Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: 24 April 2008

Briefing from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland

Date: 24 April 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr David McNarry (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mr Francie Brolly
The Lord Browne
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Raymond McCartney
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon

Witnesses:
Ms Marie Garvey ) Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
Mrs Aileen McClintock )

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):
The Committee will now have a briefing session from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). Marie Garvey and Aileen McClintock, who are two leading figures from PRONI, will give us the benefit of their wisdom. I refer members to tab 2, which is a briefing paper from PRONI. That will help us to understand the issues.

Some Members:
Good morning.

Mrs Aileen McClintock (Public Record Office of Northern Ireland):
Marie Garvey is the acting head of administration in the Public Record Office. I am the acting head of profession. We are waiting to recruit a new director. Marie will cover the new accommodation issues that have arisen in PRONI, and I will cover the legislative background and our activities.

Thank you for the opportunity to present evidence to the Committee this morning, and to tell the Committee about what PRONI does. We also issue a reciprocal invitation to the Committee — either as individuals or as a body. Members are very welcome to visit PRONI.

The Public Record Office was established by an Act of Parliament in 1923. It was established to receive and preserve public records — the records of courts, Departments, local authorities, and so on — that relate to Northern Ireland. Under section 5 of that Act, PRONI was also empowered to receive private records on deposit.

In effect, PRONI was created as a one-stop shop, which is fairly unique in archival institution terms. PRONI acts as the national archive for Northern Ireland. In addition, it serves as the county record office for each of the six counties of Northern Ireland, and it is also the equivalent of the manuscripts department in a national library. The only records that PRONI does not hold are those for civil registration — births, deaths and marriages. That is because of separate legislation.

Besides customer convenience, PRONI was provided with an acquisition overview. That is very important in relation to public records because of evidential gaps that arose from the Four Courts fire in 1922. Nineteenth-century census records were destroyed, but PRONI can fill the gaps from landed estate records on the private records side.

PRONI is about to start a new initiative with lists of names of individuals who were committed to the Belfast Lunatic Asylum in the late nineteenth century. That involves capturing names and tying people to places, and it is concerned with ordinary folk — not with people who achieved great things. It is an opportunity to put people in a time and place, which is what many of our users are interested in.

One of the main functions of PRONI is to acquire records. We receive those from various sources — from official sources, Departments and public authorities. We do that by promoting good records management practice. PRONI is running a series of workshops that the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure launched on 17 April. Those workshops, which we run in a number of venues, take good practice guidance out to public authorities, non-departmental public bodies and local authorities across Northern Ireland.

PRONI also supports that by providing advice through the Northern Ireland records management standard (NIRMS); authorising disposal and retention of records across Government and public authorities; and providing three courses of action to weed out records effectively and create, for permanent preservation, a cache of records that come to PRONI. That is driven by the need to consider historical and evidential value of the records.

In 2007-08, PRONI staff reviewed over one mile of Government records. That effectively freed up storage space of that equivalent distance of records. We create space for Government, as well as weeding out low-grade material and supporting Government in freedom of information (FOI) matters.

This year, PRONI will address electronic records management by developing an electronic Northern Ireland records management standard (e-NIRMS), which will be available on our website and via telephone, through helpdesks for public authorities and Government.

PRONI acquires private records in line with its revised acquisition policy and operating procedures. We do that by negotiating with potential depositors, such as clubs, organisations, individuals, businesses, and so on. PRONI encourages depositors to give the records as a gift. When depositors are reluctant to do that, we persuade them to deposit the records on an indefinite loan basis, using very strict criteria. If the depositors wish to withdraw the records, PRONI requires a period of notice so that the records can be copied for preservation and access purposes.

We receive some 200 deposits each year, which may range in size from a set of board minutes for a company to an entire archive. These are added to our current holdings of about 54 km.

Under the legislation, we are required to preserve the records. Records that are deposited with PRONI are stored in temperature- and humidity-controlled strong rooms and are placed in suitable containers to preserve them from the external environment. Where documents are fragile, we may microfilm them to make a preservation copy so that we have a record of the information that the public can access.

I stress that data security is taken seriously by PRONI, and staff are aware that they hold private and personal information, which is often of a sensitive nature. A redacted coroner’s inquest is being passed around Committee members, which shows information that has gone to members of the public — there is a lot of information blanked out, which is one way that we protect personal information. There are access controls for staff to the storerooms, and PRONI ensures that staff are subject to the appropriate security clearance and are trained in data-protection issues.

