The latest figures from the Central Statistics Office in the Republic of Ireland has recorded a significant increase in the number of people identifying themselves as Catholic. The census did not include religious affiliation in Northern Ireland.
The surprising increase may not signal a revival of the numbers of practicing Catholics amongst the Irish however. It is most likely a result of an increase in migrants since the expansion of the EU in 2004. Ireland was one of the few nations who encouraged members of newcomer nations to the EU, to move freely within the community. Tens of thousands of Polish migrants moved to Ireland in the hope of a more prosperous lifestyle and although thousands returned to Poland after the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, there are still many strong Polish communities thriving in the Republic quite often served by their own Polish pastor.
Another factor could be the cultural rather than religious implications of being a Catholic. Being an ‘Irish Catholic’ may no longer denote an allegiance to the beleaguered Catholic Church, but is more likely to be a cultural identification rather than a specifically religious one.
Any hope left intact that the census figures signal an end to the woes of declining participation in the Catholic Church in Ireland might be dashed by another statistic in the census report. The number of people who identify themselves as non-religious, atheistic or agnostic has risen by four hundred percent!