Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Census 2011 questions on religion - or otherwise - leave room for error

The idea of the Census is to provide information. Yet, like any questionnaire, the quality of the data gathered depends very much on how the questions are asked.

Take the matter of religion, or lack thereof.  I happen to be an atheist, yet Question 12 baldly asks “What is your religion?”. The assumption is made that you have one.  Sure, way down the list – after all the various religious franchises have had a mention – comes Option 7: “no religion”.

Brian Whiteside, writing in yesterday’s Irish Times, describes the confusion that could arise as a result of the authorities framing the questions as they have:

“People who come from a religious background but no longer practice any religion and have no religious belief would most likely answer No to the question “Do you have a religion?” But when asked “What is your religion?”, followed by a series of options including the one the person was born into, that person may tick the box of the religion they were brought up in but no longer practice.

"But if people are in doubt, won’t they be helped by their enumerator, the person hired to distribute and collect the forms and answer questions about the census? Well, they’ll be helped all right; but on the question of religion the enumerators have been instructed to guide people to fill in the form to reflect their background rather than their current position. How does this help us plan for Ireland’s future?”

Whiteside’s point is that the authorities supposedly use the information gathered from the Census to plan for the future. If that information is not acquired in a straightforward, honest way it will be inaccurate, and will not reflect demand for non-denominational schools, for instance.

The same applies to questions concerning Gaeilge. Current census figures state that 1.6 million speak it, which is clearly nonsense as this figure includes children above the age of three in an education system where Gaeilge is compulsory. Was I a Gaeilge speaker when I was four then?

Likewise, any question that relies on self-assessment could be said to be inherently flawed. Does an ability to say “Can I go to the toilet” as Gaeilge make one a fluent speaker? You would wonder how many half-wits with a few words of Christian Brothers Gaeilge might think so when framing their Census responses.

The errant information, in this instance, serves only to put a rosy gloss on the supposed number of Gaeilge speakers in Ireland… something that might please the Gaeliban, as their concern is window-dressing.  Reality is something they have little time for.

More worrying, however, is the question on religion. If the Government claims to use Census figures to cater for future needs, how much does a badly asked question on religion - or none - skew the figures?

And if the feedback is inaccurate,  how can it meet the country's future requirements for inclusive, vernacular, non-denominational education?

Back to Gombeen Nation main page


Anonymous said...

Skew the Figures
Not only have they skewed the figures, they have skewed and screwed Ireland. The dual fulminating cancers (Gaeilge and the Church) have robbed the bodies, minds and souls of the people with lies, greed and subterfuge, and they will continue to do so until there is a radical excision of these cancers in Ireland. Is anyone surprised that the Census is skewed?

Ella said...

Hi GM, in the main the thing that's occupying Joe's listeners is the privacy issue - my neighbour is the enumerator. I don't think anybody raised the issue of relgion or "our first language", all of which is quite telling really.

Dakota said...

I wonder is there any questions which ask, how far you think the country is down the swanee?
Or how big your car is? Or do you know what an indicator is for (multiple choice, that one) Or did you ever hire a helicopter for the communion (if so how many propellers - again multiple choice)? Or what about that new kitchen which cost 30,000 euro (any room for that?)? Is there a suitably trendy question which might hint to future generations how far up the bling ladder you were in 2011? Tracksuits perchance anyone? Or do you have a residence west of the shannon (if so you won't be liable for property tax but you'll have to pay for the bottled water, don't you know).
Oh what about how far the price of your house has gone south? Or do you think any Irish person gives a toss one way or the other, about anything?
Do you keep horses on your landing?
Or what you think about the banks - looks like monopoly will only be for a select few after tomorrow..... Oh what about, are you left or right, HANDED that is, not politics of course, as there is no dicotomy in Irish politics.
Eh what about a luminous question which asks, do you wish Ireland was ruled by an agnostic sect of human fish hybrids from outer Patagonia? Emmmmm what about the question do you laugh yourself into a comatose state, everytime you think about the last 15 years of """"ECONOMIC EXPANSION""" in this wonderful country. Eh, emm I wonder would they add a bit of light refreshment to the census????
Finally do you think, OIRELAND, is really ruled by a group of far right (that's just left of the centre) OIRISH speakers from a shack in a secret location west of the shannon? Ah well tis only your future they'll be asking about. Of course they won't be trying to second guess anything. Sure don't ya know, nothing has REALLY changed.

