Statistics (Heritage Amendment) Bill 2011: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, to the House. In bringing forward this proposal, I take the opportunity to thank Mr. Michael Merrigan, general secretary of the Genealogical Society of Ireland. I declare a special interest in this issue as chairman of the Irish Family History Foundation. The Bill is particularly timely given the tens of thousands of people from all over the world expected to attend the largest genealogical event in Ireland, Back to our Past, in the RDS next Friday. In addition, October is family history month in both the United States and Canada. This debate is also timely in the context of the success of The Gathering. What I am proposing will help us to sustain and strengthen our ties with the Irish diaspora.

The Bill is essentially a technical proposal to amend the Statistics Act 1993 in order to assign special heritage status to the 1926 census of population. If enacted, it will enable the Minister to continue to make regulations as to how the archived material would be accessed by the public. The 1926 census was the first following the foundation of the State. The censuses of 1901 and 1911, which were digitised and made available online in recent years, have been accessed by millions of people throughout the world. This is an indication of the huge interest there is in tracing one's roots. Apart from their role in strengthening the bonds people feel to their homeland, there is also a benefit for tourism in making available census data - particularly cultural tourism, which is a major aspect of our economy. The people who will come to the RDS next Friday will be keen to know how they can discover further information about their families and trace their family tree more comprehensively.

The 1926 census is particularly important and deserving of special consideration, and not just because it was the first census in the history of the State. We are currently involved in a decade of commemorations of events of great significance to the history of this island. We are all aware of the impact of the 1913 Lock-out, which was not just about a workers' strike in Dublin but about the plight of an impoverished people and their difficulties in securing rights. The forthcoming centenary of the First World War from 1914 to 1918, in which some 49,000 Irishmen lost their lives, marks another momentous event in our history. Likewise, the Easter rebellion of 1916, which gave us the Proclamation, was another major event in one of the most important periods of Irish history. The same decade saw the general election of 1918, the establishment of the first Dáil in 1919, the War of Independence from 1919 to 1921, and the Civil War of 1922 to 1923. It is important, if we are to understand how the events of that intense period impacted on people, that we have access to the information contained in the 1926 census. I have received correspondence from all over the world in recent years and met many genealogists who have travelled here from North America and elsewhere. Their strong appeal is that the 1926 census be treated in a special way.

The 1993 legislation stipulates a closure period of 100 years. However, the 1901 and 1911 censuses were accessible after 50 or 60 years, because the data in question were compiled when we were still under British rule. The 1993 legislation was brought forward by the then Minister of State, Noel Dempsey. At the time, the highly respected former Senator, Dr. Maurice Manning, expressed grave concern in this House regarding the 100-year closure provision, arguing that 50 years would be sufficient. Mr. Dempsey gave Dr. Manning an undertaking to consider a closure period of 70 years. Even back then, there was concern that the 100-year rule was too strict and would have implications for the 1926 census in particular.

It certainly would diminish the possibility of understanding the challenges we had and how we responded to those challenges. Dr. Maurice Manning, who is still a very active person in many ways, would have been quite surprised that the 70 year closure was not accepted, but I presume there was not sufficient subsequent debate. It is interesting that we are here 20 years later bringing up the same item in the same House.

The Minister of State should look at the period of time that is involved in other countries before one can access information. Census information in the US is available up to 1940, so it is not 100 years or anything like that. They are currently working on the 1950 census, which will also be made available online. If there is any country that is more in need of access to this information, for the reasons I have outlined, it is Ireland. So much happened in the 15 or 20 years preceding the 1926 census that it almost encapsulated the whole history of Ireland in many ways. There will always be a gap in our understanding of that period until that census is made available.

I was provided with an interesting anecdote, although it is not necessarily central to the debate. It has often been stated that the Protestant population was driven out of Cork by the IRA during the War of Independence. Articles were written on it and television programmes were made about it, but because there was no access to the 1926 census, it would not take into account how many of that Protestant community might have gone to the First World War and how many might have been killed in that war. It would not have been about them being driven out of Cork for any reason whatsoever, but without that information, it is not possible to get a full picture. Therefore, the vacuum is being filled by unsubstantiated information which does not help anybody. We are not talking about a vested interest, political programme or partisanship. I do not think genealogy has anything to do with that. I have often heard people remarking that there is no Border when it comes to genealogy. When people are tracing their family, they do not suddenly stop when they come to the Border. It is the whole island, and likewise with the diaspora. When we are making a case based on the anecdote which I am telling, it is not done for any politically partisan reason, it is done to point out the weakness that results from not having access to that information.

We are going to be commemorating the 1916 Rising in 2016. It would be a great pity if we were not able to assess what happened in the subsequent period. There is a ten year window that can give us an idea how Ireland responded after 1916. It is not possible to complete many of the programmes of commemoration in that decade while that big gap exists. With an eye on 2016, we should start preparing the opportunity for access to this information, which is why I am putting forward this Bill.

There are several reasons people trace their roots. Some of us leave it a little bit late when we take an interest in it. There is often a huge gap and we are disappointed that we did not speak to our parents when they were alive about these things. My mother was English, from Birkenhead, but my father fought in the War of Independence. I often said it was like being the product of a mixed marriage. We are depending too much on hearsay when statistics are available. What do we find in a census? We find out from where people came, where they were born and their status at the time. All of this must be very relevant, but it is also very important from a tourism point of view. We have a cultural centre with a genealogy service in Cashel, and a number of people come to it who are hungry for information. I saw a case one time in County Clare where people returned looking to find where their family was born. There was nothing left, other than the stones of the house, but they were crying and putting some little bits of the stone in their pockets. They could not leave the spot. There are 75 million people of Irish extraction throughout the world. That is a huge number.

I hope we can move this Bill forward. The 100 year closure is written in legislation but it is not written in stone. At the end of the day, it gives the Minister the opportunity to regulate. We are not changing the 100 year closure. We are looking for a special heritage status for the 1926 census because it was the first census after the foundation of the State and because the Irish diaspora has been crying out for it for years. We are closer to that 100 year period and I hope it will be possible for this Bill to be accepted.

I commend Senator Ó Murchú on bringing forward this Bill. There is no reason-----

Is the Senator seconding the Bill?

Yes, I second the Bill. There is no reason we cannot accept this Bill and I hope the Minister of State will be in a position to accept it, at least on Second Stage. The Government can make amendments on Committee Stage if it feels some technical improvements need to be made.

Senator Ó Murchú has outlined the background to this Bill. The inability to access this information from the 1926 census removes many of the pieces of the jigsaw of Irish history, such as cultural issues, an analysis of the First World War, or any other issues that took place in that decade. It would be important to make this information available to us. One understands things like Cabinet confidentiality, where there is a need for information to be kept private rather than secret for a period of time and for a variety of reasons. As we get older, the 30 year rule does not seem to be quite a long time at all. I think of many of the papers that were released last year going back to the GUBU period and things that many of us remember as news items and how the Cabinet of the day dealt with certain things. Of course it is important that these things are kept private for a period of time. However, 100 years seems ridiculous in the extreme, especially when we consider the benefits of the release of that information, including for those people of Irish descent all over the world who can put in place some pieces of their jigsaws. Senator Ó Murchú mentioned that when the Statistics Act was under consideration in 1993, the great former Senator Maurice Manning put forward an amendment to have a 70 year rule applied to this.

