Dáil Éireann - Volume 576 - 10 December, 2003

Ceisteanna – Questions. - Census of Population.

  1. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the census results issued on 19 June 2003. [18249/03]

  Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Ms Hanafin):The Central Statistics Office issued the principal demographic results of the 2002 census on 19 June 2003. The report gave a breakdown of the population by age, sex, martial status, household composition, usual residence, nationality and place of birth. Information [1309]on the Irish language, religion and the Traveller community was also provided.

  The following are the highlights of the report. The population enumerated on census night, 28 April 2002, was 3,917,203, representing an increase of 291,116 persons, or 8%, since the previous census in April 1996. It is interesting to note that the Central Statistics Office issued further figures this morning that suggest it is most likely we now have a population of over 4 million. Six out of every ten persons lived in urban areas in 2002. Leinster continued to gain population share and there are now in excess of 2 million persons living in the province. The number of separated, including divorced, persons increased by 52%, from 87,800 in 1996 to 133,800 in 2002. As a result of declining fertility, the average number of children per family fell from 2.2 in 1986 to 1.6 in 2002. Over 400,000 foreign-born persons were usual residents in the State in April 2002 compared with 250,000 six years earlier. Increasing numbers have come from African, Asian and eastern European countries.

  Based on the results of the census, more persons indicated that they could speak Irish in 2002 – 1.57 million – compared with 1996 – 1.43 million. However, in percentage terms there was a slight decline from 43.5% in 1996 to 42.8% in 2002. The percentage of Roman Catholic adherents declined from 91.6% in 1991 to 88.4% in 2002. Increased immigration has contributed to rapid growth in the numbers of Muslims, Orthodox Christians and adherents to certain other minority denominations. Nearly 24,000 members of the Traveller community were enumerated in April 2002 and the census revealed that they have a much younger age profile than the population in general.

  All in all, the census results confirm the rapid change that is taking place in many sectors of our society and therefore they are worthy of consideration by all Members of the House.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:I thank the Minister of State for her reply. She will be aware that one of the most remarkable statistics arising from the census is that, for the first time ever, net immigration into the State is now higher than the natural increase in population. Will the Minister join me in welcoming this development and welcoming to this country people of diverse origins? Will she also join me in welcoming the major contribution that immigrant communities make to the Irish economy? Furthermore, will she join me in urging the Government to revisit its policy on the denial of the dignity of work to many who come to our shores, including those who are either fleeing oppression in their own countries or, as is often the case, looking for a new economic opportunity? While the papers of people in both these categories are being processed, many of them are denied the dignity of work, which is a critical and fundamental human right. I would appreciate the Minister of State's support in my appeal that this be addressed.

[1310]  One of the most disturbing aspects of the census report statistics concerns the Traveller community. They show that Travellers over 65 years of age account for just 3.3% of the Traveller population whereas overall people over 65 account for 11.1% of the general population. The census also shows that the median age of Travellers is 18 while that pertaining to the general population is 32. This demonstrates that the birth rate among Travellers is higher than that in the general population—

  An Ceann Comhairle:A question, please, Deputy.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:—and it also shows they have a lower life expectancy than other citizens. Has the Government studied these statistics? What are the implications for policy on Travellers, especially the failure of many local authorities to provide an adequate and proper range of housing, accommodation and stopover options that the Traveller community desires?

  An Ceann Comhairle:Before the Minister of State answers it is important to point out that this is a statistical question and policy issues should be addressed to the line Minister. A passing reference to how one feels about the statistics question is fine, but it would be unfair to expect the Minister of State to be able to deal with policy issues in every Department. I suggest that Deputies submit their questions directly to the line Minister if they have a problem with policy.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:Perhaps the Minister of State could answer—

  An Ceann Comhairle:Sorry, Deputy.

  Ms Hanafin:I thank the Chair for his guidance in this matter. The Deputy raised a number of issues. Regarding immigration, we all welcome the fact that so many people choose to come to Ireland and it is significant that, in recent years, Irish people who were living abroad have returned. Figures to be launched today will show that people who had to leave the country are now able to come back and get work here. That is welcome, as are those coming from a wide range of other countries and adding to the multiculturalism of our country.

  The Deputy asked about Travellers and it is a concern that their age profile is much younger than that of the rest of the population. Specific programmes are targeted at women's and children's health in the Traveller community and those are being extended throughout the health boards. We want to see them developed further. The birth rate in the Traveller community is higher than in other sectors of the community, which adds to their lower age profile, but the fact that they do not live as long relates to their living circumstances as well as general health issues. It is interesting to examine some of the statistics which detail where Travellers live. They show [1311]that just over 3% live in what are called communal establishments, 58.6% live in permanent accommodation, including permanent accommodation in Traveller encampments, 33.9% live in caravans and mobile homes and 7.5% did not answer the relevant questions. There is obviously much information which is useful to us in making social policy.

