It was inspired. The Ceann Comhairle was indisposed to move it again in 2016 because he accepted the position of Ceann Comhairle. My colleagues in the Seanad, Senators Warfield and Ó Donnghaile, also moved the Bill.
When it was first debated in the Seanad in 2011, it was defeated, regrettably, by the then Fine Gael-Labour Party Government Senators. I hope it will pass through this House and the Seanad. The Bill has no financial or political implications. The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, in a parliamentary question reply last week, stated "a capital allocation of €5m has been provided for". There will, therefore, be no additional cost for the purpose. She also stated that detailed preliminary work has already been carried out. The only logjam I can see in this is caused by the Statistics Act 1993 restriction. This Bill seeks to suspend that restriction - the 100 year rule - as a one-off on a special heritage notice, in this case, on the basis of it being the decade of centenaries. It would be appropriate that we mark the decade of centenaries with the publication of the census records. In 2016, as part of the run up to the 1916 centenary, we published the military service pension records. No one will deny how successful that was and how often they were accessed. It would be on a one-off basis in the interest of historical, familial and genealogical research, especially given the period it covers.
The material should be made available online, as proposed by Labhrás Ó Murchú in 2010, and even before that, as intended by the then Senator, Maurice Manning, in the Seanad in 1993. When debating the Statistics Bill, he put forward an amendment to reduce the restriction timeframe to either 50 or 70 years. He sought to reduce it to 70 years, while others argued to reduce it to 50 years, before the publication of files. If that understanding had been there, people would have better understood the damage of partition. Maybe Ministers would not be echoing Paddy Donegan's undermining of the then President when he said he was a "thundering bollocks" and a "fucking disgrace", to correctly quote him. That was what, in fact, he said. Others have a different version of it. He was always correct when he said he did not say what the papers said; he said more.
They should not have attended the celebration of partition, an invitation to which today's incumbent in the Áras rightly turned down. To switch back to the central point of today's Bill, I ask why now? Why would anybody want to move this at this stage? I have been a member of all of the iterations of the all-party decade of centenaries committee since the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, scrambled to set it up in advance of the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. I believe it was in 2005, or perhaps even 2004, that he established that committee. It has trundled along since. It has sometimes done fabulous work and, on other occasions, it has done very little.
I have a great interest in watching relatives, historians and genealogists looking at what we are producing and releasing. I mentioned the military pension records. As a result of the advent of computers and the Internet, we have been able to grant access to far greater numbers throughout Ireland and the world to our pension records, the 1901 and 1911 census records, newspaper archives, Bureau of Military History documents, parish records and much more than we ever imagined, even back in 2010 when Labhrás Ó Murchú was putting together his Bill or, before that, when Maurice Manning was arguing his case in the Seanad in 1993. In some ways, what we have been able to do through digitising records and putting them online is to democratise history. People can find out about their families, their past and the role of their ancestors in their local areas.
There seems to be an insatiable appetite for this material. It is like the film "Short Circuit" in which there was a robot going around saying "Need input, need input". People ask me whether I can find certain information for them. They probably ask the Minister of State the same thing. It is the worst thing you can do to give people a bit of information because they will come back for more and more. However, when you give them the tools and show them how to access the material online themselves, away they go. They are then on a journey. So many families have managed to find bits of their own history they could never have dreamed of finding 20 or 30 years ago.
An interesting aside in all of this is the great interest in history. We have seen this in the State commemorations of the Easter Rising, the Lock-out and other events. It shows that people are interested in history and highlights the cultural naivety of decisions to downgrade history as a subject in schools.
Access to the 1901 and 1911 census returns has been available for public research for approximately 50 years. The digitisation of these returns by the National Archives has provided a wonderful national heritage resource. It is freely available via the Internet, which is key. I do not know how many hits the site gets but I know the figure is phenomenal, into the millions. This has been a phenomenal success and has greatly increased the interest and awareness among the diaspora. This often has benefits for tourism as members of the diaspora discover more of their ancestral links to Ireland.