Access is the third area that we are responsible for, although not under the existing legislation for PRONI. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 amended our legislation to create an access requirement, which meant that we had to provide an opportunity for customers to consult the records. That legalised the search room that we already had.

There are some 15,000 on-site users each year, 40% of whom come from overseas and 80% of whom want to look at family history. PRONI also responds to written requests for information, and received some 4,400 written requests for information last year, 350 of which were FOI enquiries. Some of those requests relate to sensitive personal information; for example, on adoption or inquests. We have brought a large volume to the Committee, which is a board of guardians’ book on the boarding-out — fostering — of children from the 1920s onwards. That is a means of tracing roots for people who were born in a workhouse.

We have developed a coroner’s inquest database, which provides support to individuals who are seeking closure from the Troubles. We have also provided assistance to the Historic Enquiries Team — we have some 26,000 inquest details on the database. We are investigating other means of widening access to our holdings; for example, our electronic cataloguing project, which will put our catalogues online from September.

We are committed to creating searchable databases of records and digitising documents to widen access to them. There is a digitised image of a papal bull in Latin being passed around Committee members. The original copy dates back to 1219, and is one of the earliest documents that PRONI holds. As very few people would be able to handle the original copy, a digitised copy makes it accessible, and we can put it on our website. Therefore, it is a means of opening up our records to the public.

Similarly, the will of Thomas Andrews — of Titanic fame — is being passed around Committee members, with an extract from our website that shows the calendar on the wall and the information that the public can get from it so that they do not have to visit us, although they are free to if they so wish.

That is a flavour of what PRONI is doing to open out to the public. We look forward to exploring further means of widening and broadening access to the archives from our new site.

Ms Marie Garvey (Public Record Office of Northern Ireland):
My evidence focuses on our new accommodation project, which is the most significant project that PRONI has undertaken in the past 30 years and is worth £29 million. Therefore, the project uses a significant level of financial resources and personnel resources. I will explain to the Committee the reasons why we require new accommodation, the current accommodation position and the expectations of the accommodation.

Anyone who has visited the PRONI site will know that it is very constrained — both its physical surroundings, where there is limited car parking and limited room to expand, and the actual building. We explored an option to remain on the site and possibly extend it but ran into problems with the fact that it is in the Malone conservation area, so nothing further could be done about that.

The current building cannot be put to flexible use, and it is impossible to get from one end of it to the other without going up and down stairs. We have no good facilities for the public — certainly, our search room is good and our reading room is fine, but there are no other facilities, such as exhibition space.

Furthermore, we have run out of storage space. Until the fire in Stormont in 1995, we used the basement of Parliament Buildings to store records. As a result of that fire, we had to use temporary storage facilities where the records were not in good environmental conditions and which received a poor assessment from the National Preservation Office. A high percentage of our records were held in our office, but health and safety issues then arose because moving our stacks became a problem.

Notwithstanding those conditions, we have been able to maintain a full service to the public. However, we also have a duty of care. We have a very poor building that is not fit for purpose, and the best option that came from the business case was to have a newbuild, with some of the records being outsourced. When finance for the building was secured, we tendered for a site, a design and build through the Official Journal of the European Union, and the preferred bidder was announced and appointed in August last year. The new site is in the Titanic Quarter, and I have presented the Committee with a visual of what the new record office will look like.

A planning application for the project was lodged in December last year. The project is part of the investment strategy for Northern Ireland; therefore, we went through a pre-application discussion process with Planning Service, and we hope to see a reasonable outcome from that relatively soon — I cannot give an exact date for that, but it may be within the next few weeks.

We are in the process of agreeing the final costs of the build — that should be done before the end of July, and work on site may begin in August. We hope that the new building will be very innovative. At the moment, we have one reading room, which is a hushed, quiet place — I often think that it is like a church, where nobody says anything. There will be two reading rooms in the new building — one will be for quiet, more serious, academic-type research and study, while we envisage the other being used by people doing family research, for example, where they may get excited when discovering a great-great grandparent and will want to share that information with the people whom they are with.