He withdrew the amendment on the basis of an understanding to the effect that the then Minister, former Deputy Noel Dempsey, would press ahead with his 70-year rule. Unfortunately, the legislation was passed into law on 7 July 1993 and the 100-year rule stood. If the former Senator Manning had known that nothing was going to happen, then the amendment to which I refer could have been pressed.

I understand that it is possible to source information from US censuses up to the 1940s and that the release of data from the 1950s is under consideration. The information in question has been a tremendous resource for people of Irish extraction - including members of my family - seeking to trace their heritage. The Gathering is something which the Government and all of Ireland can celebrate. It has given rise to many benefits and has captured the imagination of the Irish across the globe. As Senator Ó Murchú stated, there are many genealogists worldwide who would like access to the information contained in the 1926 census in order to complete the picture.

Another matter of importance is the displacement of people following the 1916 Rising and, in particular, the War of Independence. In that regard, there were allegations that what could be described as ethnic cleansing took place in respect of Protestant people living in the west Cork area. There is no question that atrocities of which none of us is proud took place and there is no doubt the statistical information which can be gleaned from the 1911 census does not provide a true picture of what happened post-1916. Let us consider the example of a Protestant family living in west Cork during the period in question. Two of that family's three sons enlisted to fight in the First World War and while one returned and moved elsewhere, the other died in the conflict. The third son married a Catholic woman and they went on to have seven children, all raised in the mother's faith in line with the terms of the relevant 1908 decree. What happened in this instance would distort the picture that would have become apparent from the 1911 census and by 2026 only one of the five members of the Protestant family in question would be traceable. This example would also lead one to believe that serious displacement - perhaps even ethnic cleansing - of people occurred following the War of Independence. However, this might not be the case. I am not trying to explain away the atrocities which might have occurred, I am simply making the point that there are details within the information relating to the 1926 census which could provide a great deal more clarity in respect of the events which took place and the culture which obtained at the time. Such detail could also paint a picture with regard to the position of the Irish language at the time, particularly in respect of the counties in which there were active Gaeltacht areas.

We could obtain a wealth of knowledge from the 1926 census. As Senator Ó Murchú correctly stated, it has been 20 years since we visited the legislation relating to statistics. The position in this area is written in law but not in stone. Perhaps we should modernise our approach to the information in question and acknowledge the assistance it could provide in respect of so many other aspects of Irish life. Perhaps we should resurrect the great Maurice Manning's 70-year rule or even go further by introducing a 50-year rule. Let us be honest, 30 or 40 years is a long period. I accept there is a necessity to protect people's privacy in the context of personal information, etc. When a number of generations have passed, however, it should be possible for individuals to access information which could be of benefit to them.

I commend the Bill to the House. I accept that some of the legislation brought forward by those on this side of the House cannot be embraced by the Government. I am of the view, however, that the entire Oireachtas could embrace the Statistics (Heritage Amendment) Bill 2011, particularly as it could contribute something positive to our society in the future.

I welcome the Minister of State. I lived in the United States for approximately 20 years. I worked with the then Irish tourist board for a number of those years and promoted Irish tourism. I realise the importance of genealogy and its contribution to the tourism industry here. Many of the people I met in the United States during the period to which I refer and since then - those who are, and those who wish they were, Irish - always longed to trace their roots in Ireland. I recall coming across one individual recently who informed me that his grandfather emigrated from Dublin in the 1920s. The person in question states that the family name was O'Connell and asked if I might know any members of it here. I replied that I did not think I knew any O'Connells from Dublin who were here in the 1920s. In recent weeks I received an e-mail from a gentleman in Canada who goes by the name of Eldon Coghlan and who informed me that his family emigrated in the 1920s. He spells his surname the same way I do and he wanted to know if we were related. I wrote back and said "No". I also informed him that he should make contact with Fine Gael's Chief Whip in the Seanad, Senator Paul Coghlan, who might be able to provide assistance. I understand how important it is for some people to be able to trace their roots back to Ireland.

Senator MacSharry stated that there is absolutely no reason why the information relating to the 1926 census should not be released. However, a reason does exist. Releasing the data from the 1926 census prior to 2026 would require a change in the legislation which governs the gathering of statistics. According to the Central Statistics Office, CSO, this is not possible. One of the main reasons for this relates to the ongoing work being carried out to prepare the data from the 1926 census for publication. Existing legislation guarantees that there is a 100-year delay before details are published. Data from the most recent census shows that there were some 400 people aged 100 years or more living in Ireland in 2011. The 2011 census also shows that some 58,000 persons aged 85 years or older were then living here. Details relating to most of these individuals would more than likely be included in census returns from 1926.

Releasing the 1926 census might be seen as reneging on the statistical guarantee given to those persons who are still alive today and whose details are included in the data relating to that census. According to the CSO, the information provided by them or on their behalf in 1926 is confidential. I agree that the 1926 census is of great historical significance, particularly in view of the fact that the census returns made in the 1800s were destroyed by fire and explosion in 1922. The 1926 records have significant heritage value because they provide a valuable insight into people's lives during that period of our country's history. The census records from 1901 and 1911 have already been published. However, the 1926 census covers the period from 1911 to 1916 and beyond.

The Statistics Act 1993 stipulates that census data must be withheld for 100 years. If the records were to be released early and in time for the 1916 centenary commemorations, a change in legislation would be required. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, with the approval of the Cabinet, has established a 1926 working group. This working group considers that releasing the 1926 census data early would prejudice and undermine the ongoing collection of national statistical data. However, the Minister is of the opinion that the extensive preparatory work required to facilitate the release of the data can commence in advance of this legal restriction being resolved. The CSO and the National Archives have agreed to begin this work on the census records. There will, however, be costs associated with the said work, particularly in the context of the need to employ additional staff and to fit out accommodation for the project because the National Archives premises in Bishop Street is not suitable.

The 1901-1911 census project was carried out on a co-operative basis and cost approximately €5 million. The material from these censuses was, for the most part, available in microfilm format. This made it easy to convert to digital format for publishing. The cost to digitise and publish the 1926 census data is expected to be higher because this material has never been microfilmed and the individual return sheets would have to be scanned and cross-indexed. In light of the current economic climate, the director of the National Archives is considering alternative models of digitisation.

The Minister, Deputy Deenihan, will revert to the Government in this regard. The publication of the 1926 census records 12 or 13 years early is a complex and sensitive matter. It is the considered view of the working group set up by the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, and of the CSO that the early release of the 1926 census data would prejudice and undermine the ongoing collection of national statistical data.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. As I have stated on the floor of the House previously, I am a very keen genealogist. I fully commend Senator Ó Murchú and I support the Bill before the House. I was a little taken aback by some of the things Senator Eamonn Coghlan said. The programme for Government includes a commitment to enable the publication of the 1926 census. As there was no 100-year rule at the time of the 1926 census, the people filling out the census did not have an expectation that its contents would not be released for 100 years. I would feel differently if there had been such a rule at the time, but the rule in question was introduced in 1993. Like Senators Ó Murchú and MacSharry, it is clear to me after reading the transcripts of the debate that took place in 1993 that agreement was reached in this House, on foot of an argument made by the then Senator Maurice Manning, that the then Minister, Noel Dempsey, would reduce the relevant time period to 70 years, rather than the 50-year period being proposed by Senator Manning, when the legislation was considered in the Dáil. An idea like the 100-year rule that was introduced in 1993 is quite new as far as genealogy is concerned.

