Census 2016 will tell us a lot about modern Ireland

The census on April 24th will give a picture of Irish life that will inform policymakers

Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny  with  Teresa Moran, Raheny, aged 100, who has been counted in 17 censuses, and Dorothea Findlater, Blackrock, who is 106 years’ old and has been counted in 18 censuses.  Photograph: Conor McCabe

Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Teresa Moran, Raheny, aged 100, who has been counted in 17 censuses, and Dorothea Findlater, Blackrock, who is 106 years’ old and has been counted in 18 censuses. Photograph: Conor McCabe

 

In the past century the national census has been taken 18 times. Census 2016 takes place on April 24th, the 100th anniversary of the Rising.

The form, running to 24 pages, must be completed on behalf of every person who is resident in the State that night. Those who are abroad on holidays or business will not be counted.

It is a huge undertaking and will involve more than 5,200 field staff, mostly enumerators, who will distribute and collect the forms.

The census returns provide a wealth of information. At its most basic, it tells you what the State’s population is. The last census, in 2011, showed the population was 4,588,252.

If it is closer to 5 million this year, it will show that the net effect of newborn children and migrants has outweighed deaths and emigration.

Expanded

The census will give an accurate picture of the age of the population, or which areas of the country are being denuded of people and which areas have vastly expanding populations.

It gives accurate information on modes of transport, as well as the type of schools being attended.

It also allows us to see the reach of, for example, rural broadband into the countryside. Armed with such information, policymakers will know where new schools should be located, or whether health services should be more focused on the needs of an ageing population.

For example, in Census 2011, a special report was drawn up that gave a picture of how many homeless people there were in Ireland.

The total count for people sleeping in accommodation for homeless people or sleeping rough was 3,808. While other groups self-identify, the counts of homeless people were conducted by people working in homeless shelters or by specialists working on the streets.

Only 64 were found to have been sleeping rough in the State on that night, which seems a little on the low side.

Difficulties

One of the difficulties in preparing for this census is that most of the planning was done during 2013 and 2014, when the recession was still biting and there were fewer resources.

It is the practice of the CSO not to include any new questions unless they have been field-tested.

That means a pilot scheme involving about 12,000 households. However, the resources were not available then.

There have been calls for new questions to be included to reflect the evolving nature of Irish society. They include more specificity in questions on religion and ethnicity, as well as other major issues.

This is a “no change” census which means the questions remain unaltered from five years ago. The only material change are questions that reflect the legal status of same-sex unions and marriages.