We want the building to be welcoming to all. Although there will be a lot of security, which is necessary, we want a building that people will be able to come into — perhaps to look at an exhibition. At the moment, we have no exhibition space, but we envisage mounting exhibitions in collaboration with some of the other cultural institutions, such as the museums, for example, which tourists can then visit.

We want the new record office to be an exemplar type of building that the Department, as the custodian of the policy for architecture and the built environment, will also want to see built — a building of which we will all be proud.

Our archive is 54 km long. Moving it will be no mean feat: we already had a dry run at that when we moved it out to commercial storage in environmental conditions just before Christmas. It will be a huge logistical exercise.

The physical move will be a huge logistical exercise, and preparation of records to go out will also be a big exercise. We will begin that next Monday, to see what we can do in a month, and then we can calculate how long it will take us to get the records ready for transporting. However, we hope to keep the Balmoral Avenue premises open to the public for as long as possible. We hope not to have to close the record office until the physical move begins. Then we will consider the situation with a view to health and safety: it may become dangerous for the public to be on site while the records are being moved.

The Chairperson:
Thank you, Aileen and Marie.

Mr Shannon:
I thank the witnesses for the presentation. The submission refers to the misconception that archives are dull, dreary, dusty and dry. Dusty and dry, perhaps; but they are certainly not dull and never dreary. I am one of those people who appreciates that the smell of books is the smell of history. It is wonderful to experience that. Three of the members here represent the Strangford constituency —

Mr McNarry:
Thank you for acknowledging that, Jim. Is will appear in the Hansard report that there are three Strangford members present? Do you hear that Kieran?

Mr Shannon:
I am willing to acknowledge that.

That wonderful document, the will of Thomas Andrews, is quite something for members who represent the area and have an interest in it. It is great to see that.

I have some questions. I know that one can go to the Public Record Office and see all those things in person, but is there also web access? Is all the information available on the Internet? Will it be possible to make everything accessible through the website?

Mrs McClintock:
Not yet.

Mr Shannon:
Is the idea to make that possible from the new premises?

Mrs McClintock:
We are working towards putting a lot of material on line. At the moment, some digitised images are available in that form. Once we have put our catalogues on line, a process which starts in September this year, we will consider digitising our popular records. However, with 54 km of records, there is no chance that we can digitise everything. If an individual comes in and wants to see a document, we can provide a copy of that in whatever form is required.

Mr Shannon:
With respect to money, I do not quite understand. Do Departments and individuals make purchases from PRONI? Is any money generated from what PRONI does?

Mrs McClintock:
Departments do not purchase from PRONI in that way. However, PRONI charges members of the public for searches; for example, if they write to request information. PRONI charges a search fee, and it generates money from photocopies. We are aware of the need to make money.

Mr Shannon:
Does PRONI get requests for information on genealogy?

Mrs McClintock:
Not just on genealogy, though that is a main element. Family and local history are also significant in that respect. Anyone who requests a copy of a document has to pay a charge.

Mr Shannon:
I once knew a guy who made a genealogical study of his family, and traced it back to the sixteenth century. He discovered that one of his ancestors was a highwayman. He then thought that he had traced it back far enough and he stopped. [Laughter.]

Mrs McClintock:
It is just as well he did. He did well to trace back that far.

Ms Garvey:
PRONI generates about £20,000 per year through making copies and searches under the Public Use of the Records (Management and Fees) Rules ( Northern Ireland) 1996 statutory rule. We are reviewing that, and the matter might come before the Committee in the late autumn, when we hope to put before members a schedule of revised fees and charges.

Mr Shannon:
Is £20,000 the only income generated?

Ms Garvey:
Yes it is. We find that, because the process of changing our fees and charges is long, it constrains short-term business opportunities, which we might otherwise pursue.

Mr Shannon:
Do the public records include material related to land ownership?

Ms Garvey:
Title deeds for land ownership are contained in, for example, large estate records and solicitors’ records.

Mr Shannon:
Does PRONI have access to records in the Republic of Ireland?

Mrs McClintock:
We work closely with other —

Mr Shannon:
The reason that I ask that question is that I knew a lady from Newtownards who experienced some difficulty in acquiring information from the record office in Dublin. Has a partnership with Dublin been firmed up?

