Why the census needs to be changed. We need a conversion from Religion.

Census 2016

Religion question

I have been trying since 2002 to have the census introduce some scientific logic to how the subject of religion is described and categorised. Overtures to the CSO and the Taoiseach’s office have met with no response.


Ireland has been in period of massive change and how the census is defined is unfortunately, showing that the way Irish society is developing is completely at odds with official Ireland. The census is under the Taoiseach’s office and it is clear that the way the question is set up shows a complete lack of understanding of classification. However, before coming to that, it is important to stress there has been a shift in the way Irish people address the issue of religion. When I arrived in Ireland I was asked on numerous occasions what Religion I was. Ireland has not moved from the Peace of Westphalia where the idea of viewing different denominations or Confessions as separate religions. When Bertie Ahern or Gaybo were speaking they always mixed up denominations and religions. It continues into the present. So instead of talking about the Christian religion and its various denominations each a sub division of Christianity, is treated as a separate religion in its own right. So when one attempted to have this anomalous situation changed there was heavy resistance. The implication of this is to give the Roman Catholic Church a predominant position but more about that later.However, there is a deeper problem in that the Catholic Church believes itself to be the Church founded by Christ. That means in practice they wish to say Catholicism =Christianity. So dialogue is nearly impossible  as they do not believe their dialogue partners are really the full shilling?


Section 16 and 17 clarify the points I am making above.

The Catholic Church does not use its own records for statistical purposes and depends on the CSO for its records. So when people try to leave the Catholic Church there is no mechanism to register this decision. But it is clear from the census form Catholics are the main beneficiaries of its current formulation as this article in the Irish Times makes clear.


However, for the last 40 years most Irish people are heavily resistant to the notion of religion and prefer to speak about spirituality. However, with the general Catholic consensus people in the media and in society talk about people being very religious whatever that means. Most religious groupings have some form of child initiation which means their numbers are inflated. There is also the very unscientific view that Islam is the fastest growing religion in Ireland. This is based on the figures of having the highest group of immigrants coming into the state. I would argue that Islam has had the least growth in people from Irish society joining than any other group. Also we have the strange situation where many commentators came to the conclusion that No Religion showed that there was a massive increase in Atheists which is not what it shows at all. This post from January 2014 addresses this issue.


Catholicism because of the arrival of Eastern Europeans after 2004 had an increase at the last census. However, Catholicism is showing a massive decline in actual membership as distinct from the Birth rite Catholics who are significant section of the church.
The group that has shown the greatest actual growth over the last 30 years are Evangelicals in general, in the historic Protestant Churches, Pentecostals have likely had the greatest growth but generally there seems to be a plateau and growth is not as strong as it was. Interesting Evangelicals if asked about religion would say they hate religion as they see it as representing a kind of natural religion totally opposed to Christianity. Also for Humanists and Atheists they are being discriminated against by referring to Religion in the first place.


Each Question in detail

This is the current configuration with the figures in thousands.
Population classified by religion, 2011 Thousands
Roman Catholic 3,861.3
Church of Ireland 134.4
Muslim (Islamic) 49.2
Presbyterian 24.6
Orthodox 45.2
Other religions 130.8
No religion 269.8
Not stated 72.9
Total 4,588.2

First you note the completely incoherent manner in which the “Religions” are categorised. As you have noted earlier the idea of treating each confession or denomination as a separate religion. Then you have the bizarre situation where Muslim or the strange idea of Islamic appearing where it should read Islam. However not there in the middle of Christian Denominations? But it comes between Church of Ireland and Presbyterian.
Also usually one follows alphabetical order. So why is Roman Catholicism in first place? But that is really not the problem. We need to get proper statistics so I would suggest we get rid of the Religion question altogether and substitute it with a term that is neutral in regard to having faith or not. I would for now wait till after the census and come up with a better solution. Note in this table they have left out no. 6 which asks “Other Religion.” One can obtain a greater breakdown of the actual figures so that at one stage there were more Pantheists than there were Atheists. That is because Atheists do not like being categorised around the issue of Religion at all. The Atheists have suggested and have recommended their members using the “No Religion” section.

Evangelical Christians are suggesting that their members use the heading “Other,”
and put in the category “Evangelical Christian.”
Note also that the other category “Other,” has a significant number of people signed up in the 2011 census.

The current census form leads to confusion and misrepresentation. It is totally confusing and shows one of the problems of not having the scientific study of religion in Ireland until 2007. Most countries have had this discipline since the eighteenth Century. Also it is clear no proper sociological discipline was exercised in this bizarre categorisation. There is a need for all parties hold a round table discussion and agree on categorisation.

From enquiries made it is clear that there is little desire for change in the Taoiseach’s Office, but it is essential that this very poorly constructed question is revised to have the answers be of any use for citizens of the future. So we need to after the election to join forces with those who wish to see the changes which will be of actual use to us in the future. We understand there is a willingness to change but as is now the norm no funding for it.

One Response

  1. very interesting article, more progress needs to be made on this issue by the census office which appear to be totally out of touch.


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