Monday, March 12, 2012

Madness Monday: 1926 Irish Census legislation soon: let the madness begin

Click to view a larger image of an example which shows
the wealth of information recorded on the 1926 census.

Since Tuesday 6 March 2012, when Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, Irish Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, uttered his intention to present legislation in June or July for the release of the 1926 Irish Census, the internet has been lit up with claims about the census and access to it. However, some of what has been reported is not accurate.

Many of you, especially those who have been with me over the long haul, know that misinformation makes me like a rabid dog foaming at the mouth, absolutely stark raving mad. So, here on Madness Monday, by going right to the horse's mouth, I would like to clear up some misinformation that is floating around about the release of the 1926 Census.

In Ireland the horse's mouth belongs to Mr. Jimmy Deenihan TD. He's the man who has to make sure all the legal, fiscal, technological, and other resource 'ducks' are in a row when it comes to releasing the census. Okay, between the dog, the horse and the ducks, I realize I have a lot of barnyard imagery going on here, but please bear with me.

Here is what Mr. Jimmy Deenihan said, along with when he said it:

Thursday, 24 November 2011:

“The 1926 Census was the first undertaken by an Irish Government and it is my intention to have the census returns digitised and made available on-line as a 1916 centenary project, subject to resources and the resolution of legal and other issues.”

Tuesday, 31 January 2012:

“The Programme for Government contains a commitment to enabling the publication of the 1926 Census. The project requires two principal components to be addressed. The first is the legal necessity to change the relevant legislation to permit publication of the Census before the expiry of the statutory 100 year period, while respecting certain rights. The second is the technical process whereby the material can be converted from the paper records to a searchable electronic database in a cost-effective fashion. Legal advice has been obtained in relation to the legislative changes and consultation with bodies involved is in progress. Possible technical approaches are also currently being considered, as are their resource implications.”

Tuesday, 6 March 2012:

"I previously informed the Deputy that I intended to introduce legislation to enable digitisation of the 1926 census returns. The legislation has been approved by the Cabinet. Following its enactment, I will have to come up with the resources to implement it. I cannot start the process until the enabling legislation has been passed. It is hoped it will be ready in June or July." [emphasis is mine]


1. A caveat: The first thing you have to make note of when reading oral or written replies made by politicians is that the word INTENTION shows up a lot. An intention is not the same as a guarantee.

2. The legislation has not been passed, nor has it even been fully drafted. Although the drafting of this legislation is a major step, it is the FIRST step toward opening up the 1926 census. As Mr. Deenihan said, "it is hoped it will be ready in June or July". Then it will be presented to the Dáil, and presumably passed into law.

3. Digitization DOES NOT mean the 1926 Irish Census will instantly show up online. Clearly the intention is there to make it available to a global audience; however, if and when it is put online, there is currently no indication about the conditions of access. It may be free, just as the 1901 and 1911 census records are currently, or access may be pay-per-view. That decision has not yet been made public.

Also, Mr. Deenihan indicates, as I have emphasized in the passage above, that he has to "come up with the resources" to implement the digitization.

Further, in November of 2011, Mr. Deenihan indicated it is his intention to have the 1926 census made "available as a 1916 centenary project". The target dates of other centenary projects, such as the release of Military Pension Records, is 2016, the year of the centenary. Will the 1926 Census show up before then? Who knows. Whether or not this decision has been made, one thing is clear, it has not been made public.

4. A genealogy newsletter out of Ottawa Canada claims, "Allowing a few months for digitization and the 1926 Irish census should be available to all later in 2012."  NOWHERE has such a statement been made by either Mr. Deenihan or members of his department. The digitization and release of this material is a process which will take time, and time parameters have neither been determined nor announced.

The future release of the 1926 Irish Census is something about which I am truly excited, and I look forward to being able to peruse it, and to rejoice in all the data it has to offer. However, I am definitely a "just the facts ma'am" girl, so I think we should follow what has actually been said about the matter, rather than what we hope will be the case.


The statements made by Mr. Deenihan, as well as those made by any other member who has spoken during Dáil debates can be viewed online. The entire text of the Dáil Debates held in the Houses of the Oireachtas can be viewed on their website:

Census example image via CIGO



  1. This illustrates one of the big problems with the internet. Everyone is in such a hurry to be first with information but sometimes they don't get it right.

  2. Thank you for the "real" story, the "real" facts.

  3. Hi Ashling and Carol,

    Thanks for your comments. As always, they are much appreciated.



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Cheers, Jennifer

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