Anybody who is a genealogist will have an understanding of the examination of records. As Senators will appreciate from my name, I have looked at many Dutch records. There is an outstanding system of records in the Netherlands. I can access digitised records of births, deaths and christenings from that country. The records in the United States are amazing. Excellent records are also available in the United Kingdom, right down to parish register level. Ireland has many holes in its records. Genealogy brings tourism to this country. Ireland experienced many upheavals between 1911 and 1926, which is the time period we are discussing, including the Easter Rising, the First World War, in which 50,000 Irishmen lost their lives, the War of Independence, the Civil War, partition, the 1918 general election, the establishment of the First Dáil, the Treaty of 1921, the establishment of the Irish Free State, economic depression and emigration. I am sure Senators can imagine the richness of the data that will be available when we are able to compare the 1911 census to the 1926 census. These primary sources will be of use for genealogists, historians and sociologists, etc. Many people will benefit from the richness of this data.

In Canada, the rule is that records are closed for 92 years after they were first compiled. The results of the 1921 federal census of Canada are being released this year. The UK introduced a 100-year rule in 1961, but the UK information commissioner found in 2006 that records could be released before 100 years had elapsed. The UK authorities have started considering which records can be released. As there is a 72-year rule in the US, I can deal with the 1940 census records for my ancestors in that country. I am familiar with the richness of those statistics. I know how much my ancestors earned per month. Even though it was compiled just after the Great Depression, the data one can get from the 1940 US census is amazingly rich. I could bore the House with the details, but I promise not to do so.

It was confirmed earlier this year, following a thorough investigation, that the 1926 census records for Northern Ireland have unfortunately been destroyed. It is really important that we have a searchable online database that will encourage people to make the link back. As Senator Ó Murchú has said, many people wait until later in life to get involved in looking at their ancestry. We need to get details about the next generation after 1911 because that is too far back for many people who are doing genealogy. This area offers great potential for roots tourism.

There have been more than 400 million hits on the section of the website of the National Archives of Ireland that deals with census information. Those involved with any website with such a hit rate would be considering how to market their product and make it better. The authorities in the UK and the US have changed their model of funding the release of census information. I understand what Senator Eamonn Coghlan said about the costs associated with releasing the 1901 and 1911 census information, but that has changed. The private companies that are used in the UK and the US charge fees, before the information is made available to the public free of charge after a number of years. A small fee has to be paid to access the census for the first few years in the UK and the US. One of the websites used in the US is ancestry.com. Another website, familysearch.org, which is based in Utah, uses a really interesting community-sourcing model, whereby people like me download a census document and transcribe it. I sat in my kitchen in Dublin transcribing the 1940 US census to help to make it available to the public as widely as possible. There are different models that can be used. Companies like eneclann.ie, ancestry.com and findmypast.ie would love to work with the National Archives as a partner in this project. I do not necessarily think the cost argument is really true at the moment. Genealogy is an expensive hobby to be involved in. Those of us who are interested in it are used to having to pay for information.

I would like to put this in perspective. The oldest man in Ireland was born in 1906. At present, the average life expectancy in Ireland is 80 years, which is the age that will be reached this year by somebody born in 1933. This is what we are talking about. We are trying to go back one generation. I support this Bill even though it will retain the 100-year rule because it will make the 1926 census an exception on the basis of its special heritage status. As I have said, there was no 100-year rule when people were filling out the 1926 census, which was compiled at the end of an eventful period in Irish history. Having looked at the categories covered in that census, I cannot see the potential for any embarrassing material to emerge. I am aware that the column relating to illnesses was withheld by the UK authorities when they agreed to the early release of the 1911 census. Individual categories can be redacted if it is felt that people will have a difficulty with the information provided in them. I support this legislation fully. I could say a great deal more about it. If necessary, I can provide much more information to the Government on how this can be done in a cost-effective manner that would bring revenue to the State.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to discuss this interesting Bill, which has been introduced by our colleague, Senator Ó Murchú. He must be commended for showing such an interest in this topic. I understand the Senator is seeking to propose amendments to the Statistics Act 1993, which would mean that the provisions of the Act would no longer apply to the 1926 census. As many of us in this House know, the 1993 Act precludes the release of census information for a period of 100 years. If this Bill is passed, all information pertaining to the 1926 census will be released for consumption by interested parties. As a result of these amendments, all information pertaining to the period between 1911 and 1926 will be brought into the public domain. The 1926 census will be referred to as the first census undertaken by the Irish Free State and, consequently, the 1911 census will be referred to as the last one taken on the entire island of Ireland by the UK authorities.

In the 19th century, there was a common trend that a census of population was carried out in Ireland every ten years. Despite this, there was no census in Ireland in 1921. There is a further dearth of census information for the 19th century because the census returns of 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 were in the Public Records Office when it was destroyed by fire and explosions in 1922. Hardly any of those records survive today. To add to this sorry episode in our genealogical history, the census returns of 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 had been destroyed well before 1922. As a result, our rich genealogical heritage is pretty much unrecorded, which is regrettable.

I started to do some research after I was asked to lead this debate on behalf of the Labour Party group in this House. Having looked at the 1911 census online and discovered some new information about my grandfather and his family, I am intrigued to know more. That is not possible, unfortunately, because the 1926 census is subject to the 100-year rule. I also learned that October is family history month in the United States and Canada. Senator Ó Murchú mentioned that an annual genealogy event, Back to our Past, will take place this Friday in the RDS. The wonderful success of The Gathering, which led to thousands of additional people visiting these shores, has created a new interest among the diaspora in developing further links with this country, particularly in individual counties. Is there a better way of doing that than by acquiring family information?

The 100-year rule that was set out in section 35 of the Statistics Act 1993 precludes us from knowing more. No census information can be imparted until 100 years have passed. This is a pity in the context of the diaspora-focused events like The Gathering that are nearing an end and the events of national significance that are approaching.

For example, the centenary commemorations of the 1916 Rising will bring renewed focus on the country and the need to find out who we are will become more pressing so a change in legislation would be required to allow for their early release. That forms part of the reason Senator Ó Murchú is bringing this Bill before the House this evening. As a consequence of the foregoing, the 1926 records have a significant heritage value and provide a unique and much-needed snapshot of life during the period from 1911 to 1926 in Ireland's history. We can imagine what a valuable resource this would be for genealogists and social historians. We must remember that most of the significant events in our country's history happened in this period, including the First World War, the Easter Rising in 1916, the general election in 1918 which led to the establishment of the first Dáil, the declaration of independence and the War of Independence. When the new Irish Free State held its census in 1926, it was at the height of the economic depression and emigration, which could shine more light on us as a people.

