Monday 13 August 2012

Burden of proof eased for Irish Heritage Certificate

Last week, Fexco, the Kerry-based company supplying the Certificate of Irish Heritage scheme on behalf of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), announced that the scheme's website had had a makeover. The overhaul wasn't entirely cosmetic, however. The reason for the redesign was that the DFA has agreed to considerably ease the burden of proof on applicants.

Documentary evidence is no longer essential. Instead, a self-declaration will now suffice. So applicants now have to provide the names of people in direct line between the recipient and the Irish-born ancestor, plus answer two out of seven questions about the ancestor. Those questions are:

  • Name of town/parish where ancestor from
  • Year of birth
  • When he/she left
  • Port of departure
  • Port of arrival
  • Where he/she settled in adopted country
  • Occupation

In other words it is now possible to receive a Certificate of Irish Heritage by saying you're descended from Patrick O'Kelly, a labourer who lived in California. No more questions asked.

The Sunday Times newspaper reported last week that the minutes of a May meeting, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show that Fexco told the Irish Abroad Unit of the DFA that applicants were having difficulty finding formal ancestral documentation. 'Disappointing' sales of just 762 certificates since the launch of the scheme last September were largely attributed to the requirement for documentary proof.

The report continued:

"Fexco had previously ruled out watering down requirements for the Certificate. At a meeting in January, the DFA suggested that in cases where obtaining documents might be difficult, a statement from a genealogist saying that 'on the basis of probability this person is Irish' could suffice.

Fexco, however, noted that 'this would not be an option with the genealogy community.' Instead, it argued that helping applicants to obtain documentation should be of benefit."

It seems even that assistance hasn't helped sales to increase sufficiently.

This latest development, the option of the self-declaration, seems to be a case of 'sink or swim'. The DFA continues to publicly support the scheme, saying that it may be a few years before sales reach a satisfactory level but in reality, next year's Gathering, a tourism initiative aimed at the Diaspora, may prove crucial to the Certificate of Irish Heritage's longer term success.