Archives strategy

If you boogie on over to the National Archives of Ireland website, you can download a copy of its Strategic Plan 2015–2017 [PDF], whereof the NAI says:

The National Archives’ Strategic Plan 2015 – 2017 outlines the challenges and priorities for us as an organisation. In it, we have identified the key areas we wish to develop, grounded in our vision, mission and values.

Well, yes, I suppose that is so. The thing is, though, that the Plan as published has only six pages, of which the first is a cover page and the last has the Vision, Mission, Values and Strategic Priorities set out in boxes. There are only four pages of meat.

So, although the Vision, Mission, Values and Strategic Priorities are present as advertised, there’s very little else. Using Rumelt’s three-part kernel structure as a model, we find that the NAI’s published strategic plan

  • lacks diagnosis
  • does have a guiding policy
  • has no action plans.

Perhaps the NAI has a lengthier document that, for diplomatic reasons, it is keeping out of public view.


There is a sad little paragraph on the second page:

We are progressing these responsibilities in a time of restrained financial resources and significant reductions in staffing. We are operating with only 75% of our sanctioned numbers and this is a major obstacle to meeting our statutory requirements with regard to accepting annual accessions, dealing with backlogs and providing services to government bodies. There are technical and legislative changes being progressed which will directly impact on our role and function as they relate to the records of government. The ubiquity of digital information requires earlier intervention in the approach to current records management. Collectively these present huge challenges for us in meeting our obligations and in trying to deliver existing and develop enhanced services.

I’m sure all of that is true, but — apart from the “sanctioned numbers”, which may or may not be relevant to the required workload — there is nothing to enable the concerned citizen [the singular citizen mentioned on the third page] to grasp the scale of the problems.

I have been told [but have no evidence] that there are unopened boxes or archival material that the NAI hasn’t got the staff to deal with [but if that’s not so, please leave a Comment so that I can correct this]. I can see that the amount of material made available on tinterweb is very small. And I can guess that there is difficulty in coping with public sector record management, not just because of “the ubiquity of digital information” but because some departments may not write everything down lest they have to release it under Freedom of Information legislation. But in these and other areas of activity it would be nice to have some figures to go on.

For diagnosis, then, the plan does very little to inform the concerned citizen.

Action plans

There aren’t any. There are no targets, goals, aims, performance measures, milestones … and no concrete plans for reaching, meeting, achieving or otherwise carrying them out.

What we get instead is a list of “five key strategic priorities”. Priority 1 is

Develop a secure footing for the National Archives


Priority 1 is foundational in that it directly addresses physical and staffing resources and the overarching legislative framework in which we operate. Priority 1 is also directly related to external factors with which the National Archives has limited influence. The inability to deliver on priority 1 will impact upon our core functions.

I don’t like that. If there is something you can do little or nothing about, it shouldn’t be in your strategic plan: it should be in your letter to Santa or your when-I-win-the-lottery wishlist.

Nor do I like the use of the verb “develop”, which is in three of the five strategic priorities, with the equally weak “improve” in a fourth:

  • Develop a secure footing
  • Improve the visibility and accessibility of our services
  • Transition to digital
  • Develop our people
  • Develop collaboration.

They, and most of the other verbs used in the text, are all about making unquantified changes but not about reaching goals. What’s lacking is any sense that the organisation knows exactly what needs to be done to bring itself to some defined state [which might be that of coping fully with its legal obligations or handling some quantity of material or serving some number of clients or …]. I want some specific targets and some hard-nosed verbs about how they’re to be met.

I’m sure, for instance, that it’s nice to

…  provide all staff with opportunities for professional development …

but I’d be more interested in knowing what capabilities the organisation lacks and how it proposes to acquire them.

I’m generally on the side of the poor buggers in public service bodies who have to cope with the contradictory demands and short-term agendas of nitwitted politicians, and it seems to me that the NAI is probably suffering from both of those. But I would be more reassured by a more detailed strategy, with achievable targets and concrete plans for reaching them, than I am by the short document made available to the public. I hope that some longer, more explicit version has been developed for use by NAI management.



A new workboat in Grand Canal Docks.

Re-invention or re-creation?

