Monday 20 May 2013

1926 census: stand up and be counted

If you've been keeping up with the progress (or lack of it) of the Government's 1926 Census 'early release' plan, you'll be aware that there's a problem. See my recent blogpost on the subject.

The brick wall in this particular story is the Central Statistics Office. It is, of course, run by civil servants – a breed of people not exactly known for their originality or flexibility and certainly not given to rewriting the rule book in response to public demand. So while the current Government may wish to release the 1926 Census in time for 1916, you can bet your bottom euro that the CSO has neither the will nor the motivation to facilitate that intent.

Over the last couple of years, a few smoke screens have wafted into the story, blaming this or that suggested compromise solution for the delay. As far as I can make out, the only real hurdle all along has been the CSO; every reasonable suggestion has been swiftly booted out of play and its view has become more entrenched. Frankly, I really can't see that any further legislation will be introduced in the near future without an almighty lobbying effort from the genealogical community.

The CSO's argument is clear enough from this reply (dated last week) to a 'lobby' letter sent to Taoiseach's office at the beginning of April:

I refer to your email of 8 April relating to the release of the 1926 Census forms.

The Censuses of Population held between 1926 and 1991 inclusive were carried out under the 1926 Statistics Act which did not permit any access to Census records, at any time. However, the 1993 Statistics Act repealed the 1926 and 1946 Statistics Acts and provided for the release of census forms for these Censuses 100 years after the date of the relevant Census.

When this provision was debated in the Seanad at the time, the view was expressed that the proposed 100 years period should be reduced to 75, or even 50 years. However, while the retrospective introduction of the 100 years exemption was seen by some as undermining the original guarantee given to householders, it was generally accepted that 100 years was a reasonable compromise in all the circumstances, including having regard to increasing life expectancy.

The position is that the confidentiality of all statistical returns from individuals, households and business is guaranteed by law, and this guarantee is the cornerstone of all CSO surveys, not least Censuses of Population.

I am satisfied, therefore, that the 100 years period provided for in the 1993 Act strikes the right balance in facilitating legitimate historical and sociological research on the one hand, while the protecting the confidentiality of Census data and the integrity of CSO procedures on the other.

Yours sincerely

Paul Kehoe T.D.
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach
with special responsibility for the CSO

If we really, really want the early release of the 1926 census, it is time for Irish genealogists to stand up and be counted. We need to lobby like crazy! You can see the argument above. Argue back! Loud and clear. Take one point, any point, and knock it down. Get your friends, your family, your collegues, your local history/genealogy society involved, too. Get them all writing. A ten or fifteen minute investment of time from everyone who cares about this could just deliver a huge return.

The CSO seems set up to resist all the way to 2026 so if we don't fight for this, we'll definitely be 13 years older before the 1926 census returns are revealed.

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