The Census 2002 figures released yesterday show a sharp rise in non-Catholic groups, underlining the rapidly changing face of Irish society.
The Muslim community is represented by 40 nationalities and is one of the new religious forces in Ireland narrowly trailing the Presbyterian population. The Methodist community is also increasing rapidly, with 10,000 living in Ireland.
The census reveals a fascinating insight into changing cultural, religious and social trends.
There were 35,100 people divorced between 1996 - when the census was previously carried out - and 2002. Separation cases topped 133,800 last year compared to 87,800 in 1996.
The number of families in the State increased by 30% to 1.6 million. The fastest growing family category is that of childless couples.
The family size is smaller with the average number of children declining from 2.2 in 1986 to 1.6 in 2002. The census authors attribute this to “falling fertility”. However, it is more likely attributable to conscious decisions by parents to have less children.
The principal demographic results in the census also confirmed more than half the surging 3.9 million population lives in Leinster. The province’s share of the overall population increased by 8%.
Dublin’s Fingal area has the youngest population, with an average age of 32, while Leitrim and Roscommon boasts the oldest population, with the average age of 38 years. Overall, the population has aged by a year since 1996 leading to an average age of 35.
As a consequence of the population getting older, 113,800 are aged 65 or more, with 59,800 over 75.
With an estimated 900 people arriving in Ireland daily, immigration flows are impacting on the religious demographic. The fourfold increase in Muslims was welcomed by Sheikh Hussein Halawa, who heads the religious community in Ireland. Refugees from war-stricken states in Europe and Africa boosted the Muslim population since the mid-1990s.
“Previously, the Muslim community in Ireland was largely single men but, in recent years, that changed dramatically with many children being born here,” he said.
The long-term decline in the number recorded as Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist was reversed during the last intercensal period 1991-2002. The Roman Catholic population increased by over 234,000, a 7% hike, but in a general population percentage, it fell from 91.6% in 1991 to 88.4% last year.
Meanwhile, Paul Rowe, chief executive of Educate Together, an umbrella body for around 30 multi- denominational schools, said the Government was not doing enough to create schools where diversity in the local population required them.
“The census figures show just how significant a number in our society are not Catholic, yet 99% of schools are either Catholic or Church of Ireland,” he said.