Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
14. Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will set up a central genealogy service to capitalise on the recent visit by President Obama in view of the fact that it would provide a comprehensive research facility to the Irish diaspora worldwide and contribute greatly to attract these persons to Ireland. [16748/11]
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: I recognise that the recent visits by President Obama and Queen Elizabeth have provided a renewed interest in genealogical records among Irish people and the Irish diaspora worldwide. My approach to genealogical services is to assist the two main national institutions involved in this area which are under the aegis of my Department, the National Archives and the National Library, to make available to the public the records of genealogical interest in their collections, online and free of charge, to gain the highest usage domestically and around the world. Both institutions offer genealogical advisory services to callers. In that context, a comprehensive search facility already exists through the publication of the 1901 and 1911 census provided by the National Archives. This project involved digitising the census returns and background material for those years and making them searchable online by all the available data fields, including name, address, occupation, religion, relationship to head of household and so on. All these records are now available online and 128,993 unique visitors logged on to the site in May 2011. This brought the total number of unique visitors to this site to end May to more than 11.6 million, with the total number of hits more than 557 million.
My Department also hosts the website, www.irishgenealogy.ie, which contains a searchable database of church records of baptism, marriage and burial from Dublin city and counties Carlow, Cork and Kerry. The website is an important aid to family history and genealogical research and will be an attraction for the Irish diaspora to visit Ireland in search of their roots. Since its launch in November 2009, a total of 239,068 unique visitors have visited the church records site with a total of more than 34.7 million hits recorded.
In addition, in June 2010 the Church of Ireland records for Dublin city and counties Carlow and Kerry and Roman Catholic records for the county and city of Cork were added to the website. Work is ongoing to add up to a further one million church baptism, marriage and burial records from Dublin city and County Cork, and this work should be substantially completed by end of next month. This project is being undertaken with the support of our national repositories, the National Archives and the National Library of Ireland. The majority of the records also have the corresponding image of the original entry in the baptism, marriage or burial register available to view.
Images for all the records will be made available during 2011. This level of detail, along with the success of the 1901 and 1911 censuses online, will be a significant additional resource to persons abroad wishing to trace Irish ancestors.
I assure the Deputy that my Department is working closely with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and with Tourism Ireland to ensure Ireland reaps the dividends of this work. Deputies will recognise that statutory responsibility for tourism lies with my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.
In addition, with my Department’s co-operation, Tourism Ireland is proposing a genealogy web portal. This will serve as a central focus and one-stop-shop for those with an interest in their family history. I understand the proposed portal will provide direct incentives to persons abroad using it to come to Ireland. This, in turn, should provide opportunities to local service providers, including the Irish Family History Foundation, to make available specialist local history and genealogical services and products.
Deputies will also be aware of my proposal to digitise and make available online the 1926 census returns. Apart from their inherent significance from a family history point of view, these returns are significant as they are the first census of population taken after independence and will provide an important baseline from which to chart our progress. My Department is examining the legal steps required to allow this project go forward as it seems clear that some amending legislation will be required. My Department also chairs a committee of the key State agencies involved in this area, including the tourism agencies, to ensure we maximise the opportunities.
Deputy Tom Fleming: I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. The huge resource that is the Irish disapora, approximately 60 million to 80 million people worldwide, in particular in English-speaking countries, including Australia and North America, was brought home to us with the recent visit of President Obama and Queen Elizabeth. Now more than ever, we need to tap into the potential of this huge resource.
Our genealogy service is fragmented. The Minister set out in his reply the various websites, archives and sources of information in this regard. We need to have a central venue wherein all these services are co-ordinated. For example, records in relation to President Obama’s relatives were traced to a church in Offaly, Trinity College, where a close relative worked, and Dublin, where another relative was involved in trade. This demonstrates the need to provide a co-ordinated genealogical service. Rather than sending people to different places, we need to be able to direct them to a central service which holds all the information they require.
This matter requires further thought, in particular in regard to the huge advantages open to us in terms of connecting with these people in terms of job creation and attracting industry into the country. It would also assist us in attracting visitors to the country. There is a vast amount of goodwill towards Ireland following the publicity surrounding the visits of President Obama and Queen Elizabeth. Will the Minister give more thought to this matter and, in that regard, communicate with the various bodies doing marvellous work in this area? While I appreciate the availability online of the 1901 and 1911 census, many census returns were lost in the fire at the Four Courts in 1916.
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: I am aware of Deputy’s Fleming interest in this area. Coming from a county like Kerry which has experienced huge emigration down through the years, we share a particular interest in this area. Kerry has a strong disapora worldwide.
Work on the 1926 census requires a change in legislation, which I am working on. I agree with Deputy Fleming about the number of organisations involved, including the National Library of Ireland, the National Archives of Ireland, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Irish Family History Foundation, the General Register Office and Tourism Ireland. To provide some cohesion, Tourism Ireland has proposed a genealogy web portal which will serve as a central focus or one-stop-shop for those with an interest in their family history. It is hoped all organisations will work together in providing all the information on that portal.
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