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Diplomacy in Action

Ireland


International Religious Freedom Report 2004
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
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The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 27,136 square miles, and has a population of approximately 4 million.

The country is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. According to official government statistics collected during the 2002 census, the religious affiliation of the population is 88.4 percent Roman Catholic, 2.9 percent Church of Ireland (Anglican), 0.52 percent Presbyterian, 0.25 percent Methodist, 0.49 percent Muslim, and less than 0.1 percent Jewish. Approximately 4 percent of the population were members of other religions or had no specific religious belief.

There was a rising number of immigrants and asylum-seekers in the country, and they tended to be of a non-Catholic faith. Muslim and Orthodox Christian communities in particular continued to grow, especially in Dublin. Immigrants and noncitizens encountered few difficulties in practicing their faiths. There were some difficulties for non-Catholics associated with the availability of facilities and personnel outside of Dublin, such as the inability to find a mosque in rural areas due to the small numbers of non-Catholics in those communities.

According to a survey conducted by the Catholic Bishops Conference, 63 percent of the 3.46 million Roman Catholics in the country attended mass once a week; however, another national poll found that only 44 percent attended once a week.

Section II. Status of Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

The Constitution prohibits promotion of one religion over another and discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, and the Government does not restrict the teaching or practice of any faith. There is no state religion, and there was no discrimination against nontraditional religious groups. There is no legal requirement that religious groups or organizations register with the Government, nor is there any formal mechanism for government recognition of a religion or religious group.

While Roman Catholicism was the dominant religion, it was not favored officially or in practice. Due to the country's history and tradition as a predominantly Catholic country and society, the majority of those in political office are Catholic, and the major Catholic holy days are also national holidays.

The following religious holy days are considered national holidays: St. Patrick's Day (the country's national day), Good Friday, Easter Monday, Christmas Day, and St. Stephen's Day. These holidays did not negatively impact any religious groups.

The Government does not require but does permit religious instruction in public schools. Most primary and secondary schools are denominational, and their boards of management were controlled partially by the Catholic Church. Under the terms of the Constitution, the Department of Education must and does provide equal funding to schools of different religious denominations (such as an Islamic school in Dublin). Although religious instruction is an integral part of the curriculum, parents may exempt their children from such instruction.

The Employment Equality Act prohibits discrimination in relation to employment on the basis of nine discriminatory grounds, including religion. An Equality Authority works toward continued progress in the elimination of discrimination and the promotion of equality in employment. The Equal Status 2000 Act prohibits discrimination outside of the employment context (such as in education or provision of goods) based on the same grounds used in the Employment Equality Act.

In September 2003, the Equality Authority published a booklet that states that church-linked schools are permitted legally to refuse to admit a student who is not of that religion, providing the school can prove that the refusal is essential to maintain the "ethos" of the school (i.e., too many Catholics in a Muslim school could prevent the school from having a Muslim "ethos"). However, there were no reports of any children being refused admission to any school for this reason.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. Various religious groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and academic institutions had activities or projects designed to promote greater mutual understanding and tolerance among adherents of different religions. In addition, the Garda (Irish police force) formed a Garda Racial and Intercultural Office whose aim is to increase an awareness and understanding between the police and the increasing number of ethnic and religious groups that are immigrating to the country. For example, the office often held seminars to educate the police about new minority groups and their religious sensibilities.

Society largely was homogenous; as a result, religious differences were not tied to ethnic or political differences. However, some citizens had political attitudes toward the conflict in Northern Ireland that were driven by their religious identities and loyalties. For example, some Catholics supported Nationalist and Republican parties or ideals in the north on the basis of their religious loyalty.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The U.S. Embassy maintains regular contact with all communities, including religious groups and NGOs that address issues of religious freedom on a regular basis.



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