The Ireland API

17th of January 2011 by conor

As anyone who has followed my writing over the years on various blogs knows, I have a particular bee in my bonnet about Government APIs and freeing all public sector data. Unless there is some absolute secrecy requirement on that data, it should be made available to the Irish people, to do with what they will.

But I have lost lots of hair and gained lots of pounds waiting for it to happen here. I watch in despair as the UK and US race ahead and we sit here without even a bloody working postcode system. Just look at in the UK or CodeForAmerica in the US.

So do we just sit and wait or do private sector companies and tech communities take the lead and show the Public Sector how it’s done? Do we lead by example rather than just brow-beating?

We’ve already seen it happen, most notably with KildareStreet but also with Loc8 postcodes. People and businesses sick of waiting, solve the problems themselves by taking whatever poor public data there is already and doing something useful with it and on top of it.

There has also been a recent community initiative with to collect together available datasets but it doesn’t seem to have gained much momentum.

So where else can we leverage exisiting datasets and groupings to benefit the country and those elsewhere who care deeply about Ireland?

I think we should look again at the idea I mentioned way back around the diaspora and genealogy. At the moment we have:

  • Irish/UK/US historical census data
  • National Library records
  • Church records
  • Geni data
  • Ellis Island data
  • Mormon Data
  • Family Tree DNA Testing
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • The living Irish Diaspora and their knowledge of their families
  • Ordnance Survey Map data
  • OpenStreetMap Data
  • Phonebook data
  • Irish emigrant groups around the world
  • Irish-Americans working in thousands of tech companies

Would it be possible to build an API around this data, starting simply and iterating out? Enabling people to search and mashup by names, dates, locations and Y chromosome? Think of the platforms that such a thing would enable? Now wire that into the social graph!

If there was one co-ordinating organisation concerned with building the relationships needed to get this data and providing the APIs but letting people build any app they want, wouldn’t that be incredibly powerful?

Such an org could co-ordinate with churches to have parishioners transcribe all of records that are still in paper form. They would have the clout to get access to currently-non-public government data. They could then help Government departments and state/semi-state bodies build good APIs on their data.

They could also co-ordinate with all the emigrant groupings in UK, USA and elsewhere to fill in missing holes in records. Colleges could get involved. What about all the Alumni data?

One or two simple but powerful example apps could be built to show what’s possible.


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19 Responses to “The Ireland API”

Did you know that in Cork we’ve already been paying FAS ‘trainees’ to sit in parish offices transcribing their registers for years?

And that there’s absolutely no chance of those registers ever being released? Your tax euros at work.

Was thinking about this very thing last week when dealing with the train wreck that is the health system. The only way it can happen is if we do it ourselves!


ref the living Irish diaspora as a resource

Your vision is fantastic but, not only are the births/deaths/marriages data behind paywalls despite being funded by public money, so too are 3/4s of the other data sources. It is interesting that you see the solution being about developing relationships.

John H – Fas trainees are also being paid for similar work in Galway.

Definitely interested, though as a techy as I couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. My tech skills are available.

There must be a lot of clerks looking at their public-service position and wondering how they can differentiate themselves from their peers (i.e. “keep my job”.) Getting them on board could help?

As a father I’m interested too because I want better HSE records. I trusted them to look after my daughter’s vaccination record and alert me when she needed her next shots. Unfortunately it turns out that Carlow and Waterford are so far apart in the HSE that a file in Carlow was not accesible in Waterford and my daughter ended up getting the same vaccination twice. Nothing life threatening thankfully but I’d hate to be a diabetic or 70 years old wondering why the HSE want me to take the same green pill twice instead of the usual once…

Anyway. The point being there may be a “peoples government” angle here where we go forward with our own data collection and storage mechanisms and merge in whatever little data we do get from the government. A lot of front-line staff are sick of waiting for top-down action, they’d surely get on board anything that made their jobs easier and better (think are doing this, not waiting for the government and also importantly engaging not with the government but much more progressive city-states. Ireland is different but I’ll bet you’ll get more from local organisations than trying to beat down the door of Leinster house.

