Census data demonstrates urgent need for education reform in Ireland, campaigners say

In response to the findings, campaigners are advocating for the removal of religious faith education from core school hours.

Students in red uniforms sit at desks, new Census data in Ireland calls for education reform.
Image: Twitter @xavier_sns

Recent data from the Central Statistics Office’s (CSO’s) 2022 Census reveals a severe disconnect between mandatory religious education and the population of Ireland.

Catholicism has declined among the total population of Ireland since the 1960s, and last year’s Census data reveals the sharpest decrease in the history of the State. Those identifying as Catholic dropped from 79% in 2016 to 69% in 2022. Additionally, Census figures demonstrate that 14.3% of the Irish population identifies as non-religious, a 57% increase compared to 2016, and 21% of respondents did not indicate any religion.

Under the current Irish system, 95% of taxpayer-funded schools include a religious-integrated curriculum where faith-based instruction is mandatory. When delivering this portion of the syllabus, non-Catholic students are separated from the rest of the class and given busy work to complete.

Regarding the newly-released figures, the organisation’s Communications Officer, David Graham, said: “More than one in five people in Ireland do not have a religion. Almost half of the population of Dublin are non-Catholic. We now have ample evidence that the status quo in Irish education depends on coercive evangelism…Our education system remains stuck in the past, despite rapid demographic change that shows no signs of stopping.”

Graham added: “It is not the role of our schools to evangelise children. Religious instruction should be offered outside the curriculum to those who want it, not imposed during school hours on those who don’t.”

Education Equality has also launched a petition advocating for religious faith instruction to be taught after core school hours so students can opt out. At the time of writing, the petition has collected over 7,500 signatures.


In the past year, the Irish education system has taken steps towards updating its curricula to be more inclusive. Earlier in May, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) announced a new sex education curriculum for Junior Cycle students that will begin this September, which aims to build a society that is “inclusive of all genders, sexualities, ethnicities, religious beliefs/worldviews, social classes and abilities/disabilities”.

The new syllabus offers information about LGBTQ+ themes, including an updated definition of gender identity, which states: “a person’s felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex registered at birth.” The sex education curriculum also includes topics about consent and safe sex.

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