At the time of the passing of the Statistics Bill through Seanad Éireann in 1993, the then Senator, Maurice Manning, put down an amendment on Committee Stage to reduce the period of closure to 50 years. I am sorry; I said 70 or 75 earlier. This amendment was designed to allow for a 1926 census of population to be opened for genealogical and family historical research. However, this amendment was withdrawn at the request of the Minister of the time, based on the promise that he would consider a 70-year closure period. No ministerial amendment was presented when the Bill passed All Stages in the Dáil on 7 July 1993. We have been stuck with that period since, blocking the release of these records. This is despite efforts to change that and campaigning by the Genealogical Society of Ireland in particular. I welcome the society's input in this Bill.
The census records available thus far obviously cannot reflect the societal effects of the upheaval that followed those momentous events. After 1911, the next census was taken in 1926. That is a gap of 15 years. This occurred because no census was carried out in 1921 as a result of the turbulent nature of the country at the time. The Lock-out is therefore not reflected, nor are the many people who left Dublin and other places to look for work elsewhere as a result of it. In many cases, they joined the British army. The founding of the Irish Volunteers, the Citizen Army, Cumann na mBan, the split in the Irish Volunteers, the outbreak of the First World War and the four years of war that followed, the deaths that occurred and those who did not come home to Ireland but settled in Britain afterwards, British army recruitment, conscription and the enlistment of hundreds of thousands of Irish men, approximately 50,000 of whom died in that war, would all be reflected in those census records. The 1911 census could be compared with the 1926 census to see the effect these events had on certain areas. We know some of the effects but we could then see it family by family.
This period also covers the Easter Rising, the leaders' executions, internment, the release of prisoners, the revival of Sinn Féin and the IRA that paved the way for the 1918 general election, the extension of the franchise, including its extension to women for the first time, and the movement of women in Irish society and in Britain, which was huge because they were depended on to keep the factories running in Britain. After the war, there was another great movement as they moved back. It would also cover the period in which more than 25,000 people died of the Spanish flu. Given that we are going through a pandemic, it would be interesting to see what we could learn about that.
The restriction imposed on access to information contained in the census of population 1926 also prevents historians, statisticians and genealogists from interrogating the illuminating primary source this census represents. The impact of An Chéad Dáil, the effects of the tan war from 1919 to 1921, the Civil War and the establishment of the Irish Free State and the state in the North, that is to say, partition, would all be reflected in some way or other, as would the movement of people out of Ireland or around Ireland when the State was founded. The new Irish Free State held its first census in 1926 at the height of a worldwide economic depression. A lot of emigration would therefore be reflected in the census. It is important that we look at that and not delay any further.
One other matter that would interest me greatly would be how the census reflects what happened in the Gaeltacht areas. There is another missing census, the 1925 census which was carried out in all Gaeltacht areas, which are mainly on the west coast. This was carried out by Coimisiún na Gaeltachta. There was a census of every single household taken. The records are missing, although the reports remain. A census of every single household in these areas was taken to determine whether they were Irish speakers or not. Imagine being able to compare that to the 1911 census or even to today's censuses with regard to areas in which Irish was and is predominantly spoken. We would learn an awful lot. Cá bhfuil an daonáireamh sin? Cén fáth go bhfuil sé ar strae? D'fhiafraigh mé den Choimisinéir Drew Harris cá bhfuil sé toisc gurbh é An Garda Síochána, a bhí díreach bunaithe, a rinne an daonáireamh seo. Chuaigh gardaí go dtí gach uile theach in ainneoin the turbulent nature of the country at the time agus thóg siad taifead ní hamháin de na daoine ach de na ba, na caora agus gach rud eile. Tá an tuairisc spéisiúil ach bheadh sé níos spéisiúla arís a fháil amach cad a bhí ag gach uile theach sna ceantair sin agus cé chomh bocht nó saibhir is a bhí siad.
There is also a need for other documents or records that we have to be looked at and, if possible, digitised and made available. I got a few supportive letters on this when it was mentioned on RTÉ the other day. One came from a historian, Kieran McNulty, in Kerry. He explained to me that it is very frustrating trying to write a societal history of Kerry in the period when the new State was founded. He said that it is very frustrating when attempting to research the economic and social conditions in the country in the years immediately following the end of the Civil War and wished me well in trying to ensure the Bill progressed tonight.
Even at this late stage, I appeal to the Minister of State to withdraw the amendment and to allow this to progress. It is not contentious. I am not looking for a row over it. I do not think there is a row to be had. There seems to be cross-party support because, as I said, Maurice Manning had supported the idea and other Deputies and Senators have tried to pass similar legislation.
It is for the betterment of all of society.