10 Aug 2022

Offaly County Council to undertake to make County Home records easier to search

Offaly County Council hiring

Offaly County Council

Work is to be undertaken by Offaly County Council to facilitate making records of those who were resident in St Vincent's hospital, Tullamore easier to search when they come looking for information.

The local authority, as a public health authority, had responsibility for the operation of the St Vincent's County Home in Tullamore until the early 1970s and recently, the Council issued an apology to those now deceased and their relatives for the pain and suffering caused while resident in Mother & Baby homes or in St Vincent's Hospital, Tullamore, following the publication of the Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes on January 12 last.

Speaking at this month's County Council meeting, Mark Connolly, Head of Finance, said the Council is “very aware of the paramount concern to all the survivors” and with this in mind, there's currently an access policy to allow members of the public, and former residents, who want to come and look at their own records, to apply directly to the local authority for their records, which he described as “being in line with current archive and record keeping recommendations”.

Continuing, the council official said these records were currently being kept in a “controlled and secure location”, under the auspice of Offaly Archives. However, he continued that there were challenges in current records and the way they are held.

“The issue is the searchability and how quickly those records can be searched,” he continued. He said that Offaly County Council was committed to working with Offaly Archives in the preparation of a new archival listing of these records, from the County Home, and will help individuals, who want to gain access to these records and to better understand the scope and the extent of the records that are available.”

This work is being undertaken in the next few months with the hope that it would be completed by the summer of 2021, to ensure the records the Council has and how they are categorised will mean that any survivor, who comes looking for those records, will be helped by the Council as quickly as possible.

Welcome the news, Cllr Clare Claffey outlined how this was a “sensitive and important topic” for all involved. “I am wondering with the archives, will the materials covered be that covered in the Commission's report, from 1922 to 1998,” she questioned.

The Banagher based councillor then queried whether a working group should be established to work with the needs of the survivors. “Their needs are paramount. Can we hold a special meeting with survivors, who still live in the Offaly area and consult with them on how we can assist them and help them,” she asked.

Mr Connolly noted that Central Government hadn't yet issued many recommendations around the report and with this in mind, it might be a “little premature” to form a working group for the moment.

“If there are further recommendations that come out from Central Government, we are more than happy to come back to the members and revisit the recommendations now. From the Executive point of view, it might be a bit premature to set up that working group at the moment,” he pointed out.

The council official continued: “The only records that are available at the moment, are those that are held by Offaly County Council. If there are other records with other bodies that we wouldn't have access to them if someone came looking for them. However, if there any specific records that we have relating anyone, we will search through them and give them back to any individual when they come to us.”

Addressing the issue of the councillors meeting with survivors, Mr Connolly said that was a decision for the members to make themselves to which Cllr John Carroll, an Cathaoirleach of Offaly County Council, replied that the matter would go back to the CPG for discussion at a future date.  

  Cllr Sean O'Brien later pointed out that "we need to face up to our responsibility on this" as a local authority and to ensure that all records were available for access for all the survivors and family members. He extended his support for what was previously mentioned by Cllr Clare Claffey in relation to meeting a group of survivors when it could be done. "I think it would be a very good gesture because this issue hasn't gone away. There are some very serious issues to be resolved in relation to this whole matter," he added. 

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