I know the Minister of State has shown a large amount of goodwill towards the idea of opening up the 1926 census through the establishment of a 1926 census working group comprising officials from his Department, the National Archives and the Central Statistics Office, which is tasked with investigating how best to enable the publication of the census records within the current parameters. I urge the Minister of State to be mindful that census returns in the US are all available online from the late 18th century right up to 1940. Indeed, work is ongoing to prepare the 1950 census for release shortly. Senator van Turnhout referred to other countries as well where one can find a plethora of information relating to genealogy online. I ask the Minister of State to make a submission to the working group that all censuses be available after a shorter period - perhaps 50 years - in the interests of providing a greater opportunity for Ireland to promote an awareness, appreciation and knowledge of our ancestry among our diaspora. I understand there could be legal implications or restrictions but it is something that is worth doing if it can be done within the legal parameters. I understand there is a crux in the wheel of progression on this matter given the difficult job of all Ministers in the financial climate in which we find ourselves. The cost of digitising and publishing the 1926 census is expected to be higher than that of the 1911 project because the 1926 census has never been microfilmed and the individual return sheets would need to be scanned and cross-indexed, which would be quite labour-intensive and expensive.

The release of the 1926 census would not only provide a much-needed shot in the arm for Irish genealogy and family history research but one for Irish tourism in general. We see how successful The Gathering has been. There has been a renewed interest in genealogy as a consequence. It would certainly spark a growth in the industry. I urge the Minister of State to look at every avenue to see if it can be made a reality.

I welcome the Minister of State. I compliment Senator Ó Murchú on introducing the Bill. Every hurling match I ever saw between Tipperary and Wexford always ended with people shaking hands as the best of friends. The matches were hard enough fought but I hope this will be an occasion when the unity of the two great counties will be manifest.

We are faced with the 130-year rule because, as every speaker this afternoon has so eloquently said, we could not have a census in 1916 and 1921 so we need to get at the 1926 census because of the gaps that are there. The historians are effectively held off between now and 2026. When we discuss statistics and the Minister of State comes to the House, the name of Garret FitzGerald comes up. He was there working on who was speaking Irish in what counties and so on and used the assets of the Central Statistics Office to write most interesting articles.

The question raised by Senator Ó Murchú related to west Cork during that period and that question has been raised in respect of other parts of the country. How much of the decline in the Protestant population was due to various events? Steve McDonagh wrote the most interesting account of the departure from Offaly of the ancestors of what is now the Obama family. He goes through the different parts of the US they were found in. At the end, he is pessimistic. He wonders how a population that was 10.3% in 1911 ended up at 3% today. The Orange Order visited this House. It is assumed as part of the order's view of history that this community was burnt out or forced out and that is part of the problem with marching. The Orange Order is trying to reclaim territory in Northern Ireland through marches. Perhaps the census will show that these were voluntary unions between people and that people voluntarily transferred their families and businesses to Canada and large parts of the US because there is a huge Scots-Irish dimension there - a larger one than the southern Irish one. Discovering these things - the history of the Kearneys and Healys who were the ancestors of President Barack Obama; the work of people like Peter Hart and David Fitzpatrick; the very pessimistic work referred to by Senator Ó Murchú in west Cork; the importance of us understanding that there was a strong Loyalist population in Dublin alongside a Socialist one, an element that always features in the plays of Seán O'Casey; and Senator Gilroy's account of Athboy and how he found some folklore which people had communicated to Proinsias Ó Conluain and other archivists - is fascinating. It comes in the context of Friday's meeting, the interest in genealogy, the success of The Gathering and so many people coming back.

Could it be sponsored? We have a very large and prosperous IT sector and it would be a great project for it to undertake. It would be good for the sector's image. In respect of the diaspora meetings organised by the Government recently - I understand there will be another one soon at Trinity College - we have a fascinating history. I found papers by John Kells Ingram in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. It is regrettable that, as Senator van Turnhout noted, so much of that material has been destroyed. There does not seem to be any breach of faith involved or a prospect that we would embarrass people. I am sure the Minster of State will be most sensitive if it was to cause distress. Having no census in 1916 and 1921 and following the events of the Civil War, people wanted to put a good deal of history away because they did not want to divide the country and its people any further. We are at a sufficient distance now and have made so much progress through things like the Good Friday Agreement and the coming together of all the people on the island, with immense credit due to the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the former US President, Bill Clinton, for the help they gave us, that it is time to look at what really happened in Ireland between 1911 and 1926. I commend Senator Ó Murchú on bringing this Bill forward and his most helpful notes. We are willing to face up to things we did not face up to before in the spirit of friendship and in the spirit of what Senator Ó Murchú organised recently in Derry where the UK city of culture was also the site of the Fleadh Ceoil and where apparently everybody got on splendidly. There might have been things relating to the 1926 census and the period between 1911 and 1926 of which people were afraid.

We were almost there in 1993 when, according to Senator Ó Murchú's very helpful note, it appeared that former Minister, Noel Dempsey, and Dr. Maurice Manning were virtually ad idem. The only difference between the Minister and another very eminent scholar was whether the period of closure should be 50 or 70 years. We are finding out more about ourselves and modern historians and archivists have much to offer. There is interest from outside Ireland such as from Irish people in Canada, the US and the UK. How many people discovered their Irishness through Jack Charlton and were delighted to play on our national team? There is a significant coming together there.

I hope the Minister of State will be able to facilitate that. If there are disadvantages we might, as Senator MacSharry proposed, look at them on Committee Stage. This would be a wonderful way to celebrate the centenary of so many historic events and I ask the Minister of State to support the Bill.

I commend Senator Ó Murchú on this Bill. As someone who is interested in history and, in particular, our social history, I welcome the proposed amendment to the Statistics Acts so that the Statistics Act 1993 will no longer apply to the 1926 census. This in turn would allow the 1926 census results to be released immediately so that the first census undertaken by the Free State would be available in time for the centenary commemorations. It is a sensible and worthy proposal. I appreciate that we must be mindful of the drawbacks such as the 100-year rule, which is intended to ensure that the vast majority of those listed in a census have passed away by the time it is published. The publication of the 1926 census may have the effect of revealing personal information about people in their late 80s or 90s. However, the 100-year rule does not make sense to me in the context of international norms. I listened with interest to Senator van Turnhout describe her own experience. She put my knowledge of these matters to shame but she also enlightened me about the possibilities. I do not wish to be cynical but from an economic point of view, The Gathering has revealed the level of interest in visiting this country, particularly among American people. We should be making it as easy as possible for them to do so.

I understand the extensive preparatory work required to facilitate the release of the data into the public domain can commence in advance of the legal restrictions being resolved. The CSO and the National Archives have agreed to facilitate this preparatory work. For reference, the 1901 and 1911 census project cost approximately €5 million. There are, therefore, serious cost implications. An enabling strategy for an approach that would keep costs down has been accepted by the Cabinet. The current staffing level of the National Archives is insufficient to meet the demands imposed by this task. It is envisaged that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will identify new resources by the redeployment of existing clerical staff and the use of JobBridge programmes. Similarly, the Department has been working with the OPW on fitting out accommodation for the project as the National Archives premises on Bishop Street does not have the facilities required.

There is great benefit in opening up the census despite the potential costs. We would see economic gains over the relatively short term. This was an important period, including as it did the 1916 Rising and the general election of 1918. Although I appreciate the difficulties to which others have alluded, I think it would be a good idea to release the results of the 1926 census.

