Press Release 2002

Current Campaigns – General Register Office

Press Release by the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations

26 March 2002
The Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2002 is currently before the Oireachtas. It contains items which will have far reaching consequences for future public access to civil records of birth, death and marriage. Parts of the Bill include measures to bring about the modernization and computerisation of Ireland’s civil registration system which has remained largely unchanged since the mid-nineteenth century. The sections dealing with birth registration are a marked improvement on the existing legislation, and finally give effect to the provisions in the 1987 Status of Children Act. Unfortunately, those concerning registration of deaths fail to address the fact that too little information is currently recorded in Irish death certificates. In the 21st century death certificates need to record a deceased person’s date & place of birth and the maiden name of a married, widowed or divorced woman. They’ve been doing this in Northern Ireland since 1973.

Another part of the Bill removes the public’s current statutory entitlement to view the original registers (dating back to 1864) of births, deaths and marriages in the various superintendent registrars’ offices throughout the country. If passed, this would have a major impact on those involved in legal and probate work, property conveyance, and, of course, genealogists and family historians working and living outside the Dublin area. It might also have serious legal implications for public access to the microfilm copies of these records held by the Church of Latter Day Saints’ (Mormon) international network of family history libraries. It certainly doesn’t bode well for the various county-based genealogical heritage centres, many of which have obtained copies of their county’s civil registers for the 19th century and a good deal of the 20th. All of these centres have been set up through funding made available from such sources as the European Union and the International Fund for Ireland.

There is widespread concern among genealogists internationally about the constantly deteriorating level of access to Ireland’s civil records. An on-line survey concerning this matter was conducted for CIGO by a Boston-based genealogist. The resulting petition, containing comments and scathing complaints from several thousand family historians spread throughout the world, has been submitted to the Minister for Social, Family and Community Affairs, Mr. Dermot Ahern T.D., whose department is taking over responsibility for the civil registration system.

In May 2001 the Departments of Health & Children and of Social, Community & Family Affairs jointly announced a month of public consultation about the future of civil registration in Ireland. CIGO received no feedback from the Departments on this matter, and no indication that legislation to alter the civil registration system was imminent. The proposed legislation currently before the Oireachtas was introduced as one of various “miscellaneous provisions” discretely hidden in a Social Welfare Bill. This suggests that the month of consultation last May was mere a cynical ploy to give the public the illusion of having an input into the decision making.