From schools to housing, successive governments have failed to use invaluable census stats to plan properly, experts say

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Paul Hyland

Experts have argued that the preliminary findings of Census 2022 have laid bare the failure of successive governments to meet housing and other key infrastructural needs – and have failed to use the invaluable information at their fingertips to plan properly.

The report shows that Ireland’s population currently stands at 5,123,536 people. It is the first time the population has been over five million since 1851. The population, which grew by 7.6pc since the 2016 census, includes 2,593,600 females and 2,529,936 males - an increase of 7.7pc and 7.5pc respectively.

Every county in Ireland saw its population grow, and the counties where the population grew the most were in Leinster.

According to the 2022 census, the current housing stock is 2,124,590. This is a growth of 120,000, or an increase of 6pc on the 2016 figure.

The east of the country had the highest rate of change in its housing stock. Kildare saw a 12pc increase in its homes, compared to an 11pc increase in its population. In Roscommon, the housing stock increased by 3pc while the population increased by 8pc.

Forms were delivered to over two million homes, institutions, hotels and other kinds of accommodation ahead of the census on April 3.

The former head of special projects at the National Archives of Ireland, historian Catriona Crowe, said censuses are tools which have been used for thousands of years so legislators could collect taxes and assess the needs of the general public.

However, she argued that the rich resource is not being used for its intended purpose in Ireland.

“Our population is growing. The problem is there doesn’t seem to be any intellectual connection between the census figures and Government planning,” she said.

"Have you ever noted that anyone mentioned that they’re going to build a whole lot of new schools and housing because census figures are up?

“At the moment we’re in the middle of housing crisis because obviously nothing that the census had to tell us over the last 20 years made any difference to housing policy.

"We’ve got a crisis with children getting places in school, with special needs, that was also predictable from census records. So, we have fantastic information from our census gatherings in the Central Statistics Office but it’s not necessarily used for the purposes it’s designed for."

Assistant professor in social policy at NUI Maynooth Rory Hearne said the census has highlighted flaws the Government’s Housing For All plan.

Housing For All was based on a 2021 population estimate of 5 million citizens, and Mr Hearne said the fact 120,000 more people are living in Ireland means the housing programme’s targets should be increased.

He argued there has been a “mismatch” between population growth and the country’s housing stock over the last six years. He said the census shows “very clearly” that population growth has outstripped housing provision, particularly in counties such as Longford, Clare, Tipperary and Waterford.

“For me it shows that there is a need for the Government to look at how is it building housing in our regions, in counties where there’s no Land Development Agency land, where investor funds and developers aren’t interested in building,” he said.

"There’s a real issue I think in rural counties of who is going to build housing and I think the state has to really step in there and that is a thing that’s going to get worse.”

According to the data, property vacancy rates fell by 9pc since 2016, however 166,752 vacant dwellings were still recorded – including 35,380 rental properties.

The areas with the highest rental property vacancy rates were Dublin (38pc) and Galway City (30pc).

Over 90pc of vacant dwellings in Census 2022 could be linked to Census 2016, while almost 85pc can be linked to Census 2011.

Mr Hearne said these figures “blow out of the water” the notion that a robust vacant property tax would not bring a “significant number” of properties back into the market.

“These figures showing that there’s still 166,000 vacant units, which doesn’t include holiday homes, really shows that the government is going to have to fast track the vacant homes tax and also it’s going to have to look at additional measures, particularly for vacant rental properties,” he said.

“These are not derelict properties, these are properties that, with minimal work, possibly even no work, could be rented out and I think the Government has to act immediately to bring these rental properties into use.

"We’ve 850 properties on today, this is multiples of that. You could house the homeless population 16 times over with the amount of vacant properties we have."

Mr Hearne said Ireland is a “country of population growth” and substantial investment in housing, health, schools and other public services is needed to meet public demand.

"We are a country people want to live in, where people want to stay, so that’s why we need homes and we need investment in infrastructure because the alternative, of course, is that people will emigrate,” he added.

The 2022 census was the first to offer “no religion” as the first option when asking people about their faith. It was followed by Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Islam, Orthodox Christian, Presbyterian and Other.

As well as the new time-capsule option, the 2022 census included eight new questions relating to childcare, renewable energy, working from home, internet access and devices, smoking, smoke alarms, volunteering and how people travel to work, school or college.

Historian Catriona Crowe said: “The most interesting thing about this latest census is the time capsule, the fact they gave people the opportunity to write about how they feel about things now, which is always interesting in years to come when the stuff gets cleared up.

“My favourite 1911 census return has the name of the family’s pet who was called Tatters. He was a dog, he was from Longford, he was aged three, he wasn’t married he didn’t speak Irish – you had to fill out all these things. So, I encouraged people to put their pet’s names into the text box so that we know them in the future.”

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