"Ireland's most active genealogical society"

GSI Submission to Oireachtas Joint Committee

On Tuesday, 10th December 2013 The Genealogical Society of Ireland presented its 40-page submission to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht.  The Society was represented by Michael Merrigan, Tom Conlon, and Aidan Feerick.  Other organisations represented at this session were APGI, and some local genealogy/heritage centres.  John Grenham also addressed the committee in his capacity as author and commentator on matters genealogical.  Other interested parties were scheduled for hearing in the same week.

Each of the parties made an opening address, and there then followed a questioning the committee members.  We came away with a feeling that the committee members well understood the points made.  We eagerly await the report of that committee
Read the Society’s submission


The Genealogical Society of Ireland has a long history of monitoring legislative matters and initiating campaigns for legislative change.  At the 1997 AGM the members adopted the ’Principle of Public Ownership & Right of Access’ to our genealogical and heraldic heritage. This ‘Principle’ is now recognised as the cornerstone of best practice by professionals in the field and by progressive repositories throughout Ireland.Some details of previous campaigns can be found in our history page here.

The board of Genealogical Society of Ireland adopted the following resolution on Sept 5th 2013:-

  • That, the Board, in accordance with the Principle of Public Ownership and Right of Access’ to our genealogical heritage (adopted 1997), endorses the following position in respect of the Freedom of Information Bill, 2013.
  • (1) That the current status of the records of the General Register Office as public records should be reaffirmed in the legislation.
  • (2) That, in order to facilitate genealogical, biographical and other research, that the records held by the General Register Office over seventy years of age be defined as ‘historic records’ and be made freely available to the public.
  • (3) That, in order to prevent the fraudulent use of certificates relating to events within the past seventy years, that all certificates obtained for bona fide genealogical or other research purposes be over stamped with the words ‘For Research Purposes Only.
  • (4) That, the Principle of Public Ownership and Right of Access to our genealogical hertage be included in the text of the legislation as a guiding principle for government or state agency policies in relation to such records….

Two current campaigns stand out and may need the support of our members, together with national and European legislators.

Campaign for release of the 1926 Census

In the Dáil Thursday May 9th 2013 
a Bill calling for the release of the 1926 census was presented to Dail Eireann on Thursday May 9th 2013 by Sean O Fearghail, TD, of Fianna Fail, the main opposition party in the Irish Parliament. The Bill seeks to remove the 1926 Census of Ireland from the 100 year closure rule of the Statistics Act, 1993, however, this rule did not apply to the census taken in 1901 and 1911 which were released to the public in the early 1960s. The phenomenal worldwide success and popularity of the 1901 and 1911 census returns, which are freely available online, could be matched many times over should the government support the Statistics (1926 Census) Bill, 2013 which was published on-line on Monday May 13th 2013.

The 1926 Census was the first taken after independence in 1922 and the period between the 1911 census and the 1926 census was, without doubt, the most turbulent period of modern Irish history. During that fifteen year period we the 1913 Lockout, the First World War, the Easter Rising of 1916, the General Election of 1918, the meeting of the first Dail in 1919 and the Declaration of Independence, the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, the Irish Civil War 1922-23 and, of course, huge emigration and economic difficulties.

Irish historians and genealogists are becoming increasingly frustrated that promises in the ‘Programme for Government in respect of the release of the 1926 Census have not materialised and that many parliamentary questions seeking to ascertain the progress, if any, on this promise have met with little more than bland ‘holding replies’. Clearly the resources for the study of this most important period in modern Irish history are incomplete without the 1926 census which stands like a huge monumental bookend with the 1911 census being the other. 2013 is the year of Ireland’s biggest-ever national campaign to bring people home by promoting an interest amongst the Irish diaspora in their ancestral links.

The Statistics (1926 Census) Bill, 2013, is the fourth bill drafted by Genealogical Society of Ireland to go before the Oireachtas since 2006 seeking the release of the 1926 census. The GSI was the first genealogical organisation in Ireland to campaign for its release and indeed, in 1993 the Society alone successfully campaigned to have the closure period for census returns reduced from 100 years to 70 years in the Statistics Bill, however, despite assurances from the then Minister [Noel Dempsey, TD] in the Seanad, this was not included in the final text of the Bill when it later passed all stages in Dail Eireann. Therefore, the Statistics Act, 1993 became law on July 14th 1993 with the 100 year rule intact.

The Society kept up the campaign since 1993 with PQs, four Bills and lobbying. The Society urges the government to accept and adopt Deputy O Fearghail’s Bill as it is merely a technical amendment to 1993 Act and only refers to the 1926 Census and not later census returns. The release of the 1926 census would be a hugely significant gesture during the year of The Gathering Ireland and, more importantly, it would provide an essential legacy for this year long event that has enormous potential for the promotion of an awareness, appreciation and knowledge of Ireland and our shared genealogical heritage.

In the Senate Wednesday October 16th

The same bill, as drafted by the Genealogical Society of Ireland and sponsored by Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú seeking a ‘technical amendment’ to the Statistics Act, 1993, was introduced in the Senate and was supported by Senators from all sides of Seanad Éireann (Irish Senate), but was defeated on a vote.  Senators supporting the government voted to defeat the bill

1926 CENSUS – playback of the debate in Seanad Éireann on the Statistics (Heritage Amendment) Bill, 2011 on Weds. October 16th 2013. The section commenced at 16.30hrs Playback of the debate
Move your cursor on the Media Player up to 05:52:17 on the above link for the start of this debate.
Click here for the Transcript

Campaign regarding the Freedom of Information Bill 2013

The Genealogical Society of Ireland has identified a danger that The Freedom of Information Bill 2013, if adopted in its present form could limit access for genealogists to birth, marriage, and death records, unless they could prove a direct familial relationship with the subject of that record.  The effect of the Bill could be that these records become designated as private rather than public information.

One of the issues is that in genealogy we regularly do searches of registers to find the record of a particular person, looking at a number of records in the process and rejecting them.  Such searches could not be permitted in a register of private records.

The Freedom of Information Bill 2013 completed its second reading in the Dáil on Oct 2-3 and has been sent to the Select Sub-committee on Public Expenditure and Reform.  The Minister of State, Brian Hayes has promised that “Points were made about genealogy etc., and we will have an opportunity to debate those in greater detail at the next stage”.