The Ombudsman and the GRO
Last week the Ombudsman published ‘Hidden History? – The Law, The Archives and the General Register Office’ (available in full at ombudsman.gov.ie), an investigation into problems with access to historic GRO records. It was prompted by a complaint from a local historian. He had been painstakingly working his way through the copies of the nineteenth-century death registers held by his local Superintendent Registrar, noting the occupation recorded in each record. The aim was to reconstruct the history of employment in his area in the finest detail possible, an impressive and very valuable project. Then, in 2007, he was informed that he could no longer see the registers. Under the 2004 Civil Registration Act, his statutory right of access had been revoked and now he could only use the records via the indexes in the Research Room in Dublin. In effect, what had previously been free would now cost thousands, be much less precise, and take years rather than months.
Not surprisingly, the report fully upholds his complaint, but it also goes much further, finding that historic GRO registers are covered by the 1986 National Archives Act and that there is thus an obligation to make them available for public inspection. The entire report, from its dissection of the public administration issues to the minutiae of the legal situation, is a masterpiece of clarity, sound reasoning and common sense, and the Office is to be congratulated, as are those who made the submissions used in its preparation, in particular the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland.
So, will the GRO implement the report’s recommendations? The response of the Registrar-General to the Ombudsman’s findings, reproduced in full in Appendix 4, provides a strong clue. It is a minor masterpiece of Sir Humprhyology. A succession of carefully-crafted paragraphs lead to the unfortunate but inevitable conclusion. Which is, of course, that nothing can be done.
['Irish Roots archive from 2009 at www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/magazine/column]