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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 5 Jun 1996

Vol. 466 No. 4

Adjournment Debate. - Census of Population.

Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for giving me time to talk about helping the census enumerators. All our homes were recently visited by the helpful census enumerators who delivered and collected our census forms and assisted, where necessary, in the completion of the form. Members of the public constantly meet with requests from the public service for the completion of forms and requests for information. Most of us call this bureaucracy.

Unfortunately, this is another classic example of where the bureaucrats in their zeal to collect information let slip a unique public relations opportunity. All that was required was a one or two page leaflet inserted with the census form stating:

Thank you, householder for your help five years ago — we are here again looking for your assistance. I know you are interested in the results of the last census and on the following two pages we set out a summary of the national results and of the count in respect of your county.

We are sorry for asking for the exact address of your residence, your place of employment and previous residence. We do not actually use this information and we will not request it in future.

The reason we ask questions about the Irish language — and you will see the trend here from the summary of the last five census — and not about modern European languages is because we have not thought about it and did not think these matters were important enough up to now.

I am sure you are curious about why we need to know the approximate mileage on the outward journey to your place of occupation. The reason for this is simple: it is that we asked this question in the previous census also. If we explained better the reasons behind the questions and how we make use of, and disseminate this information, would you mind if we added another ten questions to the next census in ten years' time? Please let the enumerator have your comments.

Finally, thank you for your continuing co-operation.

The information to provide the foregoing is already available, the distribution system is in place and the cost of paper and ink for 700,000 households or so could not cost much more than £70,000. It would be a more than worthwhile exercise on behalf of the public service in their relations with the citizens of the nation, their employers. I might add that it would not be beyond the with of men to put in some special questions for interested parties who would be willing to pay for the exact type of answers that the census can provide. If this was approached properly and sensitively, the cost to the State of the whole census operation could be reduced to almost nothing.

A census of population was held on 28 April 1996. The legal basis for the census was the Statistics Act. 1993, and the Statistics (Census of Population) Order, 1996, which I signed into law on 1 April 1996. The census is in effect a stocktaking of the country's most important asset — its people — and as such there are a myriad of uses for the results at all levels within and across society. They are, of course, of particular importance to all of us within this House who are charged with ensuring that there is effective policy and decision making at national and governmental level.

Before going on to detail some of the uses, it is necessary to assure ourselves that the data obtained are of a high quality from the points of view of coverage and accuracy. In this regard, I would like to briefly review some of the main stages involved in the conduct of the census.

The fieldwork for the census was carried out by a temporary field force consisting of 30 regional supervisors, 300 field supervisors and 3,400 enumerators. All positions were advertised in the press and in local FÁS offices. Posters were displayed in the local employment office of the Department of Social Welfare to encourage persons on the live register to apply. Under powers conferred on him by the Statistics Act, 1993, the Director General of the Central Statistics Office was the appointing authority for the temporary field force positions mentioned above.

For the supervisory positions a short list of qualified candidates was drawn up by the Central Statistics Office. These candidates were interviewed by boards which in all cases included senior staff of the office. In relation to the enumerator positions all the candidates were interviewed by boards drawn from the supervisory field staff.

Appointments were made strictly on the basis of order of merit as determined at interview, subject to location considerations. Preference was given to persons who were not in paid employment at the time of their application. In fact, of the 3,400 enumerators appointed over 900 were taken from the live register while a further 2,027 were not in paid employment. While at a national level 86 per cent of those employed as enumerators were not in paid employment, the Deputy may be interested to know that in Cork the corresponding figure was even higher, at 94 per cent.

The CSO agreed in advance with the Department of Social Welfare that unemployed persons appointed as enumerators would be allowed sign on the live register for a maximum of three days a week during their eight to ten week period of employment on the census.

On the Deputy's point about making the census more user friendly, the issue of a leaflet is possibly a good suggestion but the Deputy will also recall that the census was the focus of attention many weeks in advance through advertising in the newspapers, radio and televison. Indeed, I recall hearing members of the CSO staff involved on several occasions in answering consumers' questions on several phone-in programmes.

I will give some examples of the main uses to which the census results will be put by Government Departments, local authorities and other State agencies. Information on the young population will be used by the Department of Education, the universities and local school managements in the planning and provision of schools and other educational facilities. The Department of Health and the health boards will make use of census data in assessing the current and likely future demand on the health services. For example, information on the location and family circumstances of the elderly can be derived at a detailed level from the census. Local authorities are of course a major user of census data in assessing and responding to demands for a wide variety of local services. Similarly, the Department of Social Welfare has an interest in the information provided on the unemployed, single parents and other population sub-groups in need of State assistance. Finally, many other public authorities, such as the Garda, the fire service, FÁS and Teagasc make use of census data in determining the most efficient deployment of their resources at national, regional and local levels. The above list is far from complete but goes to show that the census results are of relevance to us all. One use which is perhaps common to all the above is planning and in this regard I can perhaps conclude by recalling the apt copyline from the 1996 census campaign — that the census is about planning for the Ireland of tomorrow.