Senator Barrett spoke about philanthropy, which is being encouraged by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Surely this is an ideal project for a philanthropic donor.

I am delighted that Senator Ó Murchú has introduced this Bill. He is performing the function of a Senator, which is to propose legislation rather than simply discuss it. This Bill is both simple and eminently sensible. It will create a major opportunity for historians and society at large. I have studied the published census details online and they are fascinating to behold. The Cathaoirleach will be interested to learn that my family on my father's side is listed as living not far from the Cathaoirleach's home in County Mayo. The Bill enjoys widespread support and it would be remiss of the Seanad to prevent it from progressing beyond Second Stage. I hope there are no major objections to the legislation. If technical issues arise, they can easily be addressed on Committee Stage.

This would be a huge prize for the genealogy industry in particular. There is considerable interest among Americans and others in investigating their Irish ancestry but, for various reasons, information is lacking for certain periods of our history. This Bill would greatly add to our store of knowledge and benefit tourism. The publication of this census will encourage more people to visit the country.

We can overstate the problem of personal information on census forms but they only hold a small amount of such information. I understand that the questions asked in the 1926 census are not as thorough as those asked in more recent censuses. I do not know whether the remaining few people who are still alive would object but I do not see a problem. I am sure they would be interested in looking back at their own families' circumstances in 1926.

Senator Ó Murchú has introduced this Bill at an opportune moment and the Seanad should consider it further on Committee Stage and send it to the Dáil. That seems to be everybody's wish.

I welcome this Bill as something which all of us should support. For a change, I am able to speak on an issue related to the basis of my election to this House. I was nominated through the cultural and educational panel because I am an author.

I recently published a book about a murder that took place in Athboy, County Meath, in 1913. The ability to use the 1911 census in researching for that book was unbelievably useful. One of the protagonists in the book, Peter Farrell, lived on Lower Kevin Street and we could find him in the 1911 census. Not only did it illuminate the personal details of the protagonist but it also demonstrated the horrible conditions that obtained in Kevin Street. For example, No. 85 Kevin Street was a 17-room house accommodating 97 people. When we read about these figures we are put into the milieu in which people lived. One can read their handwriting and the care they took to get their details right. It was fabulous to read these details. What made the 1913 census important from a social point of view was the ability to compare it with the 1901 census. If we could further compare it to the 1926 census we would find a fantastically rich texture in social history.

More than 437 families lived in 87 houses on Lower Kevin Street in 1901. Only 30 of those same families were living on the street in 1911. The information to be drawn from that comparison is more important than the census itself because it shows a society on the move. We know about the unrest that occurred in 1913 because of the Lock-out and other events. Given the sheer poverty and hopelessness in which a considerable number of people lived, as well as the transience of the population, it is amazing that the lid on social unrest did not blow completely.

Senator Byrne noted that his roots are in County Mayo. My own family moved to Athboy, County Meath, from County Mayo in 1901. It was great to find my great-grandmother listed as living on Connaught Street in Athboy in the 1901 census.

She lived just up the road from the fabulously and appropriately named Mr. Christopher Proudfoot, Athboy's shoemaker at the time. These are the social historical elements.

The census is a complementary rather than absolute source for genealogical research. The record of deaths, births and marriages is probably more important for anyone wishing to trace his or her lineage to 1865, when it became a requirement to register such events.

It is fantastic that Senator Ó Murchú has introduced this Bill. It needs to be supported. Senator Barrett hinted at certain events that allegedly happened in Cork, where I live, and that have been written about by the late Peter Hart and, more recently, Gerald Murphy. I am referring to the movement of the Church of Ireland population from Cork. Instead of trying to use a macro view to establish what happened, the 1926 census might be able to show more details in a micro view.

It is unfortunate that many of the census returns from the late 19th century no longer exist, but I came across some fragments of the 1831 census of some of the baronies of upper Navan, County Meath, that made for fascinating reading. Pre-Famine, they show the social dynamic of massive land clearances as the form of agriculture changed from tillage to pasture. This is important information, particularly when we do not have a clear picture of the societal changes that led to or exacerbated the hardships experienced in the 1840s. For example, no one was living in the upper Navan area, particularly out towards Trim. There were what we would now call ranches of several thousand acres devoted purely to the rearing and fattening of cattle. This is important information.

The 1926 census will open up opportunities for comparisons with other censuses and present a rich source of research, not just for genealogy, but for all elements of social history. I commend Senator Ó Murchú on introducing this Bill. I could discuss this subject all day long, as it is one in which I have a particular interest, but I have said enough. I hope to be able to support this good initiative.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. There has been a great deal of reference to the 1993 legislation and Dr. Manning. I voted in the Seanad that day and remember it well. There was much enthusiasm for what we were trying to do. We certainly had the impression that the Minister of the day, a County Meath man, would do something about it, but it never happened. Senator van Turnhout has explained that there is no breach of privacy, as no one in 1926 knew that there would be a constraint on the census. We should not be embarrassed about making the change.

I had the pleasure of having a mother-in-law who died almost two years ago at the age of almost 100-----

What a choice of words.

Not the pleasure of her dying. I am sorry - I worded that incorrectly. My mother-in-law died almost two years ago, but I had the pleasure of her company for many years. She was born in 1909 and was able to describe 1926, 1916, 1914 and so on. She could remember them well. Luckily, I was able to record her and get much of that information on record.

Interestingly, I visited the archives office a few years ago and was asked by the people there to give them a challenge. My father-in-law was born in 1899 and was two years of age in 1901. His mother was 25 years of age at that time. The people in the office asked whether I wanted to see the 1911 census, when he was 12 years of age. Instead of being 35 years old, however, his mother was only 33 years of age. It may just be a woman's thing of reducing her age, but the people in the office believed it was a most unusual step to take, as most people had gained rather than lost in age. The old age pension was introduced in 1904 and people wanted to reach 65 or 70 years of age, whatever it was at the time, earlier than they would have otherwise. I mention this example, given how strongly Members have spoken about this matter today, particularly Senator Ó Murchú. He has such commitment to the idea.

I listened to Senator Gilroy discuss what he had discovered. We are discussing information that we knew, learned and are interested in, given the insight it provides. One of Senator Barrett's comments acted as a reminder, namely, this can pay for itself. I was in Salt Lake City some years ago and saw the Mormon Tabernacle. The Mormons keep a vast, global genealogy. I gather that it is a big money-spinner for them following their investment in it. It should be possible to get some Internet companies to sponsor our initiative, given the benefits that they would derive on that basis.

I grew up in the tourism business. My father ran Red Island holiday camp in Skerries. Approximately 40 years ago, a woman mentioned that she would love to join me on my way to Dundalk. She went with me because she knew that her father had come from there. I was to take her back afterwards, but when she returned to me that evening, she told me that she was not going back, as she had discovered relatives. Her father and mother had run away from home in the 1920s and had never kept in touch with people in Dundalk, but she knew her father's surname and that he had come from Dundalk. She had come across cousins and other relatives, but had missed out on meeting her grandfather by only a few weeks. Before he died, he had wondered what had happened to his son. These are the types of history that people would give anything to learn, but we are in danger of closing the door on them, particularly from a tourism point of view. Given the diaspora, there are many potential tourism and promotional benefits to a release of the 1926 census.

