International Religious Freedom Report 2002
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

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 in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 27,136 square miles, and its population was approximately 3.6 million in 1996, the most recent year for which figures are available.

The country is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. According to official government statistics collected during the 1991 census (the most recent figures available), the religious affiliation of the population is 91.6 percent Roman Catholic, 2.5 percent Church of Ireland (Anglican), 0.4 percent Presbyterian, 0.1 percent Methodist, and less than 0.1 percent Jewish. Approximately 3 percent of the population are members of other religions or have no specific religious belief. (The 2001 census, which was due to have taken place in April 2001, was rescheduled for April 2002, due to the foot and mouth disease crisis; the results were not yet available by mid-2002.) Muslim and Orthodox Christian communities are growing, especially in Dublin, as a result of immigration.

Immigrants and noncitizens encounter few difficulties in practicing their faiths. There are some difficulties for non-Catholics associated with the availability of facilities and personnel outside of Dublin.

Although almost 92 percent of the population are classified as Roman Catholic, this is a "nominal" figure. According to the Catholic Information Office, just over half of Irish Catholics are estimated to be active church members. There are also numerous and varied small religious groups.

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 is 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 is the clearly dominant religion, it is not favored officially or in practice. However, adherence to Roman Catholicism may be politically advantageous because of the country's history and tradition as a predominantly Catholic country and society. Members of the major political parties (Fianna Fail and Fine Gael) tend to be practicing Catholics.

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 are 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 toward 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.

The following religious holidays 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 do not negatively impact any religious groups.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed 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.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Relations between various religious communities are amicable and friction is rare. Various religions, nongovernmental organizations (NGO's), and academic institutions have established activities or projects designed to promote greater mutual understanding and tolerance among adherents of different religions.

Society largely is homogenous; as a result, religious differences are not tied to ethnic or political differences. However, some citizens have political attitudes toward the conflict in Northern Ireland that are driven by their religious identities and loyalties. For example, some Catholics support 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 in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. The U.S. Embassy maintains regular contact with all communities, including religious groups and NGO's that address issues of religious freedom on a regular basis.