Thursday, 21 October 2021
Statistics (Decade of Centenaries) Bill 2020: Second Stage [Private Members]
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle agus tuigim go bhfuil spéis ar leith aige sa Bhille seo. Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCoiste Gnó as é seo a roghnú ón lató chun deis a thabhairt dom an Bille seo a phlé, An Bille Staidrimh (Na Deich mBliana de Chomórthaí Céad Bliain), 2020. In ainneoin leasú an Rialtais atá seafóideach, tá súil agam tar éis an phlé seo go mbeidh tuiscint níos fearr ag an Aire Stáit agus ag an Rialtas i gcoitinne ar bhunús an Bhille seo. Is é seo an t-am ceart chun na foirmeacha agus na doiciméid eile a bhaineann le daonáireamh 1926 a fhoilsiú ina iomláine go digiteach, chomh tapa agus is féidir.
It is an opportune time to have this discussion. I call on the Minister of State to withdraw the ridiculous amendment to defer the Second Reading to the end of next year. This is contrary to the purpose of the Bill. I do not know what the problem is. It is not as if the Department could not foresee this fine Bill, as this is the sixth such Bill to be put forward since 2010. The Government can vote for it or against it, but I ask that the Bill is not strangled with a year's deferral. The Government should have the courage to embrace and adopt an Opposition Bill, albeit one that has been lifted from the Bill first moved by the former Seanadóir, Labhrás Ó Murchú, in 2010. It was later submitted by the current Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl, in 2013. I took up the gauntlet and published it after the election of 2016.
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.
Before proceeding, I should caution Members that by way of quotation, which may or may not be substantiated, Members should not seek to further coarsen the nature of debate in this House.
I am conscious that, notwithstanding the importance of the matter before us, Teachta Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire is the only other person offering. Would it make more sense that we hear Deputy Ó Laoghaire and the Minister of State then make his contribution in response and Deputy Ó Snodaigh wrap up? There is no point in going around in unnecessary circles.
Notwithstanding what the Ceann Comhairle said, it was an elegant navigation of Standing Orders a few minutes ago.
The Government amendment is a particular device and I think it is the most remarkable use yet I have seen of it. The Government regularly comes to the House to say it will look at something in a year's time. It is its way of avoiding voting against something. In this instance, the specific purpose of the Bill is to bring forward the date of something that is going to happen anyway. The response of the Government is to say it will look at it in another year. It is the first example I have seen of an amendment directly contradicting the entire purpose of a Bill. That is remarkable, to be honest.
Ba mhaith liom cuidiú leis an mBille seo. Bheadh sé tábhachtach agus úsáideach do dhaoine a bhfuil suim acu sa stair agus san oidhreacht, maidir leis na cúrsaí a thit amach. Baineann sé leis na scataí píosaí eolais a fuair an census 1926 a tógadh ón taobh eile den droichead, an daonáireamh roimhe sin, agus an trasnú idir gach rud a tharla le linn Chogadh na Saoirse, vóta na mban, agus an méid a thit amach ó thaobh na Gaolainne. Cé go bhfuil roinnt eolais caillte, mar a dúirt an Teachta Ó Snodaigh, agus is mór an trua é sin, ó thaobh na Gaolainne, d’fhéadfadh go mbeadh sonraí ann faoi na rudaí a tharla don lucht saothair agus do na ceardchumainn. B’fhéidir go mbainfeadh sé leis an mbogadh ón tuath go dtí an chathair agus an obair dhifriúil a rinne daoine. Ag am an census roimhe sin, bhí cuid de na scéimeanna i bhfeidhm maidir le talamh a dháileadh ar thionóntaí, agus b’fhéidir go mbainfeadh sé leis an athrú a tharla ó thaobh úinéireacht talún freisin.
A lot of useful information could be brought forward for historians and people who are interested in heritage and their personal family history. Previous censuses have played a valuable role in that regard. It would be entirely logical. As far as I can see, there is no great sensitivity or principled Government or logical objection being offered. Rather, there is a desire to say this will be dealt with at a later date.
There is a lot of useful information that could be of value to historians. It would give us a picture of the change in land ownership, language, industrial relations, the growth of towns and cities, as distinct from the countryside, the change in migration and some of the trends around the Border. It was the first 26-county census.