Mrs McClintock:
That depends on the nature of the information required. We have a very good working relationship with other national institutions — in London, Scotland, and Dublin. For example, census records were created in Dublin and reside in the record office there. The Dublin office furnishes us with copies of those records. However, if someone requires information beyond the records that PRONI holds, it would have to be sourced from Dublin.

Mr Shannon:
Does PRONI exchange records with the offices in London, Scotland and Dublin?

Mrs McClintock:
We do not exchange records but we co-operate and keep up to date with what information is held where.

Mr D Bradley:
Good morning. It was mentioned that there are three courses of action that PRONI can take on public records.

Mrs McClintock:
Yes, regarding disposal and retention schedules —

Mr D Bradley:
What criteria are used in deciding which course of action to take?

Mrs McClintock:
The public authority makes that decision because it is the business area, and it knows its own records. Public records automatically come to PRONI if low-grade material needs to be eliminated, or if they are of particular long-term and historical interest. For example, board minutes are automatically transferred to us when they reach 10 years of age, with no further intervention. Low-grade material can automatically be destroyed at age 10, or when the public authority decides that it no longer has a business need for it.

We undertake a review of the material that cannot be so easily classified. Often that material is a mixture; we determine what is good and what is low grade. PRONI staff conduct a file-by-file examination to determine which records are worthy of permanent preservation.

Mr D Bradley:
When are contemporary records made available to the public?

Mrs McClintock:
Records usually transfer to us at age 20, and are made available to the public at age 30. Public availability depends on the public authority concerned; if that authority feels that the records can be made available immediately, public access may be granted at age 20. It is more common that records are examined — for sensitivity under freedom of information legislation — at age 30 to determine whether they can be released. The 30-year rule is under review and is expected to be reduced. There may be a formal reduction when consultation finishes at the end of June. However, there is nothing to stop material being released sooner, if it contains no sensitive information.

Mr D Bradley:
What are PRONI’s targets for making digital images of documents, and so on, available online?

Mrs McClintock:
A number of databases are coming online and we will support those with digital images. We also plan to digitise valuation maps, including VAL/12B. However, I cannot give members a percentage figure of the overall archive that will be made available online. We will assess the usage of the most popular records to determine what information should go on the Internet. That will widen our audience and give people a flavour of the different types of records that PRONI holds.

Mr D Bradley:
Thanks very much.

Mr K Robinson:
Thanks very much for your presentation. I have been looking forward to this meeting for some time. I spent a year in solitary confinement at the Balmoral Hall site before PRONI took it over; it brings back mixed memories for me. [Laughter.] It is a constrained site, and I am aware of its history prior to PRONI taking it over.

There will soon be a period of change as a result of the review of public administration (RPA). The last period of change was in the 1970s. During that time, a lot of good regional and local material was lost, as it was consigned to incinerators and shredding machines. Officials were simply told to sort through documents. If they did not think that certain documents were important, they got rid of them.

I was particularly annoyed about that issue as I had a bitter experience of documents being lost. I was the principal of Cavehill Railway National School — the only one of its type in Ireland — and many documents from my time there disappeared. I was able to rescue one set of documents when someone I knew came across a folder and asked me whether I was interested in it. Therefore, I was able to grab it before it got thrown in a bin.

There must have been many examples of that happening across a number of public bodies. What steps is PRONI taking to ensure that the same does not happen again during the latest phase of RPA?

Mrs McClintock:
One of the first actions that we took when RPA started was to contact the departmental information managers in central Government to ask them to liaise with the public bodies for which they act as sponsors. We wanted them to be familiar with the public records legislation and their responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Section 46 of that Act, which refers to the Lord Chancellor’s code of practice on records management, sets out best practice for public authorities for records management, preservation, storage, access, and so on.

We have followed that up with central Government and we have published a number of disposal schedules advising on the issues that I mentioned earlier. We have also conducted reviews with some of the bodies. For example, we received records from Enterprise Ulster, which was closing down.

More recently, working with the Information Commissioner’s Office, we instigated a series of workshops that are aimed at teaching Departments and public bodies across Northern Ireland about good records management practice. That scheme has been well received. It started on 17 April 2008, and another one is taking place at the end of May, for which bookings have already been made. Therefore, public bodies are aware of the workshops.

