The 2022 Census results, released today, revealed a dramatic increase in the non-religious and an accelerating rate of decline in Catholicism. The data published by the Central Statistics Office shows that the number of people identifying with ‘No religion’ increased by 62.8 %, from 451,941 in 2016 to 736,210 in 2022. Non-religious people now represent 14% of the total population. The number of people ticking ‘Catholic’ has fallen most steeply, from 78.3% to 69%. This data shows that Irish society has changed considerably, and the State must pay attention to this.
Yet, non-religious people continue to face discrimination in areas like education, school patronage and the provision of pastoral support in hospitals, prisons and the defence forces. These census figures should serve as a wake-up call to the State which has an obligation to ensure equal treatment for all its citizens.
The Humanist Association of Ireland (HAI) ran a “Mark No Religion” campaign ahead of Census 2022, urging those who do not have a religion or who no longer practice a religion to mark “No Religion” on the Census form. The HAI CEO Jillian Brennan noted at the time that it was the only way to ensure a fairer representation and a greater voice for the non-religious when key policy decisions such as the allocation of resources and funding were being made.
The question on religion was reworded for the 2022 census. “What is your religion?” in the 2016 Census was a leading question, which assumed that everyone had a religion, and in the past, this encouraged many people with no religious beliefs to tick a religious box purely out of cultural affiliation. Subsequently, following representations from the HAI and other organisation, the Census Advisory Group agreed to change the wording of the religious question to “What is our religion, if any?” with “No Religion” being the first option on the checklist in the Census 2022 form.
The results of 2022 Census clearly show that the number of non-religious people in Ireland is increasing. This should be reflected in the national and local government’s plans and policy decisions regarding resources and spending, a prime example being allocation of funding for essential services such as health, children’s education and social care.