GENEALOGICAL OFFICE

 

Sir, - With reference to Senator Pascal Mooney's letter (November 26th) I feel sure that the learned senator will agree with me when I say that no amount of law, be it statute or other, can alter fact, and the fact is that the Genealogical Office is not a library. As he is well aware, the character of any office or institution is determined by its functions and it is so with the Genealogical Office.

Notwithstanding its name, it has only a modest involvement with popular genealogy, its principal function being to exercise heraldic authority on behalf of the Government. To use statute law to declare that the state heraldic authority is part of a semi-state body is tantamount to legalising an anomaly. The current trend is towards ridding the statute books of such legislation.

All of this is a great pity, particularly in view of the fact that Senator Mooney proposed a quarter of amendments to the National Cultural Institutions Bill, 1996, which, had they been adopted would have established a legal framework for a well-structured heraldic authority. If it is the intention of the Government to maintain an official heraldic authority, legislators need to be sensitive to certain requirements that are essential to the proper working of such an authority. These will be set out here in the context of the Bill.

The change in governance of institutions such as the National Museum and National Library, as proposed in the Bill, would not of itself materially change or changed adversely the principal or other functions of those institutions. Not so the Genealogical Office. The legislative proposal that the office operate under a board if implemented, would ipso facto radically change its principal function, and for the worse.

Currently legal instruments are issued in the name of and by the authority of, the Government, whereas under the present proposals presumably, such instruments would be issued in the name of and by the authority of the board - a body distinct from government. This would spell the end off the Genealogical Office as an office of state, and of the Chief Herald as an officer of state. Furthermore, it is quite unclear what worth, if any, an instrument issued by an office so devalued would have.

The essential requirements for an official authority in heraldry, genealogy and related disciplines are defined by reference to practice and precedent in Ireland from 1552 tithe present time, and further, by reference to practice current in countries such as Canada, Scotland, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Holland, England, the Republic of South Africa, Zimbabwe etc. In all of these, heraldic authority is exercised directly under their respective governments or heads of State. These requirements are (1) that the authority be an office of central government operating directly under Government and (2) that the authority be a separate and independent entity.

As already stated, the office which currently exercises heraldic and genealogical authority in Ireland is the Genealogical Office, headed by the Chief Herald. That office is an office of central government and should remain so. Since the principal function of the office is the conferral of marks of identity on a substantial fee basis, the requirement that the office have a proper identity of its own becomes self-evident. - Yours, etc.

Reilly's Avenue, Dublin 8.