The 1926 Northern Ireland census, which was recorded on the same night as the census in the South, will sadly not follow suit, as it was pulped during the Second World War. I do not know whether the Minister of State knew that, but I had been unaware of it until I investigated. It is sad - we could have had census information on the North and the South from the same day. The Northern census would have been an amazing counterpart to and resource for the South's.

On a related issue, our archives are important. I have advocated for greater investment in the National Library, the National Archives and the Irish Manuscripts Commission. They face great challenges in terms of storage and inadequate facilities. Some of those facilities are not even fire-proofed to protect vital documentation on our history. This is a shame. Given the fact that we are approaching the anniversaries of the 1916 Rising and the foundation of the State, it is sad to consider how lacking we are in this area.

On looking to the future, we need clarification. Despite the era of electronic communication, we do not have departmental records. For instance, who superintends the Departments' archival records and chooses which documents to keep? Is it normal for Departments to move their papers regularly? Decisions like these should be made professionally and adequately, if possible.

Electronic storage of files poses enormous problems on several levels. I recall a senior civil servant telling me when I asked how her Department managed things, that while she places printouts of important letters on the files, record keeping generally in the Department was slack. I would like to know who supervises the electronic archiving of records and chooses which documents are kept?

I support the Bill and urge the Government to grasp the economic opportunities afforded by it and to realise the cultural and historical importance of accepting it. I commend Senator Ó Murchú on the introduction of this Bill, which is novel and capable of achieving great things both in terms of tourism and culture. I urge the Minister of State to give serious consideration to acceptance of the Bill.

I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss this important topic in the Seanad. I wish to put on the record my firm belief that the census of population is one of the most important sources of information for policy making and planning in Ireland and is widely used by all sectors of society.

The census in Ireland enjoys great support from the public who trust the Central Statistics Office, CSO, to gather and store their data in a professional and proper manner. The census of population undertaken in 1926 was the first undertaken by an independent Irish State and is an historical collection of great value and interest for historians, researchers, the general public and the diaspora. The debate this evening demonstrates this.

Following the release of records from the 1901 and 1911 censuses, there is a greater appreciation and understanding across society of the value of these important historical documents. I would encourage anyone present who has not checked out the 1901 and 1911 censuses to do so. In 2013, the year of The Gathering, significant numbers of our diaspora returned to Ireland, many with an interest in tracing their roots and Irish ancestry. In this context the question of enabling the publication of the 1926 census returns is important and timely.

While I welcome the debate this evening I do, however, speak in opposition to Senator Ó Murchú's Bill. The question of publishing the 1926 census ahead of schedule is a complex legal and technical one. The Government is of the view that early publication, before vital preparatory work has been undertaken, is premature and that there are a number of issues requiring further consideration before a decision to publish could be made. As the Senator will be aware, the programme for Government refers to the publication of the 1926 census to stimulate genealogical tourism. Release of the 1901 and 1911 censuses generated great interest. The Government understands the particular importance of the 1926 census.

The 1901-11 census project, which was carried out as a co-operative project on a repayment basis by Library and Archives Canada with the Irish National Archives cost approximately €5 million. The 1901-11 census material was, for the most part, available in microfilm format. This made the digitisation process relatively cost effective and enabled relatively efficient delivery. The 1926 census has never been microfilmed and I understand that a significant level of work is required to scan and cross-index the individual return sheets. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, has established a 1926 census working group, which comprises officials from his Department, the National Archives and the CSO to consider how best to enable the publication of the 1926 census. The CSO and National Archives have agreed to facilitate the preparatory work on the census records.

For the information of this House, it is worth noting that this census was undertaken under the 1926 Statistics Act, which did not permit access to census records at any time. The 1993 Act repealed the 1926 and 1946 Acts and provided for the release of census forms 100 years after the date of the relevant census. This applies to censuses from the 1926 census onwards. When the 100 years access was debated in the Seanad in 1993 the view was expressed that the time period for confidentiality should be reduced to 75 or even 50 years. On the other hand, the retrospective introduction of the 100 years exemption was seen by some as undermining the original guarantee given to householders that the information would not be released. However, it was generally accepted that 100 years was a reasonable compromise given that relatively few people would still be alive after that length of time. This means that under the current legislation, the 1926 census records will be open to the public by the National Archives in the year 2026. By that time, almost all of the persons covered in the 1926 census will be deceased.

The 2011 census results showed fewer than 400 persons aged 100 years or more. There were, however, some 58,000 persons aged 85 years or older, most of whom would be likely to have been entered on a 1926 census return. Releasing the 1926 forms might be seen as reneging on the guarantee given to the significant number of persons still alive today. It is, therefore, a delicate issue that requires to be approached with great sensitivity and caution. Some have suggested releasing only information for those born prior to 1912. However, the situation is that the 100 years rule refers to the relevant census forms in question and not the age of the individuals recorded on them. Therefore, regardless of the age of the individual in question, the data cannot be released until 100 years after the date of the census.

Of the pre-Independence censuses, only the 1901 and 1911 census returns remain intact today. The census records for the years 1821 to 1891 have been destroyed, many as a result of the destruction of the Public Records Office during the Civil War. The 1901 and 1911 censuses were undertaken under legislation which made no provision for the confidentiality of the information recorded on them. These records were deposited in the Public Record Office in 1929 and were made available as public records in 1961 via a warrant made by the Minister for Justice under the Public Records (Ireland) Act 1867. They are now among the most frequently used records in the National Archives.

To put this debate in a comparative context, it may be helpful to note the position in a number of other countries. Public access to census records only after a lengthy period is the practice in many countries. In the UK and New Zealand, a 100-year rule applies. In Canada, census returns are released after 92 years and, accordingly, its 1921 census returns are being gradually made available this year. In Australia, a 99-year rule applies and in the United States returns are released after only 72 years. In considering the publication of the 1926 census, the Government must also bear in mind any possible impact that early release might have on the confidence of the public in the guarantees of confidentiality given by the CSO to its respondents. For example, the people who completed the 2011 census understood the 100-year rule would apply. To change this could, therefore, be damaging to the confidentiality and collection of the census.

Independence, objectivity and the guarantee of confidentiality are the core values of all official statistics produced by the Central Statistics Office. The CSO has a long-standing reputation for protecting the information it collects. Confidentiality and privacy are correctly issues of great concern for members of the public. The legal guarantee of confidentiality that comes with the census and the untarnished reputation enjoyed by the CSO for upholding this guarantee in practice are important factors in persuading the public to disclose private information on the census form.

In a broader context, the Central Statistics Office conducts vitally important work in producing and publishing official statistics across a range of indicators. As such, further consideration is required of the confidentiality issues and their potential impact before an amendment could be agreed to the 1993 Act in the manner proposed. Great care must be taken to ensure any change would not undermine public confidence in the Central Statistics Office in a manner that could have the potential to seriously damage the return of data by respondents.

