Saturday 27 May 2017

Losing our religion - drop in Catholics sparks calls to end 'baptism barrier'

Joan Burton Picture: Tom Burke
Joan Burton Picture: Tom Burke

Ryan Nugent and Katherine Donnelly

Almost half-a-million Irish people now identify as having no religion, with Catholicism down by 14pc in the past 25 years - sparking calls to end a "baptism barrier" in schools.

Statistics from the 2016 Census revealed that only 78pc of the population are Catholic compared with 84pc in 2011 and 92pc in 1991.

Head of Atheist Ireland Michael Nugent believes that the actual figure for non-religious in Ireland is significantly higher than the 468,421 cited in the census statistics - with a large number of people opting not to state a religion on their forms.

The figure increased from 269,800 in 2011, while the number of Catholics dwindled from 3,861,300 to 3,729,100 in that period.

The percentage of non-religious trumps that of all the minority religions in Ireland combined. However, the number of Muslims in Ireland has risen by 29pc in the past five years.

Mr Nugent also highlighted the need for the Government to take note of this culture change, with the Catholic Church losing a significant grip on Irish society.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, he said his organisation was delighted with the latest figures, particularly given a strong campaign to encourage non-religious people to tick the box on the form last year.

Read More: Three-quarters keep the faith but it will be cold comfort to the Church

"We had a campaign urging people without a religion to say so and we're quite pleased with the results," Mr Nugent said.

"It's part of a process, the country is becoming more secular, the Catholic Church doesn't have the power it used to have and the politicians and the laws are going to have to catch up with that."

Dublin and Galway were above average when it came to the number of non-Catholics, working out at more than one-in-three people.

Tipperary, meanwhile, had the lowest percentage, with only 12.9pc.

The findings have sparked renewed calls for an immediate end to the "baptism barrier" in school admissions.

Labour education spokeswoman Joan Burton said there was a need to expand the numbers of non and multi-denominational schools and to end the "archaic system" of admissions.

"State-funded schools must be prepared in principle and in practice to accept pupils from other denominations or none, and to provide separate secular and religious instruction," she said.

Equate, an education equality advocacy group, said that anything other than a complete end to the "baptism barrier" would be unfair to families with no religion.

Irish Independent

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