Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 November 2014, 11:16 GMT

2009 Report on International Religious Freedom - Ireland

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Publication Date 26 October 2009
Cite as United States Department of State, 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom - Ireland, 26 October 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ae8613473.html [accessed 26 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

[Covers the period from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009]

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the reporting period.

There were few reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.

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

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 27,136 square miles and a population of 4.3 million. According to the 2006 census, the religious affiliation of the population is 86.8 percent Catholic, 2.9 percent Church of Ireland, 0.76 percent Muslim, 0.68 percent unspecified Christian, 0.55 percent Presbyterian, 0.49 percent Orthodox, 0.28 percent Methodist, less than 0.1 percent Jewish, and 6 percent unaffiliated.

An estimated 84,000 immigrants arrived in the country during the reporting period; almost half of these immigrants came from other European Union states. Muslim and Orthodox Christian communities in particular continued to grow, especially in Dublin.

According to 2005 figures released by the Catholic Communications Office (CCO), approximately 60 percent of Catholics (including those in Northern Ireland) attend Mass once a week and 5 percent attend Mass once a day. The CCO reported a noticeable increase in attendance during Easter and Christmas holidays. In part because many priests are close to retirement, the Irish Catholic press predicted that the percentage of Catholics attending Mass regularly would decline in coming years. A similar survey conducted in 2005 by the Evangelical Alliance Ireland estimated that up to 30,000 evangelicals (comprising Baptists, members of Assemblies of God, Pentecostals, and charismatics) attend services each week.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion. The law at all levels protects this right in full against abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

The Constitution prohibits promotion of one religious group 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.

The Constitution provides that "publication or utterance" of "blasphemous matter" is an offense punishable in accordance with law, but it does not define blasphemy. In the absence of legislation and in the uncertain state of the law, the courts have not prosecuted anyone for blasphemy in several years.

The Government observes St. Patrick's Day (the country's national day), Good Friday, Easter Monday, Christmas, and St. Stephen's Day as national holidays.

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 religious belief or group.

The Government permits, but does not require, religious instruction in public schools. Most primary and secondary schools are denominational, and their boards of management are governed partially by trustees who are member of the Catholic Church or, in fewer cases, the Church of Ireland or other religious denominations. Under the terms of the Constitution, the Department of Education must and does provide equal funding to schools of different religious denominations, including Islamic and Jewish schools. Although religious instruction is an integral part of the curriculum of most schools, parents may exempt their children from such instruction.

In 2003 the Equality Authority declared that church-linked schools are permitted legally to refuse to admit a student who is not of that religious group if the school can prove that the refusal is essential to the maintenance of the "ethos" of the school (for example, 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. By law a religious school may select its staff based on their religious beliefs.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the reporting period.

On November 26, 2008, a High Court judge directed that a Dublin hospital could, provided it was absolutely necessary, give a possibly life-saving blood transfusion to a 4-year-old girl, despite the religious objections of her Jehovah's Witnesses parents.

In September 2008 the Department of Education announced it would not issue a directive regarding a teenage student's request to wear the hijab. It stated that no school uniform policy should exclude students of a particular religious background from seeking a place or continuing in a school but that individual schools should have the ability to decide their own uniform rules. Subsequently, the school principal resolved that hijabs be consistent with the school uniform, and the student continued attending classes.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.

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 who had not been allowed to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were few reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.

On March 12, 2009, the Metro Eireann newspaper reported that some restaurants refused to employ bearded Sikhs. It also cited a case of a teenage male Sikh student who was asked to shave his beard. The newspaper published no further details.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The U.S. Embassy continued its engagement program aimed at fostering greater understanding of political, social, cultural, and religious views prevalent among Muslims in the country.

Embassy officials met regularly with Muslims and participated in several events hosted by both embassy staff and Muslim groups. Embassy officials also met with members of the Jewish community and prominent leaders of Catholic and Protestant religious groups to discuss ways of promoting religious freedom and to survey the level of religious freedom experienced by the various religious groups. The Embassy's fifth annual interfaith Thanksgiving reception facilitated dialogue and understanding of religious freedom among governmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations as well as among religious and community leaders; the reception also assisted government outreach to minority groups.

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