I wholeheartedly support the Bill, but I want to flag a particular issue of relevance to the decade of centenaries and historical information. Army pensions and records from the Tan War are relevant. I commend the previous Minister of State with responsibility for defence on dealing with one issue a family and I brought to his attention. This was case of Joe Murphy, who died on hunger strike in 1920. His family, because they fell on the anti-treaty side, were never offered a service medal. The Minister of State at the time, Deputy Kehoe, his Department and those involved in the archives ensured that a medal was finally granted to his nephew, who subsequently passed away. It was a very proud moment for him and his family. It was awarded to him in Cork City Hall about two years ago. That was very welcome.
That was an unresolved issue which was subsequently resolved, but there are still unresolved issues in respect of Army pensions and records. In October 1922, Piaras Béaslaí directed the Free State troops, referred to as the National Army, to treat the anti-treaty soldiers as irregulars and that they should not be called republicans. The impact of this was that the Army pension records of members of the IRA in the Tan War, who served during that period and attained the rank of captains, staff captains and so on, were written out by the Free State Army and Government, who set up the scheme in the first place, because of the side they had taken.
I have a particular example in mind, namely, John Joe Hegarty who was a captain in the first brigade of the Cork IRA. He was very active during the Tan War and took the anti-treaty side. His Army records do not record his rank, as is the case with many others who were in the same situation, even though their rank was earned during the Tan War, which was before the split and Civil War. I know the family and spoke to a son during the week. It is important for them that that historical wrong be righted, if it is possible. There is no reason it should not be. The records of the State should reflect the documentary evidence that exists, but that is not properly recognised by the State at this point in time in terms of people's ranks in the Tan War. I wanted to raise the issue that relates to John Joe Hegarty of the first brigade of the Cork IRA. I am sure it affects many others.
Having flagged that issue, I want to again return to the specific elements of the Bill. This is a perfectly logical Bill. I do not see why something that will happen anyway cannot be brought forward as part of the decade of centenaries to allow historians, heritage groups and families to find out about their past. Why should the reaction of the Government be to say that it will examine the issue again in a year? That does not make sense to me and I urge the Minister of State to reconsider the position and support the Bill.
I am sorry I was not here for the beginning of the debate; I was on a Zoom meeting as many of us are during these times.
I fully support the Bill. The census of 1926 would illuminate a lot of stuff that happened during the 15-year period when there was no census. During the formation of the new State in my part of the world, Leitrim, and in Border counties there were movements of populations to the North. In fact, some Protestant families moved North and then moved back again. A lot of information can be gleaned and statistics can tell us what was happening at that time. The terrible catastrophe of the First World War that affected so many people and families is also part of that. There is also the possibility of being able to use historical records of this nature to shine a light into places we do not have the same level of information about as we would have in normal circumstances. It would be very appropriate.
My grand uncle and the grandfather of the Minister of State shared a cell in Mountjoy in 1920. Many of our families interact. While they took different sides after that, there is always a sense that at one time we all stood together for freedom in this country. When we all stand together for something, an opportunity to stand together on something like this is also part of it.
We can do that here. It would make sense for the Government to recognise that this is an opportune time, in this centenary year and this time of looking back on the past and trying to be measured and unifying about it, to do that and that the census of 1926 would give us information on that.
While it is important to know about history, we often find, and we certainly did when we were in school, that history is a list of dates of what happened, where it happened and when it happened. The most interesting part of history, however, is not the dates or the where and the when but what it was like for the people who lived then, how they experienced the time and what impact it had on their lives and on the lives of their families, their neighbours, the people around them and the community in which they lived. Census documents are not just a list of who was in each household; they tell us a lot of other stories as to what impact various events had. The Spanish flu was, of course, another huge event in many parts of the country, not so much in rural areas but very much in the cities and urban areas, where people were much closer together. That is where it had the biggest impact but it had a huge impact.