I realise that many folk visit this website in order to find out what is hip and trendy, cool and with-it, in all sorts of fields, from beer to boating, casual dining to cost-benefit analysis. So, in order to keep readers down wid da kidz in da hood [as the young folk say], I’ve been checking out the latest, baddest [which means ‘goodest’, I gather, or what in the old days we would have called ‘best’], grooviest developments on tinterweb. It’s a thing called FaceTweet, and those cool dudes at Waterways Ireland have one of them. Hep to the jive, daddy-o [which means ‘How perfectly splendid, old boy’.]

As far as I can see, FaceTweet is in general intended for folk whose attention span renders them unable to read more than a single paragraph of continuous prose. But brevity is sometimes the soul of wit and good goods come in small parcels [sentiments for whose veracity I have not found peer-reviewed evidence]. And I was interested in Waterways Ireland’s self-description on the page:

Waterways Ireland is the Recreation Authority for over 1000km of Ireland’s Inland navigable waterways.

That phrase, Recreation Authority, does not occur in Waterways Ireland’s Business Plan 2015 [as approved by the North South Ministerial Council on 18 December 2014 and screwed up by the Council shortly afterwards] or in its Corporate Plan 2014–2016 [ditto]. Nor, according to its own search engine, is the phrase used on Waterways Ireland’s proper website [the search engine rather bafflingly reports “We don’t have any refiners to show you”].

Yet the concept of Waterways Ireland as a Recreation Authority is almost entirely in tune with the thinking underlying both of the plans and it is the neatest encapsulation I have yet seen of what WI is about.

I put in ‘almost’ there because the Corporate Plan‘s Executive Summary includes this:

Central to our vision for the future is the development of recreational, heritage and environmental opportunities that link people, history and nature, providing both local communities and visitors with compelling reasons to spend more time in the waterways environment.

While I’m all — well, somewhat — in favour of heritage and environment, the words seem to sit uneasily in that sentence: added as a form of ritual obeisance to the shade of Michael D Higgins, who ripped the rivers and canals from the sheltering embrace of the Office of Public Works engineers and proclaimed the waterways to be heritage artefacts. Heritage is no longer of great interest to TPTB and most people’s experience of it [whatever it is] is as entertainment or recreation; much the same applies to environment, which — for most people — is of interest only as providing a scenic background for more interesting activities.

So both heritage and environment can be subsumed under the heading of recreation, leaving Waterways Ireland with a neat, well-focused description of itself, a subheading for its title, and one that matches its Mission and Vision.

Mind you, it’s not entirely clear what a recreation authority is — Google finds relatively few [129000] instances of the term’s use, most of them in the Americas — but that might be no harm.

Waterways Ireland — the recreation authority

Hep to the jive, daddy-o: I like it.


Chains at the Black Bridge

It seems that the city edition of the Limerick Leader dated Saturday May 16 2015 carries a story saying that funding has been approved for the repair of the Black Bridge at Plassey. I can’t find the story on the Leader‘s website and I can’t find anything about it anywhere else [there is a limit to the amount of my life I am willing to spend trying to find anything on the Limerick Council website] except on the Leader‘s FaceTweet page, where I can expand the city edition front page.

There is a photo of several councillors, which of course is wonderful: no day is wasted if it offers an opportunity of looking at a photo of local councillors, especially important ones with chains.

From what I can read of the text, it seems that “councillors in City East” [which is not one of the Limerick districts listed here] are willing to spend €50,000 “to start work to make the walkway safe again”. And they hope that Clare County Council, the University of Limerick and Waterways Ireland will “also row in behind the project”.

Now, half a loaf is better than no bread, and €50,000 is better than a poke in the eye from a blind horse, but it’s not going to go very far towards the cost of repairing the Black Bridge. I don’t known whether it would even cover the cost of a full survey.

I’m sure that Waterways Ireland would be delighted to help, if the Department of Fairytales hadn’t raided its coffers to pay for Saunderson’s Sheugh. I have reason to believe that the university was willing to help — and that Clare County Council was not. I submitted a Freedom of Information request to the university, asking it for [recent] records relating to the Black Bridge. The university gave me three extracts from meetings of the Limerick Smarter Travel Steering Group:

9 January 2013
Funding not in place for Black Bridge

21 November 2013
Black Bridge: UL indicated that funding may be available from UL. LST [Limerick Smarter Travel] has indicated funding in the order of €100,000. UL may be able to mach [sic] this. Request for funding to be made formally to UL by LCCC and to include surveys and reports on bridge to date.

