The census and religion


Sir, – I am astonished that Atheist Ireland exists, feels the need to exist or has a chairman (Letters, July 17th). Are atheists defined by a shared (lack of) beliefs, with standards for maintaining membership, as other groups?

Its response to the census questions is as illogical as the religions it decries, suggesting increasing the number of questions about membership of groupings that it must regard as absurd.

Surely a more consistent approach would be a wry chuckle at the form rather than campaigning to convert others to their “beliefs”? What would Voltaire have said? – Yours, etc,



Co Galway.

Sir, – Barry Walsh (Letters, July 18th) objects strongly to the proposed changes to the census religion question as he says “only 0.14 per cent identified as atheist” while 78 per cent declared themselves as Catholic. Mr Walsh’s inaccurate portrayal of the 2016 results illustrates the problem with the way the data is collected and the question as he completely ignores the 10 per cent of the population who answered “No religion” or ignored the question altogether – this being a 73 per cent increase on the 2011 census numbers.

The scientific method tells us that how you ask the question does have an impact on the results. This is very clearly indicated by the HSE “Irish Study of Sexual Health and Relationships” of 2006. It describes its methods for peer review and included a religion question to analyse the influence of religion on sexual health and relationships. The authors went to some lengths (I would argue more logically than the CSO) to have a more balanced religion question. Their method found that 20.7 per cent of their sample declared as “not at all religious” and 38.1 per cent as “a little bit religious”, 29.7 per cent as “quite religious”, 10.2 per cent as “very religious” and 1.4 per cent as “extremely religious”.

Their sample size and method mean their results are statistically significant. Their result of 20.7 per cent as “not at all religious” illustrates the issue of Barry White’s claim that the CSO shows only 0.14 per cent are atheist. It shows that the CSO results from 2006, 2011 and 2016 significantly underestimated the numbers of “not at all religious” and that they will continue this error in 2021.

Finally Barry White does not say how he would count those who indicate “No religion” or do not answer the religion question at all on the census. Some people may have a problem with the word “atheist”. The dictionary definition is “a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods”. That would seem to fit those respondents rather well, unless Mr White has a better definition.

Meanwhile the census struggles to count what is clearly the second largest “religious” grouping in the country, far outstripping all the other non-Catholics combined – the growing ranks of the “not at all religious”. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – Perhaps the question on Religion in the forthcoming census should offer a multiple choice answer. With regard to “religion” are you: A) Wishful, B) Wistful, or C) Aghast? That should cover everyone. – Yours, etc,




Dublin 24.