Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Genealogical Society of Ireland

Welcome to the Genealogical Society of Ireland:

JUNE 2008 in full

Ireland's Genealogical Gazette
June : Meitheamh 2008 , Volume 3, Issue 6

Special Heritage Status for the 1926 Census Returns?

The 1911 census returns are currently being digitised and made freely available on the internet by the National Archives. Indeed, the public interest in this research facility has been nothing short of phenomenal. The 1901 and 1911 census returns have been open for public research for over forty years. However, census returns taken since independence are closed for 100 years by Section 35 of the Statistics Act, 1993. At the time of the passing of Statistics Bill through Seanad Éireann in 1993, this Society urged Senators to reduce the closure period to between 50 and 70 years.

The importance of census returns to genealogy was recognised by the then Minister of State, Mr. Noel Dempsey, TD, when he introduced the Statistics Bill in Seanad Éireann on June 17th 1993, he said of the census returns "they provide an invaluable source of information for genealogical purposes, and many people call into the archives every day to find out more about their ancestors". In his reply Senator Maurice Manning, who agreed to support the amendment proposed by the Genealogical Society, argued that "at present Cabinet papers are made available after 30 years and they frequently contain sensitive material which can make or break reputations, and provide a fuller picture of how Government operated on our behalf at that time.

The data made available under a 50 or 60 year rule would largely be used by bona fide scholars and researchers". Senator Manning put down an amendment at the Committee Stage reducing the period of closure to 50 years however this amendment was withdrawn at the request of the Minister who would consider a 70 year closure period. Unfortunately the amendment was not pressed and the Bill finally passed all stages on July 7th 1993.

This Society has campaigned ever since for a reversal of this 100 year rule. The period between the 1911 and 1926 was arguably the most turbulent period in modern Irish history. It included World War 1 which cost the lives of around 49,000 Irishmen and the Easter Rising in 1916 followed by the General Election in 1918 and the establishment of the First Dáil in 1919. The declaration of independence by the first Dáil on January 21st 1919, a date peculiarly not officially marked in Ireland, was followed by the War of Independence until a truce was declared in 1921. After difficult negotiations a Treaty with Great Britain was signed in 1921 which established the Irish Free State in 1922, only to be followed by a bitter Civil War which ended in 1924. Four years after its establishment, the new Irish Free State held its first census in 1926 at the height of economic depression and emigration.

Indeed, this 100 year closure is in stark contrast with other western democracies, except the UK. In the US, for example, the census returns for 1930 are available on-line. A Draft Bill was presented by this Society to Senators and it is currently under consideration with a view to publication. Whilst keeping the 100 year rule for all other census returns, the Draft Bill seeks to create an exception for the 1926 census by affording it a "special heritage status" by amending the 1993 Act. The huge interest that such a measure would have amongst our Diaspora would be welcomed by many sectors in the economy, not least, the tourism industry. The release of the 1926 Census Returns would be an enormously significant contribution to our understanding, knowledge and appreciation of the early years of the independence of our State and its people, our ancestors.

Sixteen Year Closure Ends
A Victory for Common Sense

The denial of public access to the microfilms of the parish registers for the dioceses of Cashel & Emly and only very limited access to those of Cloyne and Kerry was widely criticized. Generally viewed as backward and wholly unjustified, the closure for Cashel & Emly lasted sixteen years. The recent announcement by the National Library that these records are now open for research was widely greeted as a victory for common sense. The closure should not have happened in the first place and hopefully lessons have been learned in the interim.

Public access to these microfilms of held by the National Library should be seen as a right and not a concession. The various reported reasons behind these closures remain controversial, although, they have been vigorously challenged by many over the years. This sixteen year closure was totally at variance with this Society's long-held principle of public ownership and right of access to our heritage, including the genealogical heritage contained in parish registers. Any future attempt at the closure of access to these records should be greeted with a firm and swift refusal by the Board of the National Library.


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