THE percentage of babies born to teenage mothers is at a 12-year low, but the number of suicides is at its highest level since records began.
New figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) on births and deaths in 2011 paint a mixed picture of Irish life. They show that:
* After a decade-long baby boom, the birth rate is falling and is now at its lowest level since 2009, with 74,033 babies born in 2011, yet Ireland continues to have the highest fertility rate in the EU.
* The number of teenage pregnancies has fallen again. Some 2.3pc of all births (1,690 babies) were to women under the age of 20, down from a high of 6.2pc in 1999.
* The number of babies born outside of marriage continues to grow, with 25,091 babies or 33.9pc of all births in 2011 falling into this category, up 0.1pc compared with 2010.
* The recession has seen a huge increase in the number of suicides. In 2011, 554 people took their lives, up from 458 in 2007. Suicides are believed to be at their highest level since records began in 1890.
* Heart and vascular diseases were the leading causes of death in 2011, closely followed by cancer, with each accounting for almost a third of the total number of 28,456 deaths.
The CSO's Vital Statistics 2011 report released yesterday shows Ireland's baby boom appears to be on the wane, with a fall in the number of births for the second successive year. In 2011, 74,033 children were born – 37,898 boys and 36,135 girls – down 1.5pc on 2010.
The fertility rate – how many children an Irish woman has in her lifetime – fell in 2011 from an average of 2.06 to 2.02. However, Ireland still has the highest fertility rate in the EU, despite it falling by 34pc since 1981.
The average age of women giving birth in 2011 was 31.8 years, but the figures show the number of teenage mothers continues to fall and is now at a 12-year low. Most of these births were to mothers aged 18 and 19; 103 were to girls aged 16; and 36 babies were born to girls aged 15 and under.
Just over a third of babies (33.9pc) born in 2011 were born outside of marriage or civil partnership, but the highest level was seen in Limerick city, where 48.8pc of all babies were born to unwed parents, while the lowest was in Co Galway, at 25.2pc.
The busiest day for deliveries in 2011 was September 29 when 269 were born around the country, while the quietest was May 8 when only 113 were born.
While almost all babies are born in hospital, there was a slight increase in the number of home births (334), up 2.5pc on 2010.
The report shows a worrying increase in the number of suicides, with 458 men and 96 women taking their lives in 2011. This is more than twice the number of suicides of 30 years ago, and accounted for almost 2pc of all deaths in 2011.
The biggest number of suicides was in Co Cork (62), followed by Dublin city (57), south Dublin (37) and Wexford (29). Those aged between 25 and 34 were most likely to take their lives.
Ciaran Austin of Console said the record high number of suicides was "very concerning".
He said that while it was impossible to draw a direct correlation between the recession and the number of suicides, it reflects a global trend during times of economic turmoil.
"Economic issues, debts, unemployment can put additional strain on people and will add extra stress to those who are already vulnerable."
He criticised the time-lag in recording suicides, which often does not happen for several years, and called for improved recording of suicides so that resources can be targeted at specific counties quickly.