Mr K Robinson:
In recent times, many senior officials have left, or have retired from, the education and library boards. There is a danger that more junior staff in the education sector may not be aware of those procedures.

Mrs McClintock:
The education and library boards were well represented at the workshop, and I expect that to continue. We are going out to Armagh and Omagh in June.

Mr K Robinson:
Do not forget Belfast and Ballymena.

Mrs McClintock:
Belfast and Ballymena are on the list.

Mr K Robinson:
Members of the public may be aware of certain documents and pass them on to PRONI. How proactive is PRONI in seeking such material?

Mrs McClintock:
Does that question refer to private records as opposed to records from Departments?

Mr K Robinson:
Yes, private records.

Mrs McClintock:
We are not as proactive as we would like to be as we have some resource problems. We have a number of vacancies that we are about to fill through a competition at the end of May. I expect us to be able to be more proactive after that. A review of our private records functions was conducted, which indicated that PRONI requires more resources.

Mr K Robinson:
‘Reviewing the Situation’ is my favourite song.

Jim Shannon raised the point about the commercial potential of PRONI, which we discussed at a previous Committee meeting. Boat loads of Americans arriving across the river will provide tremendous commercial potential when PRONI moves to its new site at the Titanic Quarter. What is PRONI doing before those Americans arrive in order to raise their interest or satisfy part of their interest? What is PRONI doing to tantalise them when they arrive in the Titanic Quarter? How much money could that process make for PRONI, the Department and the regional Government?

Mrs McClintock:
We have a programme that is allied to our new accommodation, which is a strategic development project for a wider archives knowledge and experience network (AWAKEN). The project will deliver services in a new way, and we are exploring all the different ways to do that. I already mentioned digitisation, and we will be following up on that.

At times, we are constrained because we decided not to charge people for requests received under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. However, our online catalogues, for example, will provide great commercial potential, as people can access images that they may then want to buy.

Similarly, we could, perhaps, establish meetings with friends of PRONI or offer subscriptions to a series of lectures. There are many possible initiatives, but the first step is to make our catalogues available online. I have spoken to people from Australia who are impressed with the information that is available. When we place the catalogues online, we can build on that information.

Mr K Robinson:
Do people arrive from Australia or America with limited information or do they come with full knowledge of the documents that they wish to see?

Mrs McClintock:
The person whom I spoke to last week had used the will calendar search facility on the website and came to PRONI with a reference number. He knew what microfilm he wanted and was able to access that information in the self-service microfilm room within one hour.

Mr K Robinson:
How much money did PRONI make from that process?

Mrs McClintock:
I do not know whether he made copies, but from his appearance alone, we did not, unfortunately, make any money. He must have paid to come here from Australia, and I presume that he spent money during his stay.

Mr K Robinson:
Is there, perhaps, a niche market to charge for photocopying and, if required, a search. Is there potential to generate more funds?

Mrs McClintock:
We must explore that matter when we switch to our new accommodation and new working methods. At the moment, PRONI is constrained by the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Public Use of the Records (Management and Fees) Rules ( Northern Ireland) 1996 but we need to examine areas to generate funds.

Ms Garvey:
We do not want to consider genealogy research as a potential area to generate funds. Business opportunities in that field are increasing and individuals who use PRONI earn a living from genealogy research. We do not want to deny those genealogists a living.

Mr K Robinson:
Does PRONI receive genuine freedom of information requests from individuals or are they — and I must be careful that I do not use another member’s words — received from journalistic sources?

Mrs McClintock:
The requests that we receive are primarily and substantially from the public.

Mr McCausland:
It was mentioned that the project to relocate PRONI in the Titanic Quarter will cost £29 million. As Ken said, and from my own experience, I know that the current premises are inadequate. Of that £29 million, how much will be recouped by the sale of the land? How much public money has been contributed and how much has been contributed by the Titanic Quarter?

Ms Garvey:
Titanic Quarter?

Mr McCausland:
PRONI’s move will be a major attraction and will bring business to the Titanic Quarter. Given that, did that area contribute any money?

Ms Garvey:
No. It only contributed to the provision of the infrastructure.

Mr McCausland:
I appreciate that.