18 September 2014
RR said UL have set aside €100,000 towards Black bridge refurbishment but will need matched funding from LA [presumably local authority]. Black bridge will require a detailed study to identify what repair work will need to be carried out, also an AA study will be required, and proper consents from ABP [An Bord Pleanála?]. Funding currently not available from LA.
PON spoke to Clare Co Co. No funding available from them.
PC Department will not fund a pedestrian bridge.
RR can we look for alternative funding options, UL will ring fence for the moment.

An AA study is, I think, an Appropriate Assessment, a sort of employment creation scheme for bird-watchers who can read European directives [and sooner them than me].

The point to be remembered here is that Limerick County Council leased the bridge and undertook to keep it in repair; there is no obligation on Waterways Ireland, Clare County Council or the University of Limerick to spend a penny on it. The two parties on whom lies the responsibility for repairing the bridge are the Limerick Council and the Department of Finance, which latter has the power, under the lease, to do the work and charge it to the council. That would be a better use of its time and money than an unnecessary and intrusive footbridge in the middle of Limerick.

River Suir

My spies tell me that the RTE television programme Nationwide, to be broadcast on Wednesday 13 May 2015 at 7.00pm, will include some material about the River Suir and perhaps some footage of a former tug-barge, the Knocknagow, that plied thereon.

Advice to potential UK prime ministers …

… from the inimitable XKCD.


Riverfest in Limerick

Riverfest is an annual, er, happening in Limerick. I don’t know much about it: I’ve never been because I dislike both crowds and festivals and it would take something remarkably interesting to outweigh my dislike and persuade me to attend any part of the thing. I took notice of this year’s event only because I wanted to find out what streets would be closed to traffic; the festival organisers did not, alas, think to provide a map showing the closures.

I have only two other comments on the event:

  • the brochure [PDF] mentions a workshop called “Craft a River” but doesn’t say what, or indeed where, it is
  • in a city whose history is so intertwined with that of the food industry, and which has, in the Milk Market, the best Irish market outside Cork, it seems ludicrous to import a “continental market” instead of showcasing local producers.

But I acknowledge that I am not really entitled to comment; Brian Leddin, on the other hand, has a better informed view.

William P O’Brien

On 18 July 1975 the Irish Department of Education wrote to William P O’Brien, of 17 Victoria Street, Armagh, asking him to set the exam paper for the Intermediate Certificate French exam of 1977. He was offered a fee of £38.50 for setting the paper, consultation and revision and correcting the proofs. He posted the paper to the department on 31 July and received an acknowledgement on 5 August 1975.

Mr O’Brien was a member of the Thomond Archaeological Society and, on 6 December 1975, paid it £5.50 in a cheque drawn on his account with the Bank of Ireland in Armagh.

Some day, somebody may want to know that.

Hurrah for the red, white and orange

Colour discrimination seems to be rampant in Ireland. Of the sets of colours [red, white and blue] and [green, white and orange], there is Official Endorsement of two, green and blue, while red, white and orange are ignored. Even the North/South Ministerial Council has got in on the act, with a whole page on its website about greenways and blueways. They must have been overdosing on the Erne flag. Their page is a list of links, sort of plonked there without context or explanation, but there’s probably some hands-across-the-borderism or something going on.

I read in the Guardian today of a proposal for a greenway on the former railway line between Roscrea and Portumna via Birr. And a jolly good thing too, but how many greenways and blueways can one small island accommodate? How thinly will the tourists be spread? And what about those of us who hate walking, cycling, kayaking and other such energetic pursuits?

The Shannon One

Copy of IMG_4546_resize

Heading down the estuary past Shannon Airport

Limerick Port dredger Shannon I 3_resize

Working in Limerick

Limerick Port dredger Shannon I 4_resize

Almost as much kit as WI’s Swiss Army Knife

Limerick Port dredger Shannon I 5_resize

The big crane, though, is not part of the kit

Limerick Port dredger Shannon I 7_resize

Great view from the cab … er, wheelhouse

Limerick Port dredger Shannon I 11_resize

Pusher bow?

Limerick Port dredger Shannon I 1_resize

Limerick in the background

Limerick Port old dredger Curraghgour II 3_resize

Shannon 1’s predecessor Curraghgour II