The Census took place on Sunday April 24th and forms were collected by enumerators. Like everyone in Ireland, the GEAI EVS volunteers filled in the form but two questions surprised me as a French man: ethnic origin and religion.
Dating back to the first surviving records in 1910, the question on a person’s religion is a long-standing in Ireland and it is not a problem for the Irish to answer this question. According to the Central Statistics Office “the results are becoming increasingly important in planning for schools, in understanding chaplaincy needs for marriage ceremonies and by the health services”.
Ethnic and cultural background
The question on ethnic or cultural background was first used in the 2006 census. People have choices between different ethnic backgrounds and can add their own if it was not included in the list. The decision to introduce this question has not been easy. “The format of the question was agreed following extensive consultation with various bodies such as the Equality Authority, Pavee Point and others” specifies the Central Statistics Office.
Better information about population origins
Obviously under Irish Equality Law, it is prohibited to discriminate in relation to employment, vocational training, advertising, collective agreements, the provision of goods and services on nine grounds, including a person’s race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins. These types of statistics are useful to lead social policy and immigrant integration policy such as social and living conditions, employment, occupation, education. There is a need and demand for this data because the massive arrival of new immigrant people is a recent phenomenon in the Irish history and the authorities just measure the composition and evolution of the population living in Ireland.
In France, collection of this data is impossible!
In France, the law can punish by 5 years’ imprisonment and €300,000 fine, the collection and recording of information on ethnic or religious affiliation of respondents. This ban was confirmed by the French Constitutional Council in 2007. For the French, answers to such questions is a real taboo, maintained by the universalist heritage of the French Revolution.
Consequently, France does not have official statistics to measure the population composition. This situation can cause some tensions. However, there are some groups who want ethnic background or religion accounting. Among their objectives is to know exactly the situation in France regarding social integration or work market access.
Problems for Ireland in the future
But how to describe the difference between ethnic groups? France is different to Ireland, having a large population of mixed race resulting from the integration of colonies in Africa and Asia. France also has many overseas territories. This cultural and social diversity puts huge obstacles in front of ethnic analysis of the French population.
Ethnic and cultural background is easy to describe for people living in Ireland because immigration is recent. But in a few decades, how will one respond to this question if born in a mixed race family? The family cultural background will be totally Irish but they could have a black or Asian ‘appearance’. A future debate.
Cédric Stanghellini, EVS Erasmus+ Volunteer,