the idea that any organisation should be, or consider itself to be, above examination or review and possible reform is unhealthy and a recipe for a bad deal for the taxpayer who funds these institutions and the public whom they serve.”

Bodies involved and what they do

The National Museum:Since 1877 it has collected, preserved and exhibited examples of Ireland’s heritage and natural history. The museum was under the control of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism until 2005, when it was established as a semi-State autonomous agency under its own board.

The National Library:Its mission is to collect, preserve, promote and make accessible the documentary and intellectual record of Irish life. It is in existence since 1877 and was also established as an autonomous cultural institution under the National Cultural Institutions Act.

The National Archives:Preserves records relating to Ireland. It was established in 1988 and took over functions previously performed by the State Paper Office (1702) and the Public Record Office of Ireland (1867). It operates within the ambit of the Department of Arts with a statutorily independent director.

The National Manuscript Commission:It was established in 1928 to preserve documents in the aftermath of the Four Courts fire. The commission promotes public awareness of primary source materials and their importance for the history, heritage and culture of Ireland.