Friday 8 October 2010

Fingers crossed for early release of the 1926 census

A Bill to allow the early release of the 1926 census has been published today and now awaits Second Stage process in Seanad Éireann, the Irish Parliament's upper house.

The argument for early release is two pronged. The first is based on precedent and cites the early release of the 1911 census. Like the 1926 census, the 1911 census carried the legal proviso of a 100-year 'closure' period ie the content of the returns was to be kept under lock and key for a century so as to maintain confidentiality of individual records.

However, the Government saw fit to release the 1926 records after only 50 years (they were available for public perusal from 1961), whereas it is already nearly 85 years since the 1926 census was taken. As such, the vast majority of individuals included in its records have since died.

The second argument is a repeat of the moral debate that successfully won the early release of the 1911 returns... that, due to the void caused by destruction of nearly all 19th century census records, and the absence of a 1921 census, there is huge public demand -- both in Ireland and the Diaspora -- for this heritage information.

The 1926 census was the first to be carried out in the Irish Free State (Eire) following the Partition of the island. Its records relate only to the 26 counties of the modern-day Republic of Ireland, and not to the six counties of Northern Ireland.

The Statistics (Heritage Amendment) Bill, 2010 is sponsored by Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fáil) and has the support of many senators on both sides of the House.