Irish genealogists have voiced concern that plans to resurrect 2006 Privacy Bill could restrict access to genealogical or biographical research materials.

In 2007 this bill had been parked by Brian Lenihan, the former Irish minister for justice and law reform. At the time he suggested they wait and see how the newly established Press Council of Ireland performed before bringing it to the table.

Last year it was restored to the Seanad (Ireland’s Senate) order paper by Fine Gael Senator and leader of the Seanad, Maurice Cummins. However, it was the scandal of Irish Daily Star printing photographs of one topless Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton) that prompted the current Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, to revisit the bill.

The Privacy Bill 2006 would make it illegal to violate any person’s privacy. The Irish Times report points out that privacy in this case is not defined in the bill. However, it does state that an individual is entitled to “that which is reasonable in all the circumstances having regard to the rights of others and to the requirements of public order, morality and the common good.”

Surveillance, the use of a person’s likeness for financial gain without consent but more worryingly the disclosure of letters, medical records, or other personal documents could, under this law, be seen as violations of the law.

This means that even if personal documents such as letters were registered for public access, the organization that publishes it could be sued.

General secretary of the Genealogical Society of Ireland, Michael Merrigan, said, “This measure could have a devastating effect on the development of Irish genealogical and local history studies.”

Public registries, such as births, marriages and deaths, are essential for genealogists. Merrigan said that changes to the Irish Privacy law could “arbitrarily and unnecessarily restrict or deny access.”

He added that the legislations, due to “fear of litigations” could hamper the publication of biographies also.

Merrigan added that the Genealogical Society of Ireland would seek the inclusion of a clause excluding bona fide genealogical or biographical research from the provisions of the Bill.

Read the full bill here.

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