The fact that there were 15 years from the census in 1911 right through to 1926 tells us there is an awful lot of history in the 1926 census. Its release as quickly as possible is clearly sensible and has the backing of, I think, every sensible historian in the country. Many people do research into these things and have a huge interest in that time. It would be remiss of the Government and a mistake to put off its release for a year or any longer than is absolutely necessary. There is no necessity to put it off for a year. I therefore implore the Minister and the Government to withdraw their amendment and to support the Bill as it is before the House.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following: “Dáil Éireann resolves that the Statistics (Decade of Centenaries) Bill 2020 be deemed to be read a second time this day twelve months, to allow for greater analysis of the complex issues concerned and for such considerations to be taken into account in further scrutiny of the Bill.”
Is mór agam an deis a fháil labhairt leis na Teachtaí faoin gceist thábhachtach a ardaítear sa Bhille seo, agus gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta Ó Snodaigh as aird a thabhairt uirthi. Is fiú i gcónaí díospóireacht chuiditheach a dhéanamh sa Teach agus tuigim an réasúnaíocht a bhaineann le moladh an Bhille seo.
I thank Deputy Ó Snodaigh for the opening address on his Bill. I concur with many of the comments he made and welcome his engagement with this project and his commitment to the decade of centenaries programme to date. Because I served with him on the same committee, I know he has been a very active and constructive member of the all-party consultation group on commemorations in its previous iteration and within the current grouping. Like the Deputy, I too look forward to the day the 1926 census is released and available to view by all.
Deputy Ó Laoghaire made some very interesting observations and talked about the decade of commemorations and the fact that on occasions many people, probably because they were on the wrong side of history in some ways, were written out of history. I think the ranks were written out for pensions records and many lost their rank. This is a matter for the Minister for Defence, but I absolutely agree with Deputy Ó Laoghaire. If those people have been wronged, it is up to us to ensure that is put right. I am delighted that Deputy Ó Laoghaire said the Minister of State at the time, Deputy Kehoe, was able to resolve matters for the Murphy family.
If there are other such issues, it is in the interest of us all that they be resolved. I think we are all mature now and cop that this should be done. I would applaud anybody for bringing them to the Minister for Defence, maybe, to get them resolved. I thank Deputy Ó Laoghaire for his contribution.
As for the Army records and the archives, Deputy Martin Kenny and I share a very interesting history. I refer to the divisions of the past 100 years, with partition and so on. My grandfather, James Feely, was imprisoned and released on the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He would not have survived only for John A. Kearney, who was the district inspector in Tralee barracks and the person who arrested Roger Casement. When the Black and Tans came to assassinate my grandfather, he was saved by District Inspector Kearney. Then, in this very Chamber, Austin Stack, who was supposed to have released District Inspector Kearney from the barracks in Tralee, came into the Dáil and made spurious allegations that he engaged in mistreatment. He and his family had to leave Boyle overnight and went to London, where he rose to the rank of, I think, second in command in the Metropolitan Police. However, he was due to be put in charge of An Garda Síochána. Michael Collins had written to him to ask him. It just shows you that history and historical facts sometimes are missed. Roger Casement, from what I hear, was a very good friend of or was well treated by District Inspector Kearney. District Inspector Kearney was a republican who left the door open for Austin Stack to release him and, from what I hear, Austin Stack bottled it and years later came into the Dáil. That is recorded in a book, possibly one about the Kerry landings but I am not sure. I like to put little things like that on the record sometimes.
In the 15 years since the previous census was taken, in 1911, Ireland had gone through a dramatic change, starting with the Lock-out of 1913, then the First World War from 1914 to 1918, the Easter Rising of 1916 and the War of Independence from 1919 to 1921, which led to the Civil War of 1922 to 1923 and the partition of Ireland, starting in 1921. Just three years on from the Civil War and five years since partition was enacted, it will be fascinating to see what happened to families within what was then known as the Irish Free State. It will be a poignant moment for many people of Irish ancestry, not just here but across the globe.
With that in mind, I am glad to confirm to the House that the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, has committed €5 million for work on the 1926 census project to commence, thereby enabling the release of the 1926 census as scheduled in April 2026, in accordance with the Statistics Act 1993. I believe that in order for this work to happen, the National Archives, in collaboration with the Central Statistics Office, CSO, need the time they now have to ensure that this vital record set is correctly conserved, digitally imaged and transcribed. The 1926 census can then be made available to the public on 18 April 2026.
