Ireland’s changing religious face

New figures on religious faith in the Republic of Ireland show the Roman Catholic Church’s dominant position slipping slightly.

Ireland is still one of Europe’s most observant Catholic countries.

But a census suggests that now less than 90% of the population call themselves Roman Catholic.

For the first time since Irish independence from Britain more than 80 years ago, the numbers of the main Protestant denominations have grown.

In the past decade Ireland has seen not only an economic boom, but also significant population growth.

After long periods of decline in the 19th and 20th centuries, Ireland’s population is on the rise, and now stands at almost four million.

The latest figures come from a census carried out in 2002.

They show that Catholic still account for more than 88% of the population – but that is 3% fewer than before.

As well as the growth of the main Protestant denominations, membership of minority religions has also grown, reflecting the arrival of immigrants from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe over the past decade.

And the number of people declaring no religion more than doubled.

However Ireland remains a country with strong religious ties compared with some of its European neighbours, especially in its levels of church attendance and the area of education.

Those ties are regularly demonstrated: plans by the singer Madonna to hold a huge concert near Dublin on a Sunday in August have been criticised in recent days. The local priest said the plan was inconsiderate and insensitive.

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