State archives system creaking under pressure of staff and skills shortages - report

State archives system creaking under pressure of staff and skills shortages - report

Just four of the 61 State departments and agencies are up to date with their legal obligation to transfer their records to the National Archives (NAI) under the '30-year-rule'.

That's according to a report of Ireland’s national archives system found that the annual transfer of records under the 30-year rule has been scaled back this year because of a lack of storage space.

It found that only four of 61 State departments and agencies covered by the National Archives Act are currently up-to-date with their legal obligations to transfer records to NAI, while six out of the 61 bodies regularly transfer their records to the National repository.

Meanwhile, bodies like NAMA, the Central Bank, the National Treasury Management Agency, the Garda Ombudsman, and the children’s agency Tusla are among over 150 publicly-funded State bodies with no legal requirement to maintain and archive records for eventual release to the public, journalists and academics under the ‘30 year rule’.

The report uncovers a system creaking under the pressure of staff and skills shortages, expanded responsibilities, new technologies, space constraints, and legislative shortcomings.

Published by Fórsa, on behalf of the union’s archivists and as officials prepare to release more State papers in the New Year, the report also found a substantial backlog in the processing of records, and in making them available to the public.

It also identifies major shortcomings in the digitisation of records and the development of online access.

The report said "serious staffing and shortage skills" at the NAI will be exacerbated when a commencement order is signed to implement the 20-year rule, due to replace the current 30-year arrangement. No extra staff have been hired to deal with what will be a significant increase in workload.

The study found that the NAI's staffing levels are 25% below the number outlines as necessary in its 2016 workforce plan and lag significantly behind comparable countries like Scotland, Denmark and Northern Ireland.

Fórsa official Seán Carabini said there was now a "crisis" in the State's archives and that the quality of material available to journalists, researchers and the public under the 30-year rule and other services was "in rapid and steady decline".

“In reality, most of the State institutions required to release material to the National Archives don’t do so. And the majority of public service bodies established since 1986 have no legal requirement to transfer records to the archives at all."

"These include organisations like NAMA, the National Treasury Management Agency, the Garda Ombudsman and Tusla, which have played, or are playing, leading roles in Ireland’s social, political and economic story,” he said.

State archives system creaking under pressure of staff and skills shortages - report

Fórsa is calling for an immediate increase in staffing levels at the NAI. It is also seeking a fundamental review of the relevant legislation with a view to extending its scope and updating legal requirements on information governance, data retention, GDPR and digital preservation. It also wants a rapid and comprehensive review of records management across the public sector, and adequate and suitable space to store the growing national archive.

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