Anonymous said...

Change "Gaeilge and the Church" to blacks and Muslims and it's race hatred. So there is nothing good about the Irish language and Christianity that they should be called cancers. Self hatred is the worst form of racism.

What are your politics Gombeen Man? Why don't uou stand for election and see popular your views are?

Ella said...

@Anon 21h02 "change Gaeilge with black" - change a language with a colour - mad stuff. Change Church (capital C I note!) with Muslim - erm well I've checked my census form & there is space to chose 1 of 5 different relgious franchises (Roman Catholic and Islam are both there). There is a 6th option for Other. The 7th is no religion, so what is your point?

Q14 asks do you speak Irish, well the answer for me is a resounding NO, I've barely spoken a word since I got a B in my leaving cert in 1983. And if most people are honest their answer should also be NO.

In defence of GM, his blog is anonymous, so what's to say he is not an elected representative? I think there are many people out there who would love to see Irish as a leaving cert option and not compulsory and are disgusted at the amount of our money that is used to keep a dead language alive.

anna said...

Atheists tick off census
for religious leaning
Justine McCarthy ( Dialogue website|) 7th march
DUBLIN’S Dart commuters are to be urged to tick the “no religion” box in next month’s census. A two-week campaign, costing €2,800, will begin with the appeal: “If you don’t practise any religion then mark the ‘no religion’ box. It’s important.” The campaign is being mounted by the Humanist Association of Ireland (HAI), which has 600 members. Atheist Ireland, which has 450 paid-up members, is running a separate online campaign, “Be Honest to Godless in the Irish Census”. Both organisations say the layout of the religion question is confusing and liable to produce an inaccurate result.
Question 12 is : “What is your religion?” It is followed by six possible answers: Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Islam, Presbyterian, Orthodox and other. A seventh option, “no religion”, appears beneath two columns of 20 boxes provided to specify “other”. Humanists and atheists believe many respondents will not notice the 7th option until they have already ticked one of the boxes above it. Only one box should be ticked.
“The question assumes you have a religion,” said Bob Rees, of HAI. “Those with no religion are likely to skip to the next question or to write in ‘atheist’ or ‘lapsed Catholic’ in the empty boxes. By the time they spot the ‘no religion’ box, it’ll be too late.” “They should ask: ‘Do you have a religion?’ and ‘If so, what is it?’” said Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland. “Most atheists don’t consider atheism a religion and wouldn’t tick the ‘other’ religion box. We believe the results are inaccurate, and that’s a serious issue because they’re relied on for political lobbying and state planning.” The HAI made an unsuccessful application to the CSO in 2008 to have the formula changed for 2011. A pilot census was conducted in 2009 without any change to the religion question. In the April 2006 census, 186,318 respondents described themselves as irreligious, nonreligious, atheist or agnostic. It was the second-biggest category after Roman Catholic (3,681,456) and ahead of Church of Ireland (125,580). The choices are not listed in alphabetical order but, with the exception of the “no religion” option, in order of the largest responses in the last census. Gerard Bradley of the CSO acknowledged “no religion” was the second-biggest category in 2006. “Nevertheless, the question was laid out in the same manner,” he said. “It could be argued the layout of the form did not affect people seeing option seven.”

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know who this anonymous irascible asshole is who is going on about Blacks and Muslims? I do not get the point he is making or why he is being acrimonious to GM. This fellow needs to get out more!

anna said...

Yes there is a big Irish internet campaign out there to get non believers to say this on Irish census from’
Also found fascinating stuff from Irish journalist and non believer Gerard Cunningham- his site is - When I tried to find article again, I still couldn’t trace it on his site:
ANYWAY- he says there were only about 1100 atheists in census in 1961- non believers are now 2nd largest group in Ireland , you may find article by trawling though his site. OH AND about 1200 different splinter religions do get noted by Irish CSO.
AND he mentioned the ‘Jedi’ religion phenomena- never heard of that before:

Here’s part of ‘Jedu Census phenomena ‘ Wikipoedai :
Many people in censuses in Englsih speaking countries have declared themselves as Jedi ( from Oz-UK-Ireland- Canada) :
In England and Wales 390,127 people (almost 0.8%) stated their religion as Jedi on their 2001 Census forms, surpassing Sikhism, Judaism, and Buddhism, and making it the FOURTH largest reported religion in certain English counties ( see map) In the 2001 Census 2.6% of the population of Brighton claimed to be Jedi. The percentages of religious affiliations were:
Christian: 70.0%
No religion: 14.7%
Chose not to respond: 7.8%
Muslim: 3.1%
Hindu: 2.1%
Jedi: 0.7%

anna said...

