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Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Women's Archive and Resource Centre.

Wednesday, 12 June 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 466 No. 7

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 20. Miss de Valera Information on Síle de Valera Zoom on Síle de Valera  asked the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  the reason for the cessation of funding for the Irish Women's Archive and Resource Centre; and the specific initiatives, if any, being taken by his Department to advance, record and emphasise women's contribution to history. [12249/96]

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins The most careful consideration of all the issues involved was undertaken before arriving at any decision on funding of the Irish Women's Archive and Resource Centre. Apart from examining in depth the core strategy papers promoting the concept of the creation of a separate women's archive, I looked at the operation of the IWARC venture, particularly in the context of my priorities within the limited resources available to me in 1996. I concluded the interests of access to women's archival material for the future would be best served within the current framework, staffing structures and accommodation provided for the National Archives and National Library. I informed IWARC of my conclusion in a letter dated 11 January 1996.

Prior to this it had been made clear to IWARC that further grant-aid could not be assumed. In addition I had already stated in a reply to a parliamentary question on 20 September 1995 from Deputy Noel Ahern that I had made no commitment to funding IWARC on a continuing basis, but that [1839] I was committed to examining any funding requests within the overall framework of the funds available to me, taking into account the proposed work programme concerned and the broader context of policy in this area, including the role of State collecting institutions, and other institutions collecting cultural items.

There is a reasonable commonality of opinion among professional archival experts, that an archival body devoted to the records of women, would be antithetical to basic archival practice — a practice which seeks to avoid the physical break-up of sources. Women's archives, having being identified, deserve their equal treatment in institutional provision for National Archives.

Miss de Valera: Information on Síle de Valera Zoom on Síle de Valera Within an estimate of £70 million, which is the Estimate for the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, what we are talking about is less than half of one per cent in the context of the allocation of £50,000 for the National Women's Archives. In looking at the Estimate, it was obvious that the women's archives would be first to be hit.

The Minister referred in his reply to the National Archives. Does he agree the National Archives is grossly underfunded at the moment with only £1 million, and from existing resources could not deal with the women's archives in a way they would consider to be appropriate? The National Archives does not propose to do any substantial work on women; the responsibility to correlate specific information would rest with the National Women's Archives. I understand the Minister is launching a strategic plan for the National Archives tomorrow, and the plan does not refer to a specific women's archives because it was believed when drawing up that plan that work would be taken in hand by the National Women's Archives which, unfortunately, has been eradicated.

[1840]Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins Let us respect language. It has not been eradicated. It was given funding——

Miss de Valera: Information on Síle de Valera Zoom on Síle de Valera To wrap up.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins ——for a period of time without a commitment for continual funding. I would be pleased to hear from IWARC or any other group or individual with an interest in women's issues of any specific proposals on how the main collecting institutions might improve access to archival material relating to women. I am examining suggestions made to identify sources on women, to facilitate access to them within the norms of mainstream archival structures and practice to highlight such material, and to explore what is achievable within the ambit of collecting policies. While being obliged to reiterate the central conclusion that any funds should be expanded by the main collecting institution concerned, I readily understand that the position and funding for IWARC must come as a major disappointment to people who had committed energy and time to that venture. Being familiar with it from the beginning and having got money for it, I know in many cases, what was involved was the identification of the women's material. However, the professional view, for example, of the Association of Women Historians, was that women's material deserved the same kind of service at the centre of archival practice in relation to conservation, to training of staff, and in relation to good practice as anything else. Having identified that, and having been willing to see how it might be sourced into the national institutions it then belongs, as an equal body of material, with other archives.

As to the point on the National Archives, I have had quite enough of Deputy de Valera's party, day and night, when speaking on finance, arguing for cuts in public expenditure and Deputy de Valera having a free half day every six or seven weeks suggesting increases in expenditure.

[1841]Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin We are talking about a very small amount of money.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins I would like to see more resources going to the National Archives.

Miss de Valera: Information on Síle de Valera Zoom on Síle de Valera Will the Minister fight for that? Will he make sure there will be an increase in the budget for the National Archives?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob Let us hear the answer. Other Deputies are waiting to have their questions answered.

Mr. Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin There is no justification for that type of indignation. We are talking about a very small amount of money.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins I certainly am willing to look for more money for the archives and to do so in the context of the Estimates, but the greatest fight I had was to repair the havoc in the Estimates in the six weeks when Deputy Bertie Ahern replaced me as Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht and cut every significant programme.

Miss de Valera: Information on Síle de Valera Zoom on Síle de Valera Can the Minister guarantee an additional budget for the National Archives to undertake these further responsibilities?


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