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Government Consultation Document May 2001

 

In preparation for the modernisation of the Civil Registration Service, the Department of Health and Children, and the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, have jointly issued a Consultation Document, which can be read or downloaded from the General Register Office website (see our links page). Government is inviting all interested individuals to comment on these proposals, and the deadline for receipt of observations is 31 May 2001, which observations can be submitted by e-mail to grodoc@welfare.ie. In view of the extremely unsatisfactory service at present available to genealogists and other users of Ireland's Civil Registration Service, it is essential that as many people as possible submit constructive suggestions for improvements. Considering the short notice given, it is to be hoped that submissions received after the deadline will be accepted. In addition, those of Irish descent living abroad should not be hesitant about making their opinions known, particularly in view of the fact that the Irish Constitution has now been amended to recognise their affinity with the Irish Nation.

Few would disagree with the observation that a system which has remained little changed for 150 years requires radical overhaul to meet the needs of Irish society in the 21st Century. While the currrent day to day requirements of citizens for certificates of birth, marriage and death certificates are rightly stressed, we welcome the fact that genealogy is given particular mention also in the Consultation Document: 'The records held by the registration service provide a rich source of information for people tracing their family history and in compiling family trees.' It is important that the proposed new Civil Registration legislation should make specific mention of the use by genealogists of vital records.

Neither would many now disagree with the proposal that the existing paper-based registration service could be greatly streamlined and made more efficient by the intelligent application of information technology, and this is a key feature of the document. Again, a programme to enable searches in historical Irish Civil Registration records via the Internet should be implemented without delay, with a fee-charging service modelled for example on Scots Origins. Such an Internet research facility would be of particular value to those living abroad, and it is suggested that they might wish to stress this element in any submissions they might make.

The proposal to create integrated life events databases for citizens will certainly assist future genealogists in their researches, but it must be recognised that this also raises current civil liberty questions. The unfortunate abuse of the registration system to create false identiies for criminal purposes does necessitate the introduction of safeguards, but these should not be so excessive as to hamper research for genealogical purposes. In this connection, restrictions on access to the database should perhaps be limited to the standard National Archival period of 30 years, with procedures to exempt those who can prove bona fide genealogical or historical interests. Furthermore, in view of the destruction of so many records in the past, the Irish Civil Registration Archive is perhaps even more vital than those of other countries. Are adequate archival structures in place to protect these records, and would it not make sense to transfer the older, say pre-1901 portion, to the care of the National Archives of Ireland?

In conclusion, while there are many fine aspirations in the Consultation Document, it is not geared to provide quick solutions to the current problems which beset the Civil Registration Service, which from the point of view of genealogists are overcrowding in Lombard Street East, limited access to single copy printed indexes, absence of direct access to the registers of birth, marriage and death, and a fee structure which does not provide value for money. We note again that in Latter Day Saints (Mormon) Family History Centres internationally, microfilm copies of Irish birth, marriage and death indexes and registers are available free of charge. The refusal of the Department of Health either to make available their own microform copies of indexes and registers, or to permit the Mormons to sell on copies of theirs, has quite frankly been inexplicable. At a time of fiscal rectitude and indeed crisis in the Health Services despite the general buoyancy of the Irish economy, the practice of charging fees for access to vital records is unlikely to be discontinued, yet a good case can be made for reductions at least for amateur genealogists, students, scholars, the unwaged and senior citizens. Finally, we draw attention again to the Genealogical Society of Ireland's Regional and North/South Proposal, a plan to alleviate current problems by making microform copies of Civil Registration Records more widely available, which plan might be specifically mentioned by those who broadly support it, when preparing their submissions on the Consultation Document.

Remember, if you want to make your views known, simply click on grodoc@welfare.ie, write 'Consultation' as the subject of the e-mail, and say your piece.

 

Sean Murphy
Centre for Irish Genealogical and Historical Studies
May 2001