Joe Duffy callers worry about privacy if their neighbour is an enumerator? I was a 1991 NI census enumerator. We gave special envelopes to people we knew - we got their forms back Sealed ( Only if they chose to do so- most had nothing to hide). If they made mistakes census HQ dealt with them directly.
Also for a no of years in UK & NI Religion question has been Voluntary.
I Found a link to a site on increasing number s of non believers in NI census - non believers in NI are up.

In 1991, last census I was in NI for , after hard thought, I put myself down as Catholic and Irish speaking- 2 things I URGE ROI people Not to do! And why?
I am acutely aware of excesses of religion - but I’m still mildly religious. I could say I am Christian ( all major religions have at heart the same Humanistic principles, often not followed but that’s another thing- so maybe I believe a bit in them all) .I am also a bit of a new age hippy. Whatever my reasons, I am not a non - believer: Universe is too big and awesome to have come from nothing, some day when I get time I Will study philosophy etc,
BUT I long departed with catholic church - but put myself as catholic on 1991 NI census - why? Unlike ROI , Catholic church was more timid in NI and Catholics were ( Decades ago- I don’t want to sound like a shinner) 2nd class citizens . I won’t even mention Bloody Sunday etc etc- a line has been drawn there.
In the orange tinted mists of the past Unionist governments never did Think of the catholic problem- as there just weren’t enough to really matter, leading Ian Paisley to confidently say’ Majority Rule!!’ So in 1991 , to promote social fairness I said I was catholic- as old Unionist policies of ‘majority rule’ were not conductive to social equality. Ditto identifying myself as speaking some Irish- this is Ireland, so our culture should be respected and preserved- at times it wasn’t under old Stormont government. Time moves on. Population of NI has nearly reached 50/50 Protestant/Catholic.
Do I think there is respect for Catholics and Irish language in the north. Yes. If I did a census form in NI who would I be? The religion Q in NI/ Uk is Voluntary so I might not answer or identify myself as Christian - but not catholic. Or Irish speaking - I don’t need to boost respect for those categories in NI anymore by ticking those boxes,
But down here-NO Don’t tick those boxes!!
Only tick Irish if a fluent Irish speaker- anything else only leads to continuing the pretence that this country is not majority English speaking.
And catholic? Even if I WAS a practising catholic I wouldn’t tick that box- I ‘d be too ashamed of my churches abuse in schools and would want them to clean their image by giving up the schools. Education Minister Ruari Quinn is at the moment trying to wrest 50% of primary schools off the catholic church- and less Catholics showing in this census will help him a lot.

Anonymous said...

A Dublin 'wag' (the best in the world)said "Ah, sure I wouldn’t worry about it, an old friend who works for the government told me that they write the results of the census, even before they send out the forms".

With The Irish Government's standard of deviousness, nothing would surprise me. This afternoon we are to learn that Ireland is in even deeper shit of financial doom, and the benefits and big pensions still go to “Irish The Elite” You know, "Irish eyes should be crying", God they have reason to!

anna said...

