Skip to content

Ireland is diversifying, says Dublin archbishop after census results

The Archbishop of Dublin said that census results released Tuesday show that Irish society is changing and diversifying. 

But, he told The Pillar, while the proportion of people identifying as Catholic in Ireland fell by 10% between 2016 and 2022, changes to the census question may have helped drive the result.

Archbishop Dermot Farrell of Dublin, Ireland. Courtesy of the Archdiocese of Dublin.

Archbishop Dermot Farrell said that preliminary census figures released May 30 by the country’s Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed that the Irish population was “changing and becoming more diverse.”

“Part of this reality is the reported change in the religious affiliation of the population, with those identifying as Roman Catholic in the 2022 Census representing 69% of respondents, compared to 79% of respondents in 2016,” he commented May 31 via email.

“However, the CSO has rightly pointed out that the structure of the question has changed radically between the two census forms. As a result, direct comparisons are problematic.”

The 2016 census form asked “What is your religion?” and listed “Roman Catholic” as the first option and “No religion” as the last. 

The 2022 form asked “What is your religion, if any?” and put “No religion” as the first option, followed by “Roman Catholic.”

David Quinn, the director of The Iona Institute, also highlighted the change in the religion question’s wording.

“Ireland is secularizing fast, but at the same time, a lot of non-Catholic migrants have come into the country in recent years which is also changing the picture,” he told The Pillar in a May 30 email.

“In addition, the census office changed the religion question and put ‘No religion’ as the first option. That has to have made a difference, otherwise why do it?”

Leave a comment

Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham, London, said that “religious survey questions are curiously sensitive to changes in wording.”

“So depending on question wording, a certain percentage can be nudged to answer, sincerely, one way or another,” he wrote on Twitter.

The number of people selecting the “No religion” box rose from 451,941 in 2016 to 736,210 in 2022, accounting for 14% of Ireland’s population. 

Archbishop Farrell said it was significant “that, in absolute terms, the number of people reported as Roman Catholic has fallen by less than 5%.”

He was referring to the new figure for the total number of Catholics in Ireland. The census said that there were 3,515,861 Catholics in 2022, compared to 3,696,644 in 2016, a fall of 180,783 or 4.9%.

The 10% decline in the percentage of people identifying as Catholics and the 5% drop in the total number of Catholics are partly explained by the increase in the overall Irish population between 2016 and 2022 due to immigration. While Catholic numbers are declining steadily, Catholics now form a smaller proportion of the overall population.

The 2022 census found that Ireland’s population had exceeded five million for the first time since 1851. 

“It is right that we should acknowledge, and indeed celebrate, the cultural benefits of a more diverse population as a result of the striking increase in immigration which has driven the significant increase in total population,” said Archbishop Farrell, who was installed as Archbishop of Dublin in 2021, succeeding Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

“The Roman Catholic population itself is reflecting and benefiting from a greater diversity of ethnic and national background.”

The proportion of Catholics varied considerably by region, according to the census, with a high of 80% in County Mayo, in the west of Ireland, and a low of 53% in Dublin city.

“As the region experiencing the greatest impact of immigration, it is not surprising that Dublin would report the greatest degree of religious diversity,” Archbishop Farrell noted.

Subscribe now