The release of Ireland's 1926 census returns was approved by the Irish Government, according to a statement by Heritage Minister Jimmy Deenihan on 9 March 2012 (see below). While there were still some hoops to jump through (not to mention some behind the scenes crossing of fingers), it was initially considered likely that the process to release this wonderful resource to the public would continue. However, by mid-2013 most genealogists had reluctantly accepted that an early release was becoming less and less likely. By mid-2015, after two years of inaction, silence and a change of minister, only those of an extremely positive disposition really believed it would happen.
By early 2016, even they have given up hope.
Time marches on and still there's no sign of the legislation being in place anytime soon. At the recent Clare Roots Society Conference 'Gathering the Scattering', the concensus seemed to be that progress had not just stalled, it was almost in retreat. The issue of the CSO (see 16 November update, below) rumbles on. Realistically, if the legislation is not in place by the end of this year, it is difficult to see the 1926 census of Ireland being available for public consumption by 2016, the date originally set for release.
The legislation is still not in place, although the Minister continues to say that the Government is behind the plan to release the records before 2016.
With no sign of progress, concerns began to be expressed during the summer that the plan had stalled. Some were of the opinion that the issue of 'redaction' (see right hand column) was the likely cause of the delay and could possibly bring the entire plan to a standstill.
On 1 November, Minister Deenihan assured representatives of the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations (CIGO) that redaction is not an obstacle to the release of Ireland's 1926 census. He confirmed that he would still like to see the project on course for release in 2016.
Mr Deenihan did, however, indicate that one of the unresolved issues – of itself not directly related to the 1926 census – relates to an ongoing court case involving the Central Statistics Office and access to census data. He indicated that it is still his intention to bring a memo to Cabinet about the 1926 census in the near future. He added that, in the meantime, he would be keen to find ways of funding the preservation, cataloguing and digitation of the original records.
Responding to a question raised in the Daíl, Mr Deenihan said: "The legislation [to digitise the census] 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."
Steven Smyrl, CIGOs executive liaison officer, was delighted to learn of the Minister's statement. "This is terrific news and more than justifies the long campaign which CIGO had led to convince those responsible that the 1926 Irish census returns are an invaluable source for the history and genealogy of the Irish people.
"The returns, compiled 86 years ago, amount to a family snapshot taken just after a succession of tumultuous events in the history of this island. First the Great War, then the 1916 Rising, quickly followed by the War of Independence, partition and the creation of the State and then the fateful civil war!"
Exactly where family historians will be able to access the returns remains to be seen although it is thought unlikely that free online access won't be part of the package.
As to timescale, the Minister has previously said he'd like the resource to be online by 2016, in time for the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.
Whether or not any redaction of information (to obscure personal data of people who were children when enumerated) will be insisted upon, is another detail yet to be confirmed.
What is important right now is that plans to release these records have shifted from the wish list towards enactment.
As in all the earlier censuses, the 1926 census of Ireland required that name and surname, relationship to head of household, marital status, language, age, religion and profession, be provided for each member of a household.
However, this census also collected the following:
Obviously, questions like these help provide us
with fabulous detail about our ancestors and may well help many Irish
genealogists break down brickwalls or solve family mysteries.
This page will be updated as the 1926 census progresses to release.