Joan Burton, TD, Deputy Prime Minister (An Tánaiste) of Ireland to ARA Conference, 26 August 2015

Address by Joan Burton, TD, Deputy Prime Minister (An Tánaiste) of Irelandto ARA Conference, 26 August 2015.

ARA DAY1 020 webMs Burton opened by welcoming ARA (UK and Ireland) back to Dublin for the first time in 16 years. She recalled the works of Beckett and Joyce (especially) as examples of a 'living archive' of the Dublin of a century ago, as well as the critical significance of ancient holdings like the Book of Kells, and how archives of all shapes and sizes existed round us.

Ms Burton praised the work of ARA for its 'excellent work' on digital preservation (among others) and said that accurate record-keeping has never been more important to society. She described how her department – Social Protection – handles 85 million payments a year, involving some contact with nearly every citizen. Getting the civil registration process and information management systems right was of 'critical importance'. As part of this, the government was modernising and updating its records management – notably digitisation – to meet the challenge of improved tracing and service provision, protecting confidentiality as well as maximising legitimate public access. She added that inclusion of same-sex marriages in Ireland into the system – implementing the recent referendum decision – was a key short-term goal.

Referring to the conference's next guest speaker, James King, Ms Burton commented that many archives remained incredibly sensitive and politically significant. More widely, research in the past 20-30 years had opened up the 'hidden Ireland' of mother-and-baby homes and children in institutions and the 'decades of neglect and abuse that lay behind locked doors.' This could only have been achieved through the information from those times that had been preserved in archives. 'The truth continues to be revealed. The truth, not a fairy story: a unique and irreplaceable part of our national heritage.' She herself had argued – and would continue to argue – for maximum preservation of these records in the interest of both current and future generations.

Ms Burton mentioned the important business role played by major private sector employers like Google and Amazon, key investors in Ireland. She said there was a need to regulate data-driven companies to ensure individual rights were protected but requested 'the input and involvement (of archivists and record-keepers) so that data remains available in the future.'

Ms Burton referred to the difficulties in public finances, which had affected all sectors, including archives. With the economic outlook improving, she hoped government could deliver more in terms of funding for the cultural sector (including archives) in this 'significant (anniversary) decade of the founding of the Irish state.' The Irish National Archives evidently needed more space, she said, and there were plans in place to redevelop its warehouse storage space and perhaps add exhibition space, in order to improve public accessibility. The government – in parallel – was launching Culture 2025, a consultation paper aimed at producing the first-ever national policy on cultural issues and embedding the interests of culture across all government activities in the 21st century. Praising the key work of Irish archival bodies, she urged archivists to respond to the consultation paper.

Finally, Ms Burton recalled her own personal experience of adoption and the incredibly difficulty of finding any information about one's birth family in Ireland until the mid-80s and 1990s. She wanted to make adoption information as widely available to those affected as possible, including an enabling law and a clear accessibility pathway. She said that there was now political agreement to provide legal access, a breakthrough.