We have stood up, but how will we be counted?

So now everyone in the country should have been counted and accounted for, the real work starts in making heads and tail of the results to ensure our politicians and policy makers can make informed decisions.

As a population count, it seems straight forward enough - so too as a tool for policy, but as always it is the implementation that is difficult. According to Deirdre Cullen, senior Statistician at the CSO, “We are very grateful for the support of everyone in Galway. The reason why we need everyone to be counted is because the information gathered through the census influences important policy decisions, like where new schools and new hospitals are needed.”

This week in Gort a new school was opened that had precious little to do with the census or policy makers. Gaelscoil na bhFilí, was officially opened after a local Peterswell man James Fahy and a group of enthusiastic parents got together to drive the project forward. It boasts equipment donated by GAMA Construction. In homes throughout the country people are waiting more than three months for a bowel cancer scan that could save their lives as more and more wards are closing down amid recruitment embargos.

Although not created for the purpose of genealogical research, census records have become the best available records to which the public and genealogists have enjoyed access. They are considered rich pickings for genealogists - providing unrivalled details about the everyday lives of our ancestors, but they can also pose as many questions as they answer. Despite the detailed information we must now supply, such ponderables are still most likely to remain for our descendants in 100 odd years when they are able to view the 2011 census. Take for example a tourist or visitor to Ireland. Thousands of tourists arriving into Irish airports were advised to be included in census forms in premises where they were staying. Yet nowhere on the form is the status "visitor" or "overseas visitor" evident. Instead visitors were asked to complete the entire questionnaire that relates specifically to Ireland, whether they were staying in the country one day or one year. How their information can help our Government to make "informed decisions about policy and public services" is unclear.

Throughout the world there are concerns about the amount of detailed information we are being asked to provide about ourselves, and there remain fears about how authorities may use the data, and about security - although that may seem at odds considering the millions who entrust their personal information with a Facebook account. When does information necessary to promote society become an intrusion in privacy?

There are other concerns for those who live in small rural villages, in particular, where their private information is entrusted to a local enumerator. One wonders how many people may be reluctant to confess to having intellectual disabilities or psychological or emotional conditions. A simple remedy would be to supply envelopes for those who desire them. In Britain forms are returned via post or on line - although those methods too have inherent problems.

In 99 years time, or possibly sooner, will genealogists and other researchers be anxiously awaiting the public release of the census data, and will it give an accurate picture of people’s lives in Ireland 2011?



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