Detailed data from last year’s census is now starting to emerge. It makes fascinating reading, revealing  a country with a vibrant growing population despite the economic downturn and the re-emergence of emigration.  It highlights the effects of recent inward migration (on which I have written previously) and also traces the (very )gradual greying of the Irish population. Those interested further should consult either of the two Irish websites or

The population of  the 26 Counties is now officially  4,588,252, the highest for 150 years. It has risen by over 25% since 1996 (five times the rate of the rest of the EU) and there is as yet no sign of a slowdown; indeed there has been a 7.6% increase since 2006, despite our economic woes. Moreover, most of this latest  increase is due to the number of births since 2006, which at 365,000, far exceeds the number of deaths, 141,000. The latest data paints a complicated picture, containing several elements. Apologies for what follows; perhaps Mark Twain was right!

Firstly migration, which has, not surprisingly, been the focus of a lot of attention. Non-nationals at 544,000 now account for 12% of the population. And it’s now official. Poles are Ireland’s largest national minority, at 122,600, more than the British. The number has increased by 94 % since 2006, with the number of women increasing by 142% and Polish born children by 300% to 14,000. These figures exclude 10,000 children born here to Poles. The next two largest communities are from the Baltic republics of Lithuania (36,683)  and Latvia (20,593), both up by 50%. The number of Romanians, at 17,304, has increased by 124%, and seems set to increase further, given that Romanians will only get unrestricted entry after January 2014. The Indian community now numbers 17,000, having doubled in five years..

Elsewhere, the number of Brazilians recorded was 8700, up 100%, while the figure for people from Mauritius, at 2844 was up by 344% ! (Interestingly the flow of arrivals from Mauritius has dried up since a visa requirement was introduced in January 2011, while the numbers arriving from Brazil continue to increase.) Nigerians remain by far the largest African community, up 8 % at 17,600, in a total of 41,642, while the number of Filipinos, at 12,791 (34% higher) now exceeds the number of resident Chinese in a declared Asian figure of 65,579. The figure for US citizens, at 11,015, is down by 11.7%. The number of Travellers, at 29,573, is up 32%, though this figure is already being disputed as an underestimate by Traveller groups.

Does this mean Ireland is now a fully-fledged multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society? You be the judge. Nine out of ten of the population are Irish, while the number of persons declaring themselves Catholics, at 84%,  has actually risen by 5% or 180,000, at a time when the number of regular mass goers is in decline. The increase in the number of Catholics is probably down to a combination of immigration (the staunchly Catholic Poles and Lithuanians in particular) and a growing  identification among many Irish with Catholicism  for cultural as much as religious reasons.

The number of Muslims has risen by 51% to 49,204, in total just over 1% of the population, but this represents only an extra 17,000 people in five years, about the same as the combined increase in “Other Christian “ and “Pentacostal” numbers. This is less than the increase in Orthodox Christians, up by 24,425, or 117%, to 45,223. Most other religions are also up significantly with the exception of Methodists, who have shown a sharp fall in numbers from over 12,000 to under 7,000. The numbers declaring no religion have risen by 45% to 270,000.

The shift in the cause of the population increase since 2006 has been dramatic. Between 2002 and 2006 net immigration accounted for two-thirds of the rise. The next five years have seen an almost exact reversal, with natural increase now supplying two thirds of the growth. The  Irish fertility rate has remained constant at 2.1% throughout the last decade – one of the highest in Europe – but the numbers of women of child bearing age have increased, and births since 2006 have totalled 365,000, a healthy average annual 73,000.The upward trend in population seems set to continue with Ireland’s national average age, at 36.1,  among the lowest in Europe. Moreover, despite the recession, while emigration has resumed, immigration has not stopped; in the year to April 2011 20,000 Irish nationals and 34,000 non-nationals relocated to Ireland.

It’s now possible to get some perspective also on the changing, gently greying, age profile of the Irish population over the last generation or so.  The population (and arguably the country)  hit a low in 1961 of 2,818,341. This included 877,000 under 15 years, around 30%, but only 392,000 between 15 and 25, and 315,000 over the age of 65, around 11%,  reflecting at once the large sizes of Irish families, the massive emigration of young adults up to 1960, and the effects of emigration and unhealthy lifestyles on life expectancy among the older sections of the population. This phenomenon, the very young comprising a large percentage of the population and the old a very much smaller one, was almost unique in Europe, and has taken half a century to change significantly.

The number of those under 15 peaked in 1981 at 1,043,729,  still around 30% of a population which had risen 22% in 20 years to 3,443,405, while  the figure for over 65s, though up to 368,954, remained stubbornly low at 11%,  as the effects of earlier emigration continued to work through the system.  Even in 1996, while the numbers over 65 had risen to 413,882, this still represented only just over 11% of a total population of 3,626,087. Here, however, the numbers under 15 had fallen to 859,424, under 24% of the total, representing some emigration but also heralding significant social change, with a marked rise in the status of women, increased availability of contraception and a shift to smaller families. The 2011 figures show this trend continuing, with 979,590 aged under 15, now down to 21.34% of the total.

On the face of it, the number of over 65s, while now up to 535,393, still seems modest enough at 11.67%. The trend towards greyness only becomes apparent when the figures for the preceding age group, 45-64, are also examined. There are now 1,042,879 in this category, up from  590,402 in 1981, but representing a percentage rise from 17 to almost 23% of the total. As these age, so the percentage of the over 65s will rise in tandem, bringing Ireland more into line with other European countries.

Further reports are to appear in the coming months, covering, inter alia, in greater detail, population distribution, housing, employment, health, cultural and religious diversity. These are important and will form the information base for the government’s strategic planning in areas such as education, health care and provision for the elderly. Right now the current data offers, notably, a positive snapshot of Ireland and her people as a timely counterweight to the prevailing climate of negativity.


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