Religious Faces in Ireland are changing

The National Census 2002 report was released in early April. The new figures on religious faith have revealed an obvious change in religious makeup in the Republic of Ireland.

According to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the number of Roman Catholics increased by over seven per cent to almost 3.5 million.

However, because of an 11 per cent increase in Ireland's population, the share of Roman Catholics actually fell from almost 92 per cent in 1991 to just over 88 per cent in 2002. The Roman Catholic Church's dominant position has slipped slightly.

For the first time since Irish independence from Britain more than 80 years ago, the numbers of main Protestant denominations have grown.

As well as the growth of the main Protestant denominations, memberships of minority religions have also grown. The religions showing the biggest increase were the Muslim and the Orthodox faiths.

The number of Muslims more than quadrupled to 19,000 in the past ten years, and Orthodox adherents soared from just 400 in 1991 to over 10,000. It could be attributed to the arrival of many immigrants from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe over the past decade.

Moreover, atheists in Ireland have more than doubled in number over the past 10 years. Almost half of those without a religion were aged between 20 and 39 and of those, 60 per cent were male. This has shown the desperate need to restore Christian heritage among the young generation, which is a common challenge for churches in the United Kingdom.

Nevertheless, Ireland remains a strong religious country compared with some of its European neighbours, especially in its levels of church attendance and the area of education.