  The Deputy's other question was on housing tenure. An examination of house ownership levels over the years shows that the percentage of people renting from local authorities has gone from 9.7% in 1991 to 6.9%, while the level of house ownership in Ireland is very high compared with other countries. The census returns and statistics are extraordinarily valuable in making social policy, which is one of the reasons we have the National Statistics Board. It examines various statistics from a social perspective and not just from an economic viewpoint. The fact that we use these statistics increasingly in our policy-making is welcome.

  Ms McManus:I appreciate the Chair's point about this being statistical information but, from this information, we have a growing population that is more urbanised and more diverse.

  Mr. Sargent:Does the Chair have the same list of questions I have?

  An Ceann Comhairle:Yes. We are on Questions Nos. 1 to 5. We are dealing with Question No. 1 from Deputy Ó Caoláin. Question No. 2 is in your name but we have not taken it yet.

  Mr. Sargent:My apologies.

  Ms McManus:When it comes to meeting the needs of this growing, urbanised and diverse population, is an analysis being carried out of our current capacity in schools, hospitals and general medical practices to meet these changing needs? We know the population figures from the census but do we have an analysis of our capacity to meet the needs of this rapidly changing population? Housing is another aspect of this question.

  Perhaps the Minister of State forgot to mention that, in the census, it is clear that the population of the greater Dublin area is declining rather than growing. Perhaps she might comment on this, especially in light of the Government's announcement of a wide-ranging decentralisation programme which would have a major impact on Dublin city and the greater Dublin area. Perhaps she could indicate whether a statistical analysis has been carried out on the impact on an area of declining population of removing such a huge section of population in terms of jobs and facilities. Moving at least 10,000 jobs – with another 1,500 jobs to be announced – could have a destabilising effect on the capital city. Has any statistical analysis been done to back up that decision [1312]in terms of its impact on the city and county of Dublin?

  There has been a remarkable decline in our fertility rate which is plummeting and is now one of the lowest in Europe. Has any assessment of why this is happening been carried out? Is it the lack of child care or the difficulties young parents have in meeting the needs of their children, such as the pressure on them to meet exorbitant mortgage payments? Is this a matter of concern to the Government? Have ways of encouraging fertility been examined, as has been done in other countries? In Italy grants are now being given to those who have a second baby. Will we reach that point at some stage in future to ensure we have a balanced population? Is the Government not conscious of the fact that its policies impact directly on potential families and restrict the country's potential to have a truly balanced population?

  I warmly welcome the fact that we now have information on the Travelling community in the census, which is long overdue. In assessing the accurate picture of nomadism, our population is relatively small in comparison with other European countries, but it is important to have a true picture of nomadism. What are the Minister of State's views on whether there is further detailed information on people living in houses or permanent accommodation who still consider themselves nomadic and who act in a nomadic way at different times of the year? We are all aware of illegal encampments—

  An Ceann Comhairle:The Deputy should confine herself to questions.

  Ms McManus:Is an analytical understanding of the movement of Travellers at different times of the year reflected in the report?

  Ms Hanafin:The level of information given by the census tells us more than the population figures in each area. It also tells us the age range, the language spoken, the education needs and employment levels in each area. That in itself is useful information for Departments in determining what schools, hospitals and so on are needed. That is why the Department of the Taoiseach, the National Statistics Board and other groups are constantly examining social and economic policy and that information is used to determine what services and facilities are required throughout the State.

  The proportion of the population that lives in our capital city is much greater than in any other European capital and the percentage has increased exponentially. This figure should be considered in the context of the distance people must travel to work. The census contains charts, which highlight that people travel long distances to Dublin every morning to work and that is one good reason for decentralisation. Many people work in the city but live outside it and they would welcome the opportunity to work closer to where they live. That would also relieve the pressure on [1313]the Dublin area. Information about the number of people who must travel 20 miles or more to work is provided in the census and that is valuable in the context of decentralisation.

  One of the main reasons for the decreasing birth rate is that people are waiting until later in life to start families. Many young women have good career prospects and prefer to leave it until later. In addition, the marriage pattern is changing. Fewer people are getting married and those who get married are doing so later. There are other issues but the CSO has not specifically studied the marriage rate. The issue of child care was not raised in the census, although a number of lobby groups asked that it should be included in future censuses. That would provide useful information.