Ms Garvey:
That was not part of the procurement. All sites were judged on the same criteria and, therefore, the Titanic Quarter contributed no money. The current site will be sold when we are ready to vacate it. An estimate provided by the Valuation and Lands Agency during the drafting of the business case outlined a potential price for that land. However, land prices have risen and, subsequently, fallen again. Realistically, I cannot say, at this point, exactly how much the sale will generate.

Mr McCausland:
So PRONI might recoup a quarter of the money?

Ms Garvey:
Yes. However, we did not offset the price of the capital investment against the site. That will go back into Northern Ireland’s pot for reinvestment in other projects.

Mr McCausland:
The “outsourcing” of records was mentioned? What does that mean?

Ms Garvey:
What that means for the actual acquisition of records — and Mrs McClintock has already talked about the impact of through the review of public administration — is that you can try to estimate how many records PRONI will accrue over a period of time. However, it was felt that for value for money, the best way to allow for flexibilities was to put some of our lesser-used and unopened records into private-sector storage facilities. These records are held in the same conditions and humidity as we have in PRONI, conform to British Standard BS 5454 and remain under our control.

Mr McCausland:
This happens in the new storage facility?

Ms Garvey:
Yes, around 20%of our records are outsourced under a long-term contract with a private-sector provider. There is still public access to the records, and if the records are needed, we can retrieve them. Many of the outsourced records are closed records; for example, the census records that must remain closed for 100 years.

Mr K Robinson:
Can confirmation be given to the Committee that the records are not in the Strangford constituency but are in the best constituency in Northern Ireland, at Mallusk? [Laughter.]

Ms Garvey:
That is true. I will not say that Mallusk is in the best constituency. I am only confirming the location of the outsourced records, not the status of the constituency. [Laughter.]

Mr McCausland:
How much of the £29 million was spent on the site at the Titanic Quarter?

Ms Garvey:
The site cost £3 million.

Mr P Ramsey:
With archival material, how far do the PRONI records go back? As someone from Derry, what archival material can PRONI offer me?

Mrs McClintock:
PRONI holds a great deal of records on Derry that would date back to the 1600s and the plantation of Ulster. PRONI is working closely with Derry City Council, as between us, the council and PRONI hold different material from the corporation records.

I would like to provide the council with a copy of the records that we hold and for the council to provide PRONI with a record of the information that it holds. That would create two centres of record-holding for the population of Derry and would make the process of record retrieval much easier. It is, after all, a long drive from Derry to Belfast and vice versa if someone wishes to look at the material.

Mr P Ramsey:
That brings me on to a point that I was going to make. We have a decentralisation policy within the Executive and Government. Does PRONI foresee a time when archival material would be made available in an office in Derry, allowing people in the north-west access to the material?

The witnesses may know that Derry City Council is working to achieve World Heritage status for the City Walls. Part of the bid will require the completion of a major academic study focusing on, for example, the Columban period, the siege of Derry and the plantation of Ulster. Therefore, it will be necessary to have all the relevant material on these events as part of the preparation for the bid.

Additionally, in relation to records from the 30-odd years of the recent conflict, Derry City Council would hold some of that material in its museum, while other documents are held by PRONI. How much of that material is available online and how much may never be available online as it would prove impossible to digitise?

Mrs McClintock:
It will not be possible to put some of the material online.

Mr P Ramsey:
I took part in discussions with The Honourable Irish Society about its archival material in London being made available online in order that it could be accessed here. Could the same thing happen with PRONI?

Also, I noticed a reference to a “one-stop shop” in the material that has been presented today. However, we are nowhere near that stage with PRONI. Indeed, many people have to go to London to obtain archival material on the plantation, the siege of Derry and the walled city. When could, for example, students, academics, or just passers-by, have access to that material?

Mrs McClintock:
I would like to say sooner rather than later. However, realistically, that is not the case. I see PRONI moving forward through the provision of records, copies of records or digitised images to a resource centre in Derry. That approach could be used to tie-in with events such as the commemoration of the plantation of Ulster.

Previously, PRONI has tried to run off-campus resource centres. However, these were not particularly successful. Saying that, due to its hinterland, and the big interest in the city’s history from within that hinterland and elsewhere, Derry may be a different case. I am working closely with the Derry city archivist Bernadette Walsh to pursue how we can get those records online. We are working on finding records from the plantation of Ulster.