LEST WE FORGET: It’s the 30th anniversary of the brutal death of NI census enumerator Joanne Mathews- all because Sinn Fein decided not to co-operate with the 1981 census. SF had a long history of census non co-operation , see below. I can understand the 1st time ( 1921) due to many Anglo Irish troubles of the time …but carrying on this boneheaded campaign into the 1980’s in NI- culminating in a callous murder…?
I got this off the web, mostly from
“Sinn Fein instructed its supporters to boycott the 1921 census. Indeed, it instructed all Irish people living in England not to co-operate.. In 1971, 300 republicans burned their census forms in Belfast, and 25 Catholic priests refused to fill in their forms as a protest against "partial judiciary".
More shockingly, an enumerator called Joanne Mathers was shot dead in Derry in N In 1981. She was only 25. She had taken a part-time job as an enumerator, after giving up a full-time job to look after her 2-year-old son. Since she was a Presbyterian, she had arranged, and been Granted safe passage by SF (the e census took place during the hunger strikes at the Maze prison, and just 4 days before the election of Bobby Sands to Westminster ). Gripping her clipboard, she was just beginning to help a man complete his form; it was in Anderson Crescent. What happened next was brief and bloody. A masked gunman seized her clipboard with one hand, and fired straight into her head with the other. Joanne Mathers cried out, and seemed to propel herself past the householder, who tried in vain to slam the door. The murderer - an IRA man - vanished, snatching the census forms on his way. Joanne was dead within a minute. No reason was ever offered for her casual killing; that she was an enumerator was enough.”
( British government immediately stopped the census in NI- even though it wasn’t quite completed, and enumerators were told to hand back whatever forms they had- and not to go out any more. Therefore 1981 census in NI was incomplete.)
Ten years later, Sinn Fein urged compliance with the census for the first time- the reason? Because the 1991 census was going to show nos of catholic in NI population
were increasing ( in fact they were in 1981-and commentators at the time said SF should d have backed it then for that reason).
But why should these brutal boneheads have ever decided that the census was illegal anyway and that census workers were ‘legitimate tragets?’
ANYWAY SF decided that it was Ok for me to work on the 1991 census- WOW thanks as I was unemployed- but I was acutely aware that 10 years before a young woman was murdered for that- by those who claimed to speak for me and or Irish freedom.
Hers some comments from
1)Originally Posted by Ó Donnchadha 
30 years ago is a long time. 30 years ago we called Vietnamese Gooks and Dinks. Today they live next to me in America. Time moves on.
A Census taker in those hyper times represented the crown. The crown committed crimes against humanity. It was what it was (*)
(Reply1)You're a fecking idiot with no understanding of what goes on here at all

(Reply 2)I posted earlier that even at the time (1981) people were stunned at this murder .
*- For reasons like this republican bonehead, I frequent very few Irish blog spots.

anna said...

Does the IRA murder of a Protestant census worker in NI matter now? Yes it is still shocking- and I noticed SDLP has recently welcomed a re-opening of the murder case. But seeing the comment son Politics .i.e. which say that anything the IRA and SF say and do is good and right- and anything the Brits do is bad.-, and the Eirigi nutters opposing the Queens visit shocks me and makes me despair.
NI moved on a long way - the NI schools curriculum includes compulsory modules on mutual understanding and respect among protestant and catholic communities- compulsory in all schools in NI.
I never stop being Shocked at the anti British hatred of certain people down here- I Never even saw anything like it in the north from people I knew who had relatives who had died at the hand of the British forces.
I always feel that since creation of the State there was only the haziest notion of real pride in the country- but hatred of what we were not ( Not British ) was fostered instead. This despite the fact that 250,000 people in this country originated from the he UK.
However this last comment on that poor woman’s murder makes me think that this country, like NI, should start teaching a mutual respect curriculum, for the country we used to be part of , to counteract decades and decades of brainwashing. After all - Despite what many Irish like to think , the British do Not hate the Irish back with the same venom.
Do Irish teacher s like the Eirigi nut I met a few weeks ago ( who was busy protesting the Queens visit) think it is perfectly OK to teach hatred for a neighbouring nation- that it now busy absorbing 100,000s of our unemployed? Do teachers in any other EU nation think this is acceptable conduct?
I think we need a curriculum that teaches genuine self respect., and pride in our nation .nd somehow I don’t think it will happen till all our schools are out of catholic church control: somehow I think these schools taught too much blind obedience to authority, an unquestioning attitude and of course an unquestioning republicanism,.

Anonymous said...

Anna said
"I think we need a curriculum that teaches genuine self respect., and pride in our nation" is beautiful poetry. It sums everything up !!!


Anonymous said...

Please don't misrepresent the questions on the form;
The question is "What is your religion?" not "What religion do you practise?". Likewise the question is "Can you speak Irish?" not "Do you speak Irish?"

Don't complain about skewing the figures when you yourselves are skewing the questions to suit your agenda.