  This census for the first time sought information on Travellers. A new question was included and valuable information was provided. However, the census only informs us about where people were on a particular night. On the night the census was taken, County Longford had the highest proportion of Travellers at 1.8%, followed by Galway city at 1.6%, Galway county at 1.4% and Offaly at 1%. Counties Kildare, Cork and Waterford had the lowest proportion of Travellers. There is no information on how nomadic they are. However, this information can be built on for the future.

  Mr. Sargent:Bheadh suim agam ann an taighde a fheiceáil ar na fáthanna nach bhfuil daoine sásta clann a bhreith na laethanta seo. B'fhéidir go bhfuil tuairim ag an Aire Stáit. An aontaíonn sí, chomh maith leis na fáthanna a luaigh sí leis seo, nach bhfuil mórán ionaid súgartha, áiteanna cúraim saora agus bealaí sabháilte chun na scoile ann agus go bhfuil daoine buartha fá leanaí ag dul ar scoil?

  Luaigh an tAire Stáit figiúr de 1.57 milliún daoine le Gaeilge sa Stát. Ag cur sin i gcomparáid leis na méid a labhrann Máltaise, a bheidh ina teanga oifigiúil ag an AE le líon cainteoirí 380,000, an aontaíonn sí go léiríonn an figiúr sin gur cheart go mbeadh an Ghaeilge mar theanga oifigiúil san Aontas Eorpach? Tá an figiúr i bhfad níos mó ná líon na gcainteoirí Máltaise.

  Ms Hanafin:Aontaím go hiomlán nach bhfuil dóthan ionaid súgartha sa tír seo. Nuair a láinseáileadh an straitéis do leanaí an rud is mó a tháinig amach as an gcaidreamh a bhí againn le páistí ná nach raibh go leor áiteanna le súgradh iontu. It is a well known fact that there are more golf clubs that playgrounds. Tá an tAire Stáit, an Teachta Brian Lenihan, ag obair ar an national play policy agus beimid ag obair leis na comhairlí áitiúla sa dóigh is go mbeidh níos mó ionaid súgartha curtha ar fáil do pháistí. Ní fáth sin, áfach, cad chuige nach bhfuil daoine ag breith clainne, ní smaoiníonn daoine fá sin go dtí go bhfuil páistí acu.

  Is fiú féachaint ar an gceist faoi líon daoine a labhrann Gaeilge a cuireadh sa daonáireamh is [1314]déanaí mar tá sé difriúil ón tseancheist. An cheist a bhí ann ná “Can you speak Irish?” agus roimhe sin bhí an cheist níos cúinge. Is maith an rud go bhfuil líon na ndaoine a deir go bhfuil Gaeilge acu ag méadú agus sin an fáth gur thóg an tAire Gnothaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta reachtaíocht ag baint le cearta na Gaeilge agus do dhaoine a labhrann an teanga. Tá an reachtaíocht sin á chur i bhfeidhm anois ar fud na tíre. Beimid ag súil go mbeidh a gcearta ag lucht na Gaeilge. Ní fhéadar anois an féidir dhul siar ar chinneadh a rinneadh 20 bliain ó shin. Tá tíortha eile ag teacht isteach san Aontas Eorpach ach tá teanga s'acusan an chéad teanga atá acu, cé go bhfuil Béarla acu.

  Mr. Sargent:Is í an Bhéarla chéad teanga na tíre i Malta.

  Ms Hanafin:An rud ba cheart dúinn a dhéanamh ná cearta a thabhairt do dhaoine a labhrann Gaeilge agus gur mian leo a gcuid oibre a dhéanamh leis an Stát trí mheán na Gaeilge.

  Mr. J. Higgins:Does the Minister of State agree the statistics she outlined highlight that Dublin and the rest of Leinster are among the fastest developing areas in Europe and this has serious implications for infrastructure and services needed by new communities? Does she further agree the statistics, therefore, highlight the complete inadequacy of the ad hoc nature of provision of services by local authorities both in terms of levels and administration?

  An Ceann Comhairle:I am reluctant to intervene but that is a policy question more appropriate to the Minister responsible.

  Mr. J. Higgins:Does the Minister of State agree these rapidly growing areas should be entitled to increased funding for services that are inadequate and for which residents pay through their taxes?

  Ms Hanafin:There has been rapid growth in the provision of housing over the past number of years. It is beholden on Governments to ensure services are put in place in developing areas in which the population is increasing and houses are being provided. This is done by the Government in conjunction with local authorities and other groups.