In the past, we worked with the Bloody Sunday Inquiry ; its records are online and available, and anything that we held online is in that archive. We are conscious of contemporary issues, including coroner’s inquests. We are working closely with the Historical Enquiries Team, with individuals, and with bodies such as Relatives for Justice, in order to get records from that period to the individuals who are involved. Sensitivities surrounding personal data mean that it is not always easy to open that up as widely as may be possible in the future.

We are aware of that type of work, and, when we get our resources in place, I would love us to do more of that.

Mr K Robinson:
Is there a commercial opportunity in providing material for those types of inquiries?

Mrs McClintock:
The legal profession can charge; it has charged for the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. We cannot charge for Government records.

Mr K Robinson:
What a pity.

Mr P Ramsey:
I welcome the developments. I hope that, at some stage, PRONI will feature more permanently in the north-west. I note that PRONI has 90 staff. Is there a reason why both today’s witnesses are the acting heads of their departments? Is there something that the Committee should know about that? Are there difficulties with morale and motivation? Why are people leaving the organisation?

Mrs McClintock:
At the end of January 2008, our director retired, and we have been acting up since then. A recruitment process is in place.

Ms Garvey:
The closing date for the recruitment competition is tomorrow.

Mr P Ramsey:
There are two acting heads; will one person be appointed?

Mrs McClintock:
We are still carrying duties from our existing posts.

The Chairperson:
Pat, you read a lot into the word “acting”. [Laughter.]

Mr Brolly:
Genealogy is a big area of interest. As Ken Robinson suggested, people come here, particularly from America, for information, and that will increase with the move to the Titanic Quarter. Given the fact that PRONI does not carry records of births, marriages and deaths, what do people look for from the facility?

Mrs McClintock:
People try to locate their family to a particular place and time. They can do that through a number of sources, including landed-estate records, church records, baptismal records and marriage records. Connections can be made from a marriage in a parish to the children who were born from that marriage. Valuation records tie people to a particular location and time, and connections can be made from those.

Mr Brolly:
Would those people come to PRONI after establishing as much as they could from the other records?

Mrs McClintock:
Yes, that is correct.

Mr McCartney:
Does PRONI’s cataloguing system point people in the direction of, for example, the Linenhall Library, if they need information that is not available to PRONI? Does PRONI have a relationship with other such bodies?

Mrs McClintock:
We do not have such arrangements, but we want to explore that. Recently, we attended a meeting in the Department to explore synergies between PRONI, museums and libraries. We are conscious of the need for that, but each of us is running on parallel tracks to get our information and foundations in place. We have an eye on signposting to each other’s resources.

Mr McCartney:
Negotiations with potential depositors over ownership of privately owned archives were mentioned. Could a person donate a private collection and it not be owned by PRONI?

Mrs McClintock:
Yes, that would be known as an indefinite loan.

Mr McCartney:
What access would there be to those records?

Mrs McClintock:
Unless there were personal sensitivities under the Data Protection Act 1998, the material would be open to the public. We would be free to use that material for exhibitions. We would normally have permission to publish, which means that if the material is published, the depositor is cited in an expression of thanks.

Mr K Robinson:
I have a final question on the point that Raymond made. Armagh County Museum will have a unique status under RPA proposals. It will stand on alone in local government, rather than being under the remit of the Northern Ireland Museums Council. That museum has some good archive material, such as Seanchas Ard Mhacha. Does PRONI have access to copies of that sort of material?

Mrs McClintock:
We have some material on Armagh, such as photographs.

Mr K Robinson:
Does PRONI have any Blacker manuscripts?

Mrs McClintock:
We have some Blacker material, but I need to investigate exactly what is held, because I do not have the information in my head.

Mr K Robinson:
I would appreciate some information on the Blacker material in particular.

Mrs McClintock:
I will check it out and report back to the Committee.

The Chairperson:
That concludes our questions, members. I thank Marie and Aileen for coming this morning and for their presentation.

Ms Garvey:
I reiterate that members are welcome to visit us at PRONI.

The Chairperson:
The invitation is noted, and no doubt we will take it up.

Mr Shannon:
I want to take up the invitation to visit PRONI. I suspect that it is one of those places where, if we were not careful, the day would pass before we knew it, but it would be nice to visit.

The Chairperson:
Jim has expressed his desire that the Committee visits PRONI. Are members agreed?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:
Thank you, members.

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