This Bill is well intentioned. I must admit, though, that the timeline would be a significant challenge. Given the growing interest in genealogy and the heightened public awareness of the history of the early years of the 20th century, the only realistic method of making the census widely available to the public is to digitise it and place it online. Census 1926 is currently the property of the CSO. The National Archives will work with the CSO under the terms of a joint memorandum of understanding, MOU, that enables the National Archives to undertake the complex work associated with providing public access in digital form to the census returns in April 2026. The MOU will cover the following areas: that legal control of the records remains with the CSO; that permission is granted to the National Archives to work on the records in the meantime; that assurances are provided to the CSO in respect of the work to be carried out on the records and the conservation and security of the records, including the requirement that the forms and images do not leave the State; that there is recognition or appointment of officers of statistics within the National Archives; what the considerations to controls around contractors viewing the records are; and an agreement that the MOU can be updated if required with the consent of both parties.
As the history of census taking is so fascinating, it may interest the House to know that the censuses of population held between 1926 and 1991, inclusive, were carried out under the Statistics Act 1926, which did not permit any access to census records, at any time. The years these censuses were taken were 1926, 1936, 1946, 1951, 1956, 1961, 1966, 1971, 1979, 1981, 1986 and 1991. Deputies will note that from the 1946 census onwards, a census was taken every five years instead of ten years. The Deputies may also have noticed that the 1976 census did not in fact occur until 1979. According to the CSO, this was due to a belief by the then Government that a census every five years was not required, but a few years later there was a change of mind on this. The next census to be postponed was the 2001 census owing to the foot-and-mouth crisis at the time. It was instead taken in 2002. Now, because of Covid-19, the 2021 census has been postponed until 2022.
The Statistics Act 1993 repealed the Statistics Acts of 1926 and 1946 and provided for the release of census forms for these censuses 100 years after the date of the relevant census. At the time, this retrospective introduction of the 100-year exemption was seen by some as undermining the original guarantee of confidentiality given to householders. However, it was generally accepted that 100 years was a reasonable compromise in all the circumstances, including having regard to increasing life expectancy.
Usually with censuses, the role of the National Archives of Ireland is limited to ensuring preservation of the paper format census returns. Concerns about exposure to risk or danger inform the approach to archival management. Access to census 1926 is allowed only to officers of the CSO and designated staff of the National Archives who are made temporary officers of statistics by the CSO director in order to undertake specified archival management and preservation work. The memorandum of understanding between both bodies facilitates the staff in the National Archives to begin work on the 1926 returns. By way of comparison, the digitisation of the 1901 and 1911 census returns, with the accompanying online platform that opened up the census returns to a global audience, cost more than €3 million. The work on making these records available took more than four years to complete and was done on a phased basis. This does not take into account the microfilming of the original 1901 and 1911 census return. Under agreements made with the Genealogical Society of Utah, a body operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - the Mormons - the 1901 and 1911 original census returns were microfilmed at various dates in the 1960s and 1990s. From the mid-1990s, due to preservation and security concerns, only the microfilm copies were made available for public inspection.
This microfilming work meant that the digitisation and transcription processes, as well as the online element, could be carried out in a shorter timeframe. It also meant that the cost of digitally imaging the individual census forms was minimised. The former Public Record Office of Ireland, the predecessor of the National Archives, had also carried out archival processing to organise, clean, folder and catalogue the returns prior to them being microfilmed. To reiterate, this is work that must now be undertaken for the 1926 census.
By way of example I will outline to the Deputy the precise and delicate nature of the work that the National Archives working in conjunction with the CSO will have to undertake. To enable the safe, accurate and complete digitisation of census 1926, I will outline some of the actions that will need to be carried out. Census portfolio side stitches will be removed to ensure each individual census return form can be separated, safely handled and digitised. Any dirt present will be removed to ensure that all handwritten text is legible and clear to read. All creases and folds will be removed to ensure that all handwritten text is legible and clear to read. All tears will be removed to ensure that further damage does not occur and the census return form can be safely handled during digitisation. All of the census portfolio cover boards will be retained and the unique order of the census return forms will also be retained. Following digitisation, secure archival housing for the census return forms for long-term archival storage will be required. This may include vacuum sealing the records post-digitisation for security and long-term preservation.
