Speech by Mr. Micheál Martin T.D., Minister for Health and Children, on the occasion of the launch of the Consultation Document on the Modernisation of the Civil Registration Service

It gives me great pleasure to be with you today to launch the Consultation Document on the Modernisation of the Civil Registration Service entitled “Bringing Civil Registration into the 21st Century”. The Modernisation of the Civil Registration Service is a joint effort between the Departments of Health and Children and Social, Community & Family Affairs.

I am delighted with the publication of this consultation document which will give an opportunity to all interested parties which, in the context of civil registration means virtually everyone in the country, to express their views. Using this consultative approach enables us all to have a say in the way we move forward. The modernisation of the civil registration service is a challenge but together I hope we can put in place a service that meets the needs of a modern state.

Civil Registration touches on each and every one of us at numerous stages in our lives. It commences when we are born, when our births are registered and ends when our deaths are registered. In between those events, civil registration affects us during our lives both directly, as in the case of getting married, or indirectly, when certificates are required for many of the services that are available in our society such as enrolling a child in school, getting a passport, taking up employment, claiming social welfare.

Because of the importance of civil registration in our lives and recognising the changing needs of our customers, Government gave approval for expenditure of some £7.3 million on a programme to modernise the Civil Registration Service. A key focus of the Government’s Strategic Management Initiative relates to cross-cutting issues – Departments and Agencies getting together to solve problems of mutual interest and concern – and in that context I am delighted that my Department and the Department of Social, Community & Family Affairs, which has responsibility for updating civil registration legislation, are jointly undertaking the modernisation programme.

Historical Context

Why a civil registration system?

Civil registration was introduced in Ireland between 1845 and 1864, initially for the registration of non-Roman Catholic marriages and finally allowing for the registration of births, deaths and Roman Catholic marriages. From 1864 a comprehensive registration system was in place in Ireland. The records form a basic, continuous source of information about the population, providing a record of vital events relating to people and satisfying the needs for evidence which has bearing on rights, entitlements, liabilities, status and nationality.

There has been little change to the basic registration procedures since 1864 while there have been many changes in our society, major developments in technology and increased expectations by citizens in how public services should be delivered. We fully accept that there are shortcomings in the administration of the Civil Registration Service which need to be addressed. Hence the modernisation programme.

Customer Service

The modernisation programme is primarily a customer service initiative. Modern society demands choice in accessing and availing of public services. Customers have rising expectations – they want quality services supplied at a place and time of their choosing.

Central to the implementation of a modern civil registration service will be the development of a comprehensive customer action plan based on the principles of quality customer service. The key objectives will be to:

  • develop and promote a strong customer service culture throughout the civil registration service
  • promote an integrated approach to the delivery of services while providing reasonable choice in the methods of service delivery
  • equip staff with the skills, information and supports to fulfil customer service objectives
  • develop measurable customer service quality standards
  • develop participative structures where customers can express opinions and give feedback on the services delivered
  • take a proactive approach to the provision of quality information and advice and ensure ease of access

Getting the views of customers and the introduction of customer consultation and feedback mechanisms which will involve day-to-day contacts, surveys, panels and comment cards will be an integral part of the new Civil Registration Service. These and other measures proposed in this document will be incorporated in the new customer service action plan which will be developed as part of the design and development of the new registration practices/procedures and administrative framework.

Modernisation Programme

The focus in the first phase, to be implemented in the first quarter of 2002, is to:

  • radically transform the way services are provided utilising modern technology;
  • progressively reduce the reliance on paper certificates for Government services purposes through the direct provision of electronic certificates to the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs and by sharing data with designated Government Departments and Agencies e.g. Passport Office
  • streamline the administration of the Civil Registration Service – redefine roles, responsibilities and authority
  • enact a new body of legislation

The emphasis in the next phase will be on the development of external access and services via the Internet.

The modernisation of the Civil Registration Service will include the design and development of new processes and procedures, the introduction of modern technology and reform of the legislation governing civil registration.

Historical Data Project

In tandem with the modernisation programme, a project is currently ongoing in Roscommon, to capture and store in electronic format all registration records created since 1845, about 20 million records in all.. The electronic capture of historical data is of fundamental importance to the success of the modernisation programme. Currently, a person can only get a certificate in the district in which the event was registered or from the GRO. When the records are computerised it will be possible to get a certificate at any registrars office around the country for any event registered in the State. For example, if you were born in Donegal and currently living in Cork you would have to write or call to the registrar in Donegal or the GRO for a birth certificate. When the records are computerised you will be able to call to the local registrar in Cork.