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Boom in births as new arrivals double on death rates

IRELAND is in the midst of a baby boom, resulting in the largest natural increase in population since 1982.

Over twice as many people were born as died in 2006, with 64,237 births compared to 27,429 deaths, a new Central Statistics Office (CSO) report has shown.

And marriage appears to be in vogue, with 21,841 couples tying the knot last year - up 40pc on the numbers who said 'I do' a decade ago. The numbers of divorces increased slightly last year to 3,466.

Some 3,195 more babies were born in 2006 than in 2005, which the CSO put down to an increase in the numbers of women of child-bearing age, partly caused by immigration.

However, there was also a small rise in the total fertility rate, with the average woman now having 1.9 children in her lifetime - although that is still below the 2.1 births needed to replace the population naturally.

Figures from Europe suggest only French and Icelandic women are outbreeding us, with birth rates as low as 1.2 in some countries.

One in three babies in Ireland is now born outside marriage - unless you live in Limerick where it is 57pc, or Dublin, Cork and Waterford where it's almost half.

Wherever you live, if you are under 30 and having a baby, chances are you're not married - figures show 59pc here are unwed.

Even allowing for the fact that many of these children are born to cohabiting couples who are likely to marry later, it is still worrying that so many births are outside marriage, said David Quinn of the Iona Institute, which promotes marriage.

"Obviously there should be no coercion in these matters as there was in the past.

"But the state, the churches and all concerned organisations need to take far more seriously the message that marriage is important for society and important for children and to promote this," he said.

However, the figures also tell us that "the teenage mother is something of a myth", accounting for just 3.6pc of all births and 10pc of births outside marriage, said Mr Quinn.

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The figures also show that 48 girls aged 15 or under had a baby last year while two 16-year-olds gave birth to their second child and one 17-year-old had her third child.

The average age of all mothers who gave birth last year was unchanged at 31, although unmarried mothers were only 25 when they had their first baby compared to 31 for married mums.

Heart disease and stroke, cancer and respiratory diseases remain our biggest killers, accounting for four-fifths of deaths last year.

Some 9,662 people died of heart disease, stroke and other circulatory disease. This is down significantly in recent years, whereas the cancer rate has remained fairly stable, killing just under 7,868 people last year.

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