Now that Ireland’s comfort zone is gone people should be a lot more keen to engage and work this.

I registered codeforireland this morning (before I saw this post) – have some ideas on what could be done with it, but nothing v concrete as yet…

@Sean, where do we get stuck in? Google Groups? An Etherpad doc? How can we help host and develop it? I’d imagine a Sourceforge/GitHub setup (with a friendlier face for non-techies of course.)

This sounds like a job for Rewired State – – would you like me to put you in touch with them?

I’d be happy to get stuck in – our area pages are an example of what we’ve done at RateMyArea to try and make public sector data usable:

Absolutely. We’ve seen what access to data can bring in terms of transparency and democracy. I need to do less talking about it though and more doing (so seeing a few others at it as well might spur me on – not to mention being held accountable to deliver something)

Thanks all for the feedback and pointers, keep them coming.

@Paul – The HSE thinks we have two daughters of different ages with the same name. Job number one – sanitize the data!

@Jeremy – Thanks. For the minute I just want to gauge local interest. I hate seeing things half-start and get nowhere due to lack of interest/momentum.

@John T – I think relationships with the right people in the right organisations will be the way to get/free the data we want. That will take far more effort than the technical side.

@John H – The FÁS black hole just gets deeper and deeper doesn’t it?

I’m all for this. One of the suggestions I would have is that you ‘point’ it at something the public cares about. For instance “the daft report” is now the real standard in “the state of the property market”. Can we use Phone + App + Photo + Location + Timestamp to encourage people to note their own waiting times in hospitals (step 2 log the amount of times someone spoke to them, asked them for specific information, etc.). Then you get what we call a customer Outside – In mapping of the health service Service Delivery from the customer perspective. Save “the story” and post it. Then make all the Service Delivery touchpoint information available to anyone for analysis.

Yes, Start with the Contact API, but (if I may be so bold) do something truly eyecatching to get buy in.

I like the way Kildare Street published nuggets such as “TD X Asked 1 Question Last Year”, or “X TD’s Attended This Session”, etc.

@Paul – there’s nothing to get stuck in to right now – I’m looking to see if I can get some interns working on projects over the Summer under this moniker…prob try to recreate apps that folks have done in other places.

Any thoughts on crowd-sourced apps where role of the authorities in data aggregation and analysis can be obviated? I’ve been thinking of crowd-sourced crime stats, the hospital waiting list use case is interesting (check in on FourSquare when you arrive and tell the system when you’ve finally been seen to???) – there must be more…

Hi, I’m all for this. But before make any move try to recognize data usage legality. Now I’m dealing with transport companies about public transport data usage. Story seems no end…

Worth reading the text of Chris Horn’s talk this morning at the Transforming Public Services Conference on eGovernment, organised by the Department of the Taoiseach. “There were about 200 participants, in Dublin Castle, representing many sectors of the public service nationwide. The Department of the Taoiseach has organised a series of such events to encourage best practice and sharing across the pubic service.” —

No problems, I know RwS are keen to extend the concept and encourage others, and have mentioned Ireland to me in passing before. Sure they’d be more than happy to assist in whatever capacity.

Thanks for the mention Conor – I have been working on Loc8 Codes now for nearly 6 years so be prepared for the long haul – but Loc8 is a reaction to a need and a demand – so once there is a need/demand – go for it.

If I can do anything I will,

Just wondering if anything has progressed in the last 4 months?

Hi Martin,

There has been more activity around Open Data recently such as the IIA event, and DERI Open Data hackathon. The change of Gov obviously slowed down any movements from their side.

I put a call out a few weeks back ( asking who is the relevant Minister and it appears to be Phil Hogan.

Whilst it’s nice to see the LGCSB heading in the right direction, without a big push from the right people, I fear this will remain a techie-only niche activity.

Hopefully we’ll see something from the likes of Gateway Ireland too.

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