I thank Senator Ó Murchú for bringing the Bill to the House. As Minister of State with responsibility for the Central Statistics Office, I note the Government's appreciation of the important public service role of the office. The CSO serves Ireland well and publishes a vast range of statistics on the economy, society and other important topics. This information is used by Departments and public bodies, as well as European Union institutions, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD and other international bodies. I am committed to developing official statistics to support effective policy and planning. For the reasons I have outlined, however, the Government is not in a position to support the Bill.

Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire. Ba mhaith liom ard mholadh a thabhairt don Seanadóir Ó Murchú as ucht an Bille seo a thabhairt chun cinn. Tuigim an dúthracht pearsanta atá aige don ábhar seo agus an chúis faoi leith atá aige. Tuigim gur rud eisceachtúil atá i gceist agus nach é go bhfuil sé ag iarraidh an dlí ar fad a athrú maidir le cúrsaí staitisticí agus an chaoi a bhfuiltear á bhailiú. Baineann sé seo le tréimhse an speisialta i stair na tíre agus mar gheall go bhfuil muid ag teacht suas go dtí comóradh 100 bliain Éirí Amach 1916, tá an t-eolas seo fíor thábhachtach. Sin ráite - aisteach go leor - tuigeann muid freisin taobh an Rialtais don scéal, ó thaobh an cás atá á chur chun cinn ag an Aire maidir le cúrsaí sonraí pearsanta agus go bhfuil gá ann go gcaomhnófaí sonraí pearsanta daoine agus go dtabharfaí aire faoi leith dó sin.

Sinn Féin welcomes the spirit of the Bill and acknowledges and recognises the historical significance of the 1926 census. In that vein, we fully support the proposal to give special status to that specific census.

Sílim gur sin an pointe tábhachtach anseo. Ní hé go bhfuil muid ag caint faoi gach daonáireamh. Táimid ag caint faoi dhaonáireamh faoi leith a bhfuil tábhacht speisialta faoi leith ag baint leis. Is gá eisceacht speisialta a dhéanamh dó.

Sinn Féin has a number of concerns regarding the provision to make the 1926 census publicly available. Our concerns relate to issues of confidentiality and privacy. With regard to the latter, the 100 year rule serves an important function in guaranteeing in law that personal data given by members of the public to the State for the purposes of the census remain confidential. I listened intently to the contributions of other Senators and note, in particular, Senator van Turnhout's point that the 100 year rule was not in place in 1926 when the census information was gathered. As such, those who took part in the 1926 census did not sign up to any such rule.

The census is an exceptionally valuable and vital tool for the State in planning for future and long-term policy development. The 100 year rule is specifically designed to ensure the issue of confidentiality is adequately addressed. To put it another way, it ensures that virtually all of those who give data or information to the State on census night will be deceased when 100 years have passed. Confidentiality is thus ensured.

Sinn Féin's main concern with the proposal to release the 1926 census to the public is that the guarantee of anonymity which underpins the collection of census data will be called into question. Releasing the 1926 census to the public has the potential to set a precedent and could result in historians and others shifting their focus to the 1936 census and so forth. The State needs to be able to collect data to guide policy and future planning. For this reason, members of the public are entitled to know the information they provide is confidential and anonymous. Moreover, given that people generally live longer than in previous decades, the 100 year rule is very important. Nevertheless, my party fully understands the significance of the 1926 census and the useful window it would give us into the revolutionary period if it were made publicly available. This information would also be a very useful tool in that it would pull back the veil on the spectre of emigration and the thousands of people who essentially turned their backs on the Irish State.

I note the interesting points made by Senator Feargal Quinn on the Government's policy on archiving. This is a relevant issue and one the Government should consider given that data and documentation surrounding previous censuses have been lost. This gives rise to questions about the security of the archives currently being built up, the locations at which they are being kept and so forth.

Sinn Féin notes the commitment in the programme of Government to make the 1926 census data available. The Government parties obviously realised, when drawing up their programme, that the 1926 census provided unique information and that the 100 year rule was not introduced until 1993. In the spirit of Senator Ó Murchú's proposals, Sinn Féin will support the Bill, albeit on a once-off basis because we have concerns around the 100 year rule. Our concerns do not hinge on the fact that some people who were living at the time of the 1926 census are still alive but on the fact that releasing the 1926 census sends out a message to those who will be asked to fill in census forms in future. We must guarantee members of the public anonymity to ensure they do not hold back on information.

I bprionsabal, táimid i bhfábhar an Bhille. Dar linn go bhfuil sé dá thabhairt chun cinn le hiontaoibh agus le dea-chroí agus go bhfuil cúis an-mhaith le seo a dhéanamh, go háirithe agus muid ag comóradh Éirí Amach 1916 agus 100 bliain uaidh sin agus go háirithe i dtaobh an eolais iontach speisialta a thabharfadh an daonáireamh dúinn. I ndáiríre, tá amhras orainn i dtaobh na himpleachtaí, ach síleann muid go bhféadfaí déileáil le sin le leasuithe dá dtiocfadh an Bille go dtí an chéad Chéim eile. Dá bhrí sin, impímid ar an Aire agus an Rialtas athmhacnamh a dhéanamh ar an mhéid a dúirt an Phríomh Aoire agus tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille agus é a scaoileadh ar aghaidh go dtí an chéad Céim eile.

I apologise for my absence when Senator Ó Murchú introduced the Bill. I was attending a committee meeting.

As with Senator Ó Clochartaigh, I welcome the spirit and intent of the Bill. The Seanad had a useful debate previously on the valuable work done by the Central Statistics Office. I share the Minister of State's views on the splendid work done by the CSO. We are not in a position to undermine the commitment that was given to people at the time. While we make favourable comparisons with the 1911 census, the 100 year rule did not apply to it and it was not so confined. We live in an age where we are surrounded by Google and Facebook and there is much discussion about the invasion of privacy. We are always encouraging people, especially the young, to appreciate the value of privacy settings. The issue of privacy echoes in our discussion of this Bill.

Speakers have eloquently outlined the reasons for publishing the 1926 census and I share the view that we love to dig around in our past. It is important to people to have a better understanding and an ownership of history. It is ironic that the Internet and our alleged connection to a cyber-world helps us find our real roots and connections. Senator Ó Murchú has been dedicated to this issue, particularly through his involvement with the Irish Family History Foundation and the work done by county genealogical offices, which have shown the enormous interest people have in trying to trace who they are and where they came from. Many types of records come into play, for example, church and school records and in some cases prison records. All of these show that we are desperate to reach out to our past. As such, I fully understand the intent behind, and reasons for, the Bill.

The gap between the 1910 and 1926 censuses was long.

The years in that gap are so important given that our country changed so much in such a short space of time. Bearing in mind the upcoming 2016 commemoration, that we are still waiting to be allowed access to this information seems almost cruel. However, as we wish to protect the reputation of the CSO, we find ourselves unable to agree to the Bill even though on the face of it, we would like to.

Given programmes such as "Who Do You Think You Are?" the area of genealogy has become something we can all enjoy. It is no longer left to specialists. Those involved in county genealogy work very hard to make it something people can access and enjoy. Many people have discussed The Gathering and we have had great clan gatherings. In recent months we have had the Gallaghers in Donegal, the O'Rourkes in Sligo and the O'Haras in Leitrim. Those looking back to try to find their families and so forth have found the experience enormously interesting. While perhaps in the mid-1950s many people might have preferred to have forgotten and wanted to put in the past what was the past, in a new century people are now leaning towards looking to the past and trying to reinvent and enjoy it.

