The number of Catholics in Ireland has soared to a record high according to official census figures.
The Catholic Church in Ireland now has 3.86 million members, which is the highest number since records began, the Central Statistics Office said. However, the church's share of the population has fallen from a peak of 96% in 1961 to just 84% today, because other religions and atheism, are also growing.
The number of non-religious people has soared by 400% over the past 20 years, according to the report, with those who consider themselves atheist or agnostic reaching record levels, making non-believers the second highest group. More than 277 thousand people say they have no religion - a four fold increase since 1991.
The report is the seventh population profile to be produced using the latest set of Irish census figures. It concentrates on religion, ethnicity and cultural background,
Ireland`s Catholic population has also increased following the expansion of the EU in 2004 when Ireland along with the UK and Sweden was among the first countries to allow free movement of people when ten countries acceded to the EU. Tens of thousands of Polish migrants headed for Ireland in search of a better life, making Poles the second largest group in Ireland.
David Quinn of the Iona institute said it was notable that the number of Catholics had actually risen. "Despite everything that's happened over the last decades with scandals in the church, its amazing that so many people are still willing to call themselves Catholics. Even if some people aren`t practising regularly theres still a strong cultural link," he said.
Central Statistics Office statistician, Deirdre Cullen said the report "underlines the fact that Ireland has an increasingly diverse population where changing cultures and religious beliefs play an important part."
The report also shows newer faiths in Ireland grew much faster, with the number of Muslims doubling in a decade to 49,000. There are now over 10,000 Hindus, some 45,000 Orthodox Christians, while the Apostolic and Pentecostal church-goers have quadrupled to over 14,000.
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