As regards the "Gaeilge" problem, 1.6m people say they can speak it (not that they do speak it GM).

Clearly there are not 1.6m who can speak Irish, we don't know what the figure is.

But what it does tell us is that 1.6m people think they should be able to speak Irish, would like to be able to speak Irish, identify to some extent with the Irish language. That figure has risen consistently year on year until 2006 when it fell slightly.

The "Gaeilge" problem is not going to go away until you change the Constitution. But I don't see any clamour for a referendum on this site or elsewhere. I suspect the reason is that, based on these figures, it would be lost.


Anonymous said...

The Gombeen Man said...

I suggest you read my post before you comment. I said: "Question 12 baldly asks 'What is your religion?'".

I have also made the point that the figure of Ireland's supposed 1.6 million Gaelic speakers includes children in school from the age of 3 upwards, because Gaeilge is still - incredibly - a compulsory subject in our schools.

If there was a referendum, it is unlikely most of this supposed 1.6 million would have a vote.

I would be in favour of a referendum to remove Gaeilge as the "first official langauge" of this country. If it was called, I think such a motion would be carried.

The traditional Irish parties however, even Labour, will not take on the sacred cow of Dev's 1937 Constitution.

I think a referendum will eventually be called on this issue, but it will not come from any of traditional Irish political sources.

anna said...

Re Anon poster on 2/4/10 : I can't remember what way the irish Q was worded- but it’s vague enough that Any degree of irish knowledge does.
I filled this Q in in NI 20 yrs ago- possibly 1st time it was asked.
Q was : do you read it, speak it, write It? -3 boxes to tick. I think you could tick if you had Any degree of proficiency- BUT the compilers were not going to infer ( as it done here) that everyone who ticked them was fluent. Irish was Never compulsory, (and still Isn’t ) under old NI Government - some catholic schools taught it by choice, letting pupils drop it after 3 yrs ( junior cert level) or a few would do it to GCSE ( Leaving cert ord level). So a Number of NI Catholics do have some proficiency in it- but only a few are fluent. However many ( inc myself) Did tick those boxes in 1991. Why? Nothing to do with hard-line republicanism- Irish is part of heritage and One of the old languages of the country. Then ( as I remember) NI Government , for the 1st time was increasing funding to the few voluntary all irish schools. Respectable Catholics just wanted more respect for an aspect of NI catholic heritage. Irish language schools are doing fine NI- it's not as if they are much better than others ( NI also has many fine Free grammar schools). All part of education mix, OH and interest in language is growing, it gets plenty of state support WITHOUT wasting it on those who have no interest in it:
NI GCSE Irish exam results every year show pupils pass in High numbers AND at a high grade. ( after all even if you Have to do Irish for 3 yrs as I did- you Choose to do it for the next 2 yrs to GCSE). Also If your school didn't teach it when you were young, night classes often cost an awful less at NI schools and technical colleges than here.
AND yet every yr Leaving cert ordinary pupils do even worse? After 3 yrs I know better Irish than many who did it 12 yrs here, but I didn’t tick Irish speaking on 2011 ROI census.
HOWEVER the census here ( likely deliberately) missed on a chance to assess the True level of irish knowledge: should be a row of boxes same as those for educational qualifications : Primary level, lower secondary, upper secondary , PLC, degree, etc.
This should be cross referenced with Probing questions:
Can you read a newspaper?
Primary school book?
Secondary school book?
Watch TV for 2 hours without sub titles?
Listen to the Radio for 2 hours and understand all?
Hold a 1 hour conversation, with a fluent speaker?
Write a letter to an official of 500 word sin length?
Defence yourself - on you own- in court?
BUT what good is a census form that DOESN’T EVEN ASK did you pass the leaving cert/ Junior cert tin irish , and if so what grade? The census , afte all is a Great Way for Government to asses how much Bang it is getting for its Buck, or sorry Billions and Billions spent on irish.
Incidentally NI census of 20 years ago was trying to assesss how much real Interest was in the language- before providing more funding.
But here - Government bases language policy on a question a primary child can tick yes to !
God, we already know the answer- after 12 years of Compulsory Irish OF COURSE A large %, say 1.6 million . Know Some Irish- BUT How many are fluent?
In any OTHER country if a language Q was asked in census it would be
1) Are you fluent in any language(S) but your mother tongue?
2) If so what language(S) are these .
ONLY fluent speakers should be counted in a census- otherwise it’s a meaningless figure.

