The Irish Times view on the census results: a vital policy tool

The trends shown in the figures have vital implications for Government decisions, pointing to an Ireland which is ageing and short on State capacity in many areas

Government policy needs to be based on reliable evidence. And the Census of Population, undertaken by the Central Statistics Office, is among the most vital sources of data. The first set of detailed results from the 2022 census, published yesterday, provides an updated snapshot of the State, covering key social and economic policy areas.

It may not contain anything hugely surprising – the topline figures showing the population rising to over 5 million for the first time in 171 years had already been published. But putting numbers on key trends is valuable. And as the survey, taken on April 3rd, 2022, was the 26th census in a series dating back to 1841, we have a longer-term record of a changing Ireland.

Ireland is ageing, still largely Roman Catholic – even if more people now categorise themselves as being of no religion – but with an increasingly diverse population. Non-Irish residents now account for 12 per cent of the population and immigration is a key driver of population growth. On average in each year between 2016 and 2022 net migration added just over 36,600 to the population, while the natural increase – births minus deaths – was just under 28,000.

Interestingly, the number of occupied dwellings increased by 8 per cent between 2016 and 2022, matching the rise in the population. The proportion of people renting, as opposed to owning a home, continues to increase. Average house size is rising, particularly in Dublin, a sign of the housing crisis. And there are clear outcomes from the pandemic; there was a fall in the number of people reporting their health was “good” or “very good” and a rise in homeworking.


Each of these trends has implications for policy, in many cases fundamental. The scale of the rise in the size of the population in recent years is ahead of earlier forecasts – as is its concentration in the east and midlands. In turn this has led to shortages and queues – too few houses, hospital beds, school and childcare places. Using the extraordinary – if possibly transitory – strength of the public finances to tackle these shortcomings is the central political challenge. The State’s capacity needs to be rebuilt.

The ageing of the population also points to vital, longer-term, policy issues. It will put more pressure on the health services and a clear message is the increased number of people who are unpaid carers, a section of the population which needs greater support. Meanwhile, an older population also means a higher pensions bill. And as the jobs market booms, immigration is likely to keep pushing the population higher, as well as providing vital skills in some areas.

More, much more, is to come as the CSO mines the data. It is a vital tool for Government – policy based on evidence is always better than that which relies on partial data and hunches.