There is immense public interest in the 1926 census and in order to safeguard the security of the data, the highest IT security standards will need to be in place to prevent any data breaches prior to public release. A contract with specialist IT services will need to be put in place to make sure the data is secure and all servers with images and transcription data are located in Ireland. The ICT infrastructure will be put in place for the storage of images and inputting of data first, so that the highest security standards and related measures can be implemented and maintained throughout the project. There may be overlaps with elements.
The Government is committed to seeing this detailed project through, but recognises that the work associated with such a large project is vast in scale and complex in nature and it will require the length of time envisaged in order to make it happen.I must reiterate that the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, fully understands and appreciates the Deputy's reasons for bringing forward this Bill. It is based on noble sentiments. In practice, however, there are significant data protection issues which must be addressed in advance of the publication of the personal details of individuals and families.
The CSO operates under the Statistics Act 1993, which sets out the mandate of the office and the standards by which it must conduct its business. The Deputy will agree that independent, objective, trusted and high-quality official statistics are the cornerstone of this. Due to the nature of its work, the CSO is entrusted with a large quantity of extremely sensitive information by its respondents, both business and person-based. The legal guarantee it provides to these respondents is central to its ability to collect this information and also central to many of the official statistics it regularly compiles.
In 1993, it was generally accepted that 100 years was a reasonable compromise in all the circumstances, including having regard to increasing life expectancy and the need to protect the data of all individuals. As we know, there are many more people now living to more than 100 years. The Data Protection Commissioner will have to be consulted on the matter, irrespective of when the personal details in the 1926 census are published.
I again welcome Deputy Ó Snodaigh's contribution. I am aware of my duty to ensuring the integrity of the process by which this material will eventually be released to the public. I am also conscious of the need to ensure the vital work of the CSO is not inhibited and any data protection concerns are adequately dealt with. The aim of making the 1926 census returns available for everyone in the timeliest manner is one on which every Member of this House can agree. This work is under way and I know the Deputy will welcome that news. This timed amendment will allow for the necessary care to be taken when assessing this proposed Bill.
I listened very carefully to the Minister of State's response. My proposed legislation does not specify a period. It provides that this must be done as part of the decade of centenaries. As I said, the Minister, Deputy Martin, has already indicated that preparatory work has been done. We know from the previous two digitisation projects the various work that is required, although one or both of those projects was on microfiche which may be more onerous. To use the new terminology, a lot of learning has already happened, especially given the digitisation of the military pension service records in the Bureau of Military History. There is a skill set already in existence and an understanding. The Bill provides for a Taoiseach to take the required steps to allow the digitisation and release of these records ahead of schedule. The Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, referred to a schedule of April 2026. I would prefer an earlier date, which is the purpose of the Bill. The earlier the better is the view of most people.
The House should not divide on this issue. It is just a matter of accelerating the work, which can be done. We know of many other organisations that have taken on tasks just as complex as the digitisation of forms and they have been successful. Complexity is not an excuse to delay the Bill.
It was interesting to read about this matter in Ireland's Genealogical Gazette.It highlighted that the census of 1921 was cancelled or delayed until 1926 and here we are in 2021 delaying the publication of those records until 2026.
On our delaying of this year’s census until next year, the gazette states, "This was certainly an unexpected addition to the events within the 'Decade of Centenaries'." We have had a delayed census on two occasions, 100 years apart.
The aim is to ensure the information I am referring to is another part of the jigsaw. In 2013 this matter was the responsibility of the Department of the Taoiseach, because it pertained to the CSO. The then Minister of State in the Department, Deputy Paul Kehoe, stated "The Government is of the view that early publication, before vital preparatory work has been undertaken, is premature". That was eight years ago. I hope the work will have started. The Minister who is currently responsible, Deputy Catherine Martin, has already said it. It was interesting that, in the period in question, the programme for Government allowed for, or sought, the early publication of the census. The Government went back on what it had intended.
In many ways, we are where we are. Again, I appeal to the Minister of State to reconsider the amendment he has tabled and allow the granting of special heritage status. It would be on a once-off basis and would not involve any other census on which people have been given a guarantee of a period of 100 years.
