(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he can inform the House as to the nature of the documents which were kept in the Four Courts and the Record Office adjoining; whether any official duplicates or copies of these documents were kept elsewhere; and whether any of the documents in the Four Courts or Record Office have escaped destruction?
The records kept in these buildings comprised legal, ecclesiastical and testamentary documents dating from the later 13th century, with some of earlier date; all wills from 1536 to 1899, and some as late as 1904; all extant Rolls (Patent, Close, Plea, Statute, etc.); census returns for the period 1821–1851, and a large number of parish registers. A complete list will be found in the official guide to the records, which extends to 300 closely-printed pages. Of these documents, scarcely any duplicates exist, with the exception of some will books in the district probate registers since 1858. I am unable at present to state whether any of these records have escaped destruction.
We certainly knew, and so did every well-instructed and well-informed Irishman, that documents of priceless value were contained in the Four Courts. I am not aware of any step that we could have taken, or ought to have taken, in the last week which would have prevented those documents from being destroyed.
Have this Government ever made representations to the Provisional Government since the time of the occupation of the Four Courts by Rory O'Connor, to try to regain possession of the Four Courts and of these invaluable documents, before the rebels had time to mine the place and destroy the whole thing?
Of course I have been, on behalf of the British Government, in constant private and informal communication with the Provisional Government during the last few months, but I felt all along that the decision as to what was the right moment at which they should assert their authority was really one of which they must be the best judges, and in regard to which it was impossible for us to adopt a line of dictation.