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Why do we have a census? Here's what the statistics are used for

Some of the summary results from last year’s census will be published today.

shutterstock_462068233 File photo of people on Shop Street, Galway Shutterstock / Anton_Ivanov Shutterstock / Anton_Ivanov / Anton_Ivanov

EVERY FIVE YEARS the Census of Population gives a detailed picture of Ireland.

The most recent census – the 25th – was taken on Sunday, 24 April 2016, with the previous census taking place in April 2011.

The first results from Census 2016, published on 14 July, show the preliminary total of the population counted on Census night was 4,757,976 - an increase of 169,724 people (3.7%) since 2011.

Later today, the first part of the summary results from last year’s census will be published.

The questionnaire covers topics such as age, marital status, gender, place of birth, occupation and housing characteristics.

There were no new questions on last year’s census, but the question on marital status was updated to include registered same-sex civil partnerships.

census Example of census form CSO CSO

The survey is conducted by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) to, in the office’s own words, “give a comprehensive picture of the social and living conditions of our people”.

“The results are essential tools for effective policy, planning and decision making purposes.

“Ireland has been conducting Censuses of Population since 1821. This enables us to track developments over a long period with considerable accuracy. The census is therefore a fundamental part of our national heritage and collective knowledge,” the CSO states.

So, what is the information used for?

Speaking to, Deirdre Cullen, Senior Statistician with the CSO, notes that the office will release data “over the coming weeks and months for every village in Ireland”.

“This is important both nationally and at a local level.”

Nationally, population statistics are needed to plan for the provision of areas such as healthcare, education and employment.

Cullen says the information is essential as it gives a picture of, for example, how many elderly people and disabled people are living here, meaning services can be provided accordingly.

shutterstock_388637185 File photo of Grafton Street, Dublin Shutterstock / Rolf G Wackenberg Shutterstock / Rolf G Wackenberg / Rolf G Wackenberg

“It also helps the Department of Education identify school planning needs,” Cullen states.

She adds that the census is of huge importance to local authorities so they can identity the services that are needed in their area.

The census also measures migration in and out of Ireland by comparing the results of successive censuses.

It’s the law

Anyone who is present in Ireland on the night of the census is legally obliged to be included in it. Failure to fill out the form can lead to a fine of up to €44,440. In 2011, there were five successful prosecutions of people who refused to answer the survey.

Cullen says the CSO gets “excellent cooperation from the the public” with regards to filling in the census form.

Irish people understand that the census is important. The data is available for every citizen in Ireland, not just the government.

Cullen notes that all of the statistics are “very accessible” online or through calling up the CSO’s office.

“It’s a national resource and available to everyone, whether that’s a local community group, a housing association or someone wanting to start up local bus route.”

It’s also important from a historical perspective.

“Genealogy is of enormous interest and importance in Ireland, particularly looking at emigration at end of the 1800s and right through the 1900s. Not just among Irish citizens, there’s a huge interest in it in general .

“Making 1901 and 1911 data available online was an enormous success, every form is kept and will be made available in 100 years time. Cullen explains.

Why can’t we fill out the form online?

Cullen says the CSO has looked into introducing an online census form, but it might not happen. Ultimately, the office is not sure it’s worth the resources and money.

“We’re looking very hard at the value for money aspect, we haven’t committed to anything,” she notes.

The census forms can be completed in English or in Irish, but the CSO offers translation services in 20 other languages.

Last year, the CSO employed a ‘temporary field force’ of about 5,000 people to carry out the census at local and regional level.

shutterstock_397824013 File photo of Cork city Shutterstock / M.V. Photography Shutterstock / M.V. Photography / M.V. Photography

Census enumerators delivered the form to every home and communal establishment (like hotels and hostels) in the weeks leading up to census day, before collecting the completed forms in the weeks afterwards.

The CSO says it should take an average household less than 30 minutes to complete a census form.

The census also collects details of people staying in emergency accommodation across the country as well as people in hostels and rough sleepers.

Today’s report launch is the first of 13 summary and electronic reports of statistics from the 2016 Census. Themed releases on issues such as vacant houses, homelessness and diversity will be published in the coming weeks and months.

Read: 9 questions you’ve probably had about filling out Census 2016

Read: You’ve filled out your census – now it’s time to hand it in

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