A former colleague from the Seanad, Mr. Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, made the point quite well that the arrangement I seek would be once-off and that this would be the only occasion on which we would expect the State to go back on a promise it made, albeit to a lot of people who have since passed away. In 2011 there were only 400 people in the State who were 100 years old. I realise there is an ageing population but there will be very few aged 100 in 2026. Those aged 100 now were one or younger when the 1926 was taken. Therefore, the impact on their lives would be minimal, if there would be any at all. In fact, it would probably be beneficial to them to see what their parents and relatives got up to at the time in question and what they wrote in the records.
It is very interesting to look at pension records. Many families presume their fathers were this, that or the other, but they are sometimes described in unexpected ways. There may have been different holdings and different relations. The data might have us ask who a certain character in a household was in the belief he or she was not a relative. This opens a layer of interesting facts. The release of the census data is not going to affect those in their late 90s or those aged 100 in any major way. It would be beneficial, especially given the period covered. There is no other 15-year period in Irish history that had so much upheaval and change, and that is why special heritage status has been sought and why I have linked it to the Decade of Centenaries, such that it would fall in line with the pension records, in particular, but also others. Dealing with the pension records comprised a huge undertaking. Data are still being published. In the case of pensions, data have to be double-checked and triple-checked, even more than with census records, because of the risk of material having fallen into the wrong accounts and all of that.
It is a pity the State has taken the position it has taken. The number of people who seek to gain access to the Military Archives shows there is an appetite for information. The National Archives has always sought additional moneys so it could store physical paperwork properly in order that it would be available not only to the current generation but also to future generations. Then, at least, it would not be stored in containers in Galway. I believe the barracks is where all the pension records were contained. They were damp and falling apart, and that is why there was a delay in putting some online. They were never properly stored.
The Coimisiún na Gaeltachta census has disappeared. Nobody seems to know where the documents have gone and the number of pages. Some basement in some Department somewhere has all the documents and it does not know what they are. Obviously, they have never been looked at since they were produced. An Garda Síochána denied it has the documents. The Department responsible for the Gaeltacht said it never heard of the census and the CSO said it had nothing to do with it because it was not around at the time it was taken. It is interesting how records get lost. I hope somebody finds them.
As I mentioned, there are other records. The Land Commission records from 1921 contain a huge amount of information that would be so valuable to those of us studying what happened in that period. We are in the Decade of Centenaries. There are probably other records. The State should consider how it could fund and help our national cultural institutions to digitise more of their historic documents.
Tá sé tábhachtach go mbeadh an daonáireamh seo foilsithe chomh luath agus is féidir. Níl mé ag lorg go mbeidh sé foilsithe amárach agus táim réalaíoch go leor chun a thuiscint nach féidir é sin a dhéanamh. Bhí sé leagtha síos, ámh, sa Bhille gur chuid den Decade of Centenaries a bhí i gceist ó 1913 go dtí 1923 agus go mbeadh sé foilsithe mar chuid de sin, agus is féidir leis a bheith cúpla mí deireanach, más gá, ach go dtarlódh sé. Is é sin an fáth nach dtuigim nach mbeidh sé foilsithe mar léireodh na sonraí a bheadh istigh ansin an tionchar a d’imir imeachtaí cinniúnacha, mar shampla, ar an tsochaí sa tír seo ag an am go gearrthéarmach nó, b’fhéidir go fadtéarmach. Luaim an Frithdhúnadh in 1913, bunú na nÓglach, Arm Cathartha na hÉireann nó Chumann na mBan, nó a leithéid, mar aon le Cogadh na nDúchrónach, an Cogadh Cathartha agus, fiú amháin, bunú an dá stát sa tír seo. Is trua gur ghlac an Rialtas an cinneadh moill bhreise a chur leis seo mar is an t-aon rud atá á rá aige ná go gcuirfear moill bliana air seachas go bhfuil sé ag tarlú i mbliana.
Beidh sé spéisiúil, má tá vóta air seo, maidir le roinnt daoine a bhí sa Seanad nuair a caitheadh an vóta an uair dheireanach agus féachaint ar an tslí a chaithfidh siad an vóta anseo. Bhí roinnt acu sa Rialtas ag an am agus nach bhfuil sa Rialtas anois agus roinnt eile acu ag an am sa Fhreasúra ag tabhairt tacaíocht don Bhille atá sa Rialtas anois. Beidh mé ag féachaint air sin.