The Department of Agriculture has no immediate plans to digitise all of the over eight million Land Commission records its holds, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has said.

The Land Commission was founded in 1881 and was responsible for the redistribution of farmland across the country.

Minister McConalogue said that the digitisation of records on such a vast scale “is not considered feasible” at this stage, having regard to both the form and condition of many of the records held and given the sheer scale of such an operation.

“However, the Department is examining the possibility of digitising certain key search aids which will enable electronic searches to be carried out by members of the public in order to ascertain if specific records exist,” he said in response to a parliamentary question from Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy last week.

Early stage

“This work is at an early stage and a process of internal consultation between the relevant divisions is taking place.

"Officials have also been in contact with external bodies undertaking similar projects to learn from their experience,” he said.

The Department has signed a memorandum of understanding with Trinity College Dublin in relation to the Beyond 2022 Project, which has undertaken an initial scoping of the pre-1922 Irish Land Commission records, he added.

“That project is working to recreate the records lost in the destruction of the Public Records Office of Ireland at the Four Courts in 1922,” he said.

Storage of records

The records of the former Land Commission are stored in a modern facility in Portlaoise, the Minister said, adding that the warehouse is climate controlled to ensure that conditions are optimal for the storage of paper records.

“In 2019, a major project to upgrade the map storage and filing system was completed.

“Currently, staff are engaged in a long-term project to transfer Land Commission documents from their original storage boxes into modern, fireproof storage boxes.

"In many cases, records were still stored in their original metal boxes, which over time had become damaged through handling and presented a risk to the documents within them and to staff handling them,” he said.