Anonymous said...

Again, you're misrepresenting the question. The statement about 3 year olds is a direction not to include under 3s (since they may not speak any language), not a direction to include every child over 3 as being able to speak Irish. The proportion of children who are returned as being able to speak Irish would be the same as for adults, since it is the adults who complete the return (remember the results are not an indication of ability to speak Irish but of attitude towards Irish). If you exclude schoolchildren, you will also exclude those who genuinely can speak Irish.
The overall proportion of those expressing an ability to speak Irish is about 40%. The adult proportion is about 35%,
All of the surveys on compulsory Irish reveal a narrow majority for or against (depending on which side commissioned the survey), not, you will note, an overwhelming majority against. This is, of course, in line with the census results.
The really important provision in the constitution is the "national language" one, not the "first official language" one. This is why "incredibly" Irish is compulsory.
The two are sometimes conflated as "the first national language" by those who haven't bothered to read the constitution.
Why aren't you campaigning for a referendum if you feel so strongly about it? I would welcome such a referendum.


The Gombeen Man said...

@ El. I am not misrepresenting the question - as you, for instance, misrepresented my comment on the Census religion question.

The figure of 1.6 includes "Persons aged 3 years and over usually resident and present in the State on Census Night who speak Irish daily within the education system". Anyone within the education systems does - whether they like it or not – speak Irish dialy within education as it is compulsory. Let us say that there is, at the very least, scope for exaggerating the number of speakers with this question.

Out of 1,197,439 male workers (over 15 years of age) 385,357 self-report as Irish speakers, to some degree.

53,000 people self-report using it daily - outside the education system.

On the subject of the First National or First Official language, I don't care what you call it. It is “incredible”, to me, that Official Irish has precedence over the vernacular of this country - notwithstanding inaccurate CSO stats – due to Dev’s constitution, which contained many other nonsense claims, including a territorial claim to whole Island.

I hope the blog will play some small part in bringing about a referendum eventually on this issue.

I too, would welcome it.

@ Anna. Agreed - put another way, they need to start asking questions to provoke honest answers.

Anonymous said...

Of course, there is more to it than Dev's Constitution. There would be no independent Ireland without the Irish language.

‘The Gaelic League grew up and became the spiritual father of Sinn Féin and Sinn Féin’s progeny were the Volunteers who forced the English to make the Treaty. The Dáil is the child of the Volunteers, and thus it descends directly from the Gaelic League, whose traditions it inherits’.

- Douglas Hyde

Five the seven signatories of the proclamation were members of the Gaelic League. There would be no Michael Collins and no Eamon De Valera without the Gaelic League. Both of them, and many others, came to the National movement through the Gaelic League.

The Democratic Programme of the first Dáil provided for a "Free and Gaelic Ireland".

It should be remembered also that the Constitution of the Irish Free State also provided that Irish was the national language and an official language.

Article 4.

The National language of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) is the Irish language, but the English language shall be equally recognised as an official language.

It was under the subsequent Cumman na Gael government that the policy of compulsory Irish was begun.

Even the Constitution Review Group established by the government in April 1995, made only the following recommendation, which would equally underpin the current position of the Irish language.

1 The Irish language and the English language are the two official languages.
2 Because the Irish language is a unique expression of Irish tradition and culture, the State shall take special care to nurture the language and to increase its use.

So that amendment will result in a considerable spiritual upheaval.


The Gombeen Man said...

I do not deny that. We are looking at a people who took how many generations, and how much of a disaster, to give Fianna Fail the push. Even then I despair for how long. Sorry, I am Irish - but we are not a nation of thinkers or questioners. And I certainly don't thank anything or anyone for ushering in Dev and his ilk.

As for your others observations - Snap! I have long made the point on this blog that Irish independence in the form it took was driven by the emerging Irish ruling class who used Neo-Gaelicism as a tool to achieve hegemony. Tom Galvin's "Preventing the Future" is well worth a read. He cites Horowitz's "Patterns of Ethic Separatism" on this very issue, amongst other things.