Ireland puts its faith in education, not religion

People living in Ireland prioritise education above all else, are most unhappy with the country’s health services, and rank religion…

People living in Ireland prioritise education above all else, are most unhappy with the country’s health services, and rank religion and spirituality as the least important thing in their lives, according to a new study.

The VitalSigns survey, conducted by a philanthropic group Community Foundation for Ireland (CFI), provides a snapshot of trends and issues affecting people in modern Ireland.

The report graded 12 areas which most affect people’s quality of life, and asked respondents to rank their priorities in each area.

Of the 119 priority options presented to respondents, eight of the top 10 items listed related to education and learning. The quality of the education system; literacy levels; universities and third-level education; and early childhood education topped the priority rankings in that order.


Educational attainment

Libraries and reading, numeracy levels and educational attainment rates also featured.

Air quality and the quality of home life for children and young people were the only two non-educational areas to be listed in the top 10.

Perhaps the most surprising finding was the ranking of religion and spirituality, which respondents placed last of all 119 priority options, despite the country’s once strong Catholic identity.

Ireland achieved an overall grade of C+ when people’s satisfaction ratings with life were collated. A comparable study for people living in Toronto also scored a C+, with Vancouver scoring B.

The area that people were most satisfied with was arts and culture, rating this B+, with respondents citing the welter of concerts and festivals on offer each year and access to heritage sites.

Education and learning achieved a rating of C+, as did overall safety, with people mentioning emergency response times and trust in police as key priorities.

The areas that people were least satisfied with were work, equality and financial wellbeing at C-, housing at C- and health and wellbeing which also received a C- and stood out as the area that people were least satisfied with. Access to healthcare, mental health and the overall quality of the health service ranked as people’s top health priorities.

In the older people category, Ireland achieved a rating of C+, with the main concerns relating to engagement in community, social connections and loneliness, and end-of-life care.

The report’s author, Ruth Cullen, said the survey’s overall findings were positive and were a “good reflection” of society’s values.

“Our main priorities are learning, environment and young people, and these are all forward-thinking sustainable priorities, and a welcome change to the fast living and reckless decision-making of the recent past.”

CFI’s chief executive Tina Roche said: “The better we understand our communities, the better equipped we are to make decisions and take action to improve them. Ireland’s VitalSigns 2013 tells us what makes Ireland vibrant and what we have to celebrate.

“The report also highlights a number of gaps and challenges that we are facing.”

The VitalSigns study was based on a survey of over 1,000 people, conducted by CFI volunteers in September and October last year.


It was conceived by the Toronto Community Foundation, but has since been adopted elsewhere in Canada and abroad as a barometer of a population’s wellbeing.

Ireland is the first European country to conduct its own Vital Signs survey, but plans are under way for a similar one in the UK.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times