I applaud the spirit of Senator Ó Murchú's Bill but unfortunately I cannot support it.

I compliment Senator Ó Murchú on introducing this very significant legislation. I am disappointed that the Government does not see fit to support it. However, I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, who has given a very interesting analysis for the record of the context in which the debate is taking place. There seems to have been a modern view since 1961 that successive governments are not against the principle of releasing records. In my opinion they are hiding behind the old confidentiality clause that was inserted into the 1926 Act.

Unfortunately I have not had time to look back on those debates to ascertain why, in contrast with the British Administration where the 1901 and presumably all the previous censuses were not subject to any confidentiality clause which allowed the release of the 1901 and 1911 censuses as being the only ones available, the fledgling Irish Government, presumably because it was only five years in office after the foundation of the State following the signing of the treaty in 1921 acted differently. Perhaps there were all sorts of sensitivities and there may have been a general distrust among the population about big government at that time. Here we had a Government agency that was seeking information on a household and individual basis so perhaps the spirit or atmosphere at the time did not lend itself to anything other than adding a confidentiality clause.

The 1993 Act repealed the 1926 and 1946 Acts. There was a further loosening of the bonds in 1961. The records of the 1901 and 1911 censuses were deposited in the Public Record Office in 1929. They were made available as public records in 1961 following the warrant by the then Minister for Justice under the Public Records (Ireland) Act 1867 and they are now among the most frequently used records in the National Archives. The Government at that time obviously felt there was a need to change and loosen the bonds that had been very tightly bound around the 1926 Act regarding that census by responding to requests to open up the 1901 and 1911 censuses.

In 1993 Mr. Noel Dempsey, a predecessor of the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, in introducing the 100-year rule for the first time, resisted reducing it to 70 years which, as Senator Ó Murchú and others mentioned, was an initiative of the then Senator, Dr. Maurice Manning. Senator Ó Murchú is correct to point out that the 15-year period between 1911 and 1926 is the most significant in the history of Ireland, both prior to and subsequent to independence. I am sure he has already made reference to one of the aspects of this debate, the anecdotal evidence of alleged ethnic cleansing in areas of west County Cork during the War of Independence and the Civil War. The comprehensive 1911 census would have shown the religion of those who had made a return and by 1926 the suggestion that there had been ethnic cleansing of the Protestant minority in the South of Ireland could be questioned if those censuses were released. Unquestionably it was not just about the political transformation of this country, but was also about the First World War and the huge numbers of Protestants and Catholics - but predominantly Protestants - who joined the British Army at the time. Unfortunately because the building in London was bombed by the Germans in 1941, the records of Irishmen serving in the British Army in the 1914-18 War are incomplete. The release of the 1926 census would open up that statistical route so that there could be at least some closure brought to what happened to many of those whose details were in the 1911 census.

As Senator O'Keeffe said, 1926 was then, and 1993 was then; we are now living in a world of Facebook and Twitter. We are in a world of total transparency where the younger generation have no inhibitions about putting their personal details up for the world to see. Not only that, they are also happy to express all sorts of opinions for the world to see ad infinitum. Given that we are in a changed environment I strongly believe the Government should reconsider this. I am particularly pleased that the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, has been charged with a review of this area.

Reference has been made to the €5 million relating to the 1901 and 1911 censuses, which was repaid. There is a question that this would be very costly because the 1926 census has not been microfilmed. However, all the genealogical offices throughout the country have already digitised the local newspapers, mainly through FÁS schemes. They did it in my county with the Leitrim Observer and the Leitrim Guardian. It is not beyond the capacity of the Government to ensure there is not an undue charge on the Exchequer in digitising and putting on microfilm the 1926 census.

Once again the Seanad has proved its importance and relevance. I do not believe such a debate could have happened in the Dáil.

We have people here who are prepared to be reflective on an issue that may not be a high priority but, on the other hand, is exceptionally important to us as a people. Each contribution today added something to the debate and to our understanding of the potential of the 1926 census.

Sometimes when there is a counter-view - as with the counter-view to the Bill before the House - it relates to a single issue. However, when I see a multiplicity of reasons put forward as to why something cannot be done, little alarm bells start to go off in my head. In other words if the issue was merely one of confidentiality, we would discuss confidentiality.

There have been some very good contributions up to this point, including those by Senators O'Keeffe and Mooney. When I hear a cost factor, the CSO and so many other issues coming in, I begin to think that an opportunity is being lost in not allowing the Bill to proceed to Committee Stage.

This is for the simple reason that on Committee Stage we would be helping the working group and helping to advise the Government. This was the purpose of what we were trying to do today. We could have teased out on Committee Stage each of the points which were put forward in a nicely balanced way by the Minister of State. We could have teased all of those out on Committee Stage because that is what happens on Committee Stage. An opportunity may be lost if we do not do that. It would represent an opportunity lost for the Government and for the country and that is important.

We need to listen to people outside the Chamber a little more. I imagine the discussion that will take place in the RDS next Friday. Tens of thousands of practitioners will be present at the genealogy event. They will be aware that this Bill is in the House and they will be debating this in a big way. They will be coming at this in a focused and experienced way. It could be the case if they take the time to read the contributions from today that they see that perhaps an opportunity was lost and that will not do us much good.

The point was put forward by Senator Mooney that all the parish records in the country have been digitised. Most of them have been digitised under FÁS schemes. When an audit was carried out on the records, it was found that the error rate was less than 3% although the acceptable error rate is far higher. Eneclann Limited carried out the audit and found that it was less than 3%, showing the accuracy of what was being done.

Let us consider what this would have meant. It would have meant that the very schemes which were being discussed in the budget yesterday could have been availed of and used for this same purpose. Certainly, it would have involved training; there is no question about that, but it would have been real training for those people. An opportunity has been lost and the €5 million is not necessarily an argument in that regard.

I have explained that we could help the working group by proceeding on Committee Stage. From the contributions I have heard today, it is clear many Members could sit on that working group because of the knowledge they have. I maintain we should still allow the Bill to go forward and I would like to think that is still possible. We have come through a referendum. This is one of those occasions when we show independence, that we are different and that we are being helpful and positive. In fact, there was not one negative or destructive comment made about the Government and there was no partisanship in the House today. There was no politics. This was the argument made during the referendum in favour of retaining the Seanad. We proved it today by the subject we selected and by the contributions.

I have no doubt that we are reflecting the views among the people interested in genealogy and those who want to trace their roots. This is a great opportunity to salute, acknowledge, recognise and show gratitude to the 75 million people of Irish extraction. We are sitting in this small Chamber. They are sitting throughout the world. It is not a matter of the Skibbereen Eagle telling the tsar what to do but I know for a fact that, surprisingly, they will be listening closely and they will read what happened in the House today. We had an opportunity to do the right thing for them, for our ancestors and because we have survived all the challenges that have come our way and we are still here, a strong proud and positive nation.

Question put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 27.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Mark Daly and Marc MacSharry; Níl, Senators Ivana Bacik and Paul Coghlan..
Question declared lost.

When is it proposed to sit again?

10.30 maidin amárach.