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30 April 2012 Edition

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This is (part of) Ireland


We need to move beyond seeing census information as a form of entertainment and towards using it as a call to serious thinking and taking action

“A CHANGED COUNTRY rooted in tradition,” the newspapers told us, “overwhelmingly Catholic” and “experiencing a population explosion”, while “family breakdown soars”. This was their take on the premilinary results of Census 2011 on ‘official Ireland’ (26 Counties being passed off as ‘Ireland’). The Irish Government’s Central Statistics Office even called its report ‘This is Ireland — Highlights from Census 2011.’

News-hunting eyes poring over the Census figures went into a rabbit-like trance, unable to decide if the 134-page report meant that the state was going forward or back, looking to the future or holding onto the past. Yes, there were a lot of clichés with variations of  the term ‘tradition’ in them.

The Irish Times front-page headline on 29 March tried to hold both these positions when it declared that the 26 Counties was “a country changed yet still rooted in tradition”. A census, though, is a critical tool for looking forward to Ireland’s future and planning based on the information ascertained. Surely the time for navel gazing about ‘traditional Ireland’ (if such a thing ever existed) has long gone.

So, yes, divorce rates are up 150% since 2002 to 87,770, with 116,194 people separated. There were 1.17million families in the state, where 70% of the cohabitants were married and 84% of people on Census night categorised themselves as Catholics. But there are other vitally important social statistics emerging from the Census that Government should be cogniscent of.

The population is growing and for the 26 Counties it checked in at 4,588,252. There was an 8.2% increase in the 26 Counties since 2002 but the last three Census reports have measured population growth of 8% or more. The total urban population is just over 2.84million compared to a rural total 1.74million.

There has been an 18% increase in the male population over 65 and 12% for women, pointing up the need for forward planning now to adequately cater for the health and care needs of this sector. The average age of the population is 36.1. Almost 28% of people over the age of 65 live alone: that’s 136,295 people.

The figures show that 766,700 residents were born outside Ireland — 115,193 from Poland, which explains why Polish is the second most-spoken language in 26-County homes (Irish came in third). Interestingly, the Census records 58,470 people born in the Six Counties living in the 26 Counties. The number of non-Irish nationals increased by 124,624 since 2002 to 544,357 people, or 12% of the population.

One good example of the importance of the Census is figures for renting homes. Nearly 475,000 households declared themselves as renters, yet this state has little legal protection for renters, no rights to long-term leases, or no rent control but still the massive hangover of decades of uncontrolled property speculation.

Seven out of ten rural homes were dependent on oil for central heating. In urban areas, it is 30% oil, 50% gas so surely here is a manifesto for renewable energy strategy across the island.

There are 230,056 vacant homes (59,395 of them are holiday homes) and again a clear need for a government strategy and response. This figure doesn’t include a total for uncompleted dwellings. In Dublin, 10% of inhabitable dwellings are vacant.

This is only the first in series of reports on the Census. There will be many more in the coming months and still point up the need to move beyond seeing information as a form of entertainment to a call to serious thinking and taking action.

Finally, when will we have a united Ireland statistically speaking? The Six Counties also had a Census in April 2011. An Phoblacht asked the North’s Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) on when its first report would be published. July 2012 is the planned date to release preliminary statistics and hopefully these can become part of a concerted all-Ireland strategy to plan a better Ireland before the next Census, due in 2021.

What we can do now is update the island population figures. 4,588,252 was the 2011 26-County total population figure. The most recent figures for the Six Counties (taken from the 2010 Mid-Year Population Estimates) put this figure at 1,799,392, giving us an all-Ireland population of 6,387,644. Isn’t this combined total something worth planning a better future for?


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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