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Contract terms ‘beyond realms of reason’

By Peter McDermott

In 2004, following an international survey of genealogical research facilities, David Ouimette of the Genealogical Society of Utah / Family History Library, Salt Lake City, reported "the most impressive guidance we saw was provided by the Genealogy Advisory Service at the National Library and the National Archives in Dublin."

That was high praise indeed from one of the leading powerhouses in the world of genealogy. However, the service was suspended on May 31, after the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland withdrew, unhappy with the tightening terms and conditions imposed in a new contract. It had already gone along with cutbacks last year – and even suggested some of them -- that reduced the service to three and a half hours per day at the National Archives in Bishop Street.

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The APGI, which only allows fully accredited professionals to join, said that the genealogy service "played a central role in enhancing the research experience and was a significant component in heritage-related tourism."

Said Irish genealogy blogger Claire Santry: "The tone of the [APGI] statement is polite and suitably respectful, as you'd expect. But behind the scenes there is huge resentment."

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A writer on a Scottish-based genealogy blog said that "various terms of the new contract to continue the service went beyond the realms of reason."

Santry said: “Incidentally, I was in the Reading Room last Friday week at about 1.30 p.m. when genealogist Rosaleen Underwood should have been finishing for the day. I stuck my head around the genealogy service door and saw there were still three people queuing to speak to her. She was still there half an hour later when I left the building. That's dedication. And I know that all the APGI genealogists put in a similar level of commitment to help visitors from around the world uncover their Irish heritage.”

The APGI believed that any new contract would require them to leave that queue of people to help with microfilm machines and photocopying. Two rivals in previous contract bids, Eneclann and Ancestry Network, joined forces to put in the sole bid to work for the National Archives and the National Library.

“We built it up over nine years,” said one APGI member, “And they [National Archives managers] never even asked our advice on how to run it better.”

In a related story, the prominent author and UCD historian Prof. Diarmaid Ferriter has resigned from the board of the National Library, citing the "little clarity" provided for the reasons of its amalgamation with the National Archives and the Irish Manuscripts Commission. He said that he was "refusing to tolerate an offensive and disingenuous doublespeak" from the government. It paid "lip service" to the importance of the library and other cultural institutions while "it seeks to emasculate these institutions," he said.

Like the APGI, Ferriter was sensitive to the difficult economic situation, but argued that the government was working on the decade of centenary commemorations while it was "intent on doing untold damage to the very institutions which are the custodians of so much of that history."