1926 Census

Current Campaigns - The 1926 Census

CIGO has long campaigned for the opening of post-1922 Irish census records after only seventy-five years has elapsed rather than the current tariff of one hundred years. In particular we have campaigned that at the very least the 1926 census should be opened to public scrutiny, for two principal reasons:

  • 1. A very large percentage of the people enumerated would have been born before civil registration began in Ireland in 1864.
  • 2. The data pertaining to each person so enumerated is little different to that recorded in the 1911 census returns and is not dissimilar to information already in the public domain in the form of civil registration records, voters registers and land records.

Public access to the 1901 and 1911 Irish census returns was established as early as 1961 by decision of Charles Haughey TD, parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Justice, Oscar Traynor TD. For most of 1961 Traynor had suffered severe ill health and Haughey was de facto Minister until his official appointment in October of that year. The 1901 and 1911 census returns had been transferred on a temporary basis to the Public Record Office in the mid-1930s and there they had subsequently languished. They were officially transferred to the Record Office by means of a warrant issued under section 13 of the Public Records (Ireland) Act 1867 in May 1961. It is important to remember that at the time this decision was made only fifty years had elapsed since the 1911 census returns had been compiled. The received history about this is that it was done to help mitigate the loss of Ireland’s 19th century census records. Those for the 1821, 1831, 1841 & 1851 censuses were destroyed when the Public Record Office of Ireland was consumed by fire in June 1922 during the height of the civil war. The returns for the 1861, 1871, 1881 & 1891 censuses were routinely destroyed through a bureaucratic muddle that saw civil servants in London advising their counterparts in Dublin that original census household schedules should be destroyed. The problem with this advice was that it was given without having first established that while in Great Britain the data in these schedules had been copied into census enumerators books for future preservation, no such system existed in Ireland.

There was to have been a census undertaken in Ireland in April 1921, but at a session of Dáil Éireann in the second week of March of that year a decree was passed 'authorising the Minister of Home Affairs to forbid the census proposed to be taken by the British Government as an invasion by an alien authority of the rights of the Irish people' (The Irish Times 22 March 1921). However, this decree was not mentioned in a related announcement made on 1 April 1921 by Dublin Castle:

Owing to the existence of a state of rebellion in the South and West of Ireland and the disturbed conditions in certain other parts of the country, the Government have come to the conclusion that, if a Census were held in the coming month, it would be impossible to obtain complete and accurate returns. No useful purpose would be achieved by holding a Census at heavy expense if the returns so obtained were either incomplete or misleading, as no statistics based upon these returns would be of any value. The Government have, therefore, decided to postpone the holding of a Census in Ireland on the present occasion. Under the Government of Ireland Act [1920], all responsibility in regard to the Census question passes to the Governments of Southern and Northern Ireland. It will be for these Governments, when they are constituted, to consider upon what conditions and at what time the Census shall be held in Southern and Northern Ireland respectively.

In the following year the Irish Free State was established under the so-called Anglo-Irish Treaty (which had been signed on 6 December 1921 and ratified by Dáil Éireann on 7 January 1922). The first census to be undertaken by the Irish Free State was legislated for in the Statistics Act 1926, and the enumeration was conducted in the same year. The construction of the wording of section 13 (1) of the Act precluded the authorities from releasing the household returns for public inspection. This was remedied with the passing of the Statistics Act 1993, when it was established that once one hundred years had elapsed census returns could be opened to researchers. At the time the Act (then a Bill) was progressing through its parliamentary stages CIGO and the Dun Laoghaire Genealogical Society (now the Genealogical Society of Ireland) led a successful campaign to amend the Bill to release census material after the elapse of only seventy-five years. Unfortunately, at a later stage in the process this amendment was reconsidered and at this time all post-1922 Irish census records remain subject to the ‘one hundred year rule’.

CIGO is not alone in regretting that the State’s access policy to census records does not follow the US model, which releases records after seventy-two years rather than one hundred. This approach appears to work well and is generally accepted by US citizens. All surviving US censuses, complete with full names indexes, are now available on the Internet up to that compiled in 1940.

In 2006, a Genealogy and Heraldry Bill proceeded to its second stage in the Seanad [Senate]. This Bill came about through the work of the Genealogical Society of Ireland. Although in the course of the ensuing debate the then Minister for Arts, Sport & Tourism, John O’Donoghue TD made it clear that he was “unconvinced of the need for this Bill” he offered to submit the issues raised by it for consideration by the Board of the National Library of Ireland if the Bill’s sponsor, opposition Labour Senator Brendan Ryan, would withdraw it. Amongst its various provisions, the Genealogy and Heraldry Bill allowed for the opening of the 1926 (and specifically only the 1926 census) after the passing of only seventy-five years. This call was in line with CIGO policy in this area and CIGO supported this aspect of the Bill.

Interestingly, in December 2006 the UK’s Information Commissioner found in favour of a complainant who had been refused access to information from the 1911 census of England and Wales (which remained subject the ‘one hundred year rule’) by the UK’s National Archives. The Commissioner found that although at the time the census was compiled an undertaking was given to treat information supplied as confidential, much of the information recorded in the 1911 census could not “normally be of such sensitivity as to give rise to an expectation of privacy”. As a result, the 1911 census of England and Wales was made available on the Internet in 2009. While of course Ireland operates under its own Freedom of Information Act, the finding of the UK’s Information Commissioner in this instance should give the Irish authorities pause for thought.

The issue of access to the 1926 census is high on CIGO’s list of long-term objectives. We will continue to lobby for its early release.

Please sign CIGO’s petition to release the 1926 Census early.