Ceisteanna - Questions

Central Statistics Office

Questions to the Taoiseach are being taken by the Government Chief Whip.

Alan Kelly

Question:

1. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his engagements with the Central Statistics Office regarding the rescheduling of Census 2021. [32051/21]

Catherine Murphy

Question:

2. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on any engagements with the Central Statistics Office with regard to the rescheduling of Census 2021. [33041/21]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

3. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his engagements with the Central Statistics Office regarding the rescheduling of Census 2021. [34512/21]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

4. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on any engagements with the Central Statistics Office with regard to the rescheduling of Census 2021. [34841/21]

Paul Murphy

Question:

5. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on any engagements with the Central Statistics Office with regard to the rescheduling of Census 2021. [34844/21]

Cormac Devlin

Question:

6. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Taoiseach the consultation he has had with the Central Statistics Office in relation to Census 2021. [34995/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, together.

On the advice of the Central Statistics Office, CSO, the Government decided on 15 September, to postpone the 2021 census to 3 April 2022. The decision to postpone the census scheduled for 18 April 2021 until 3 April 2022 was not taken lightly and was based on a number of factors. Foremost in the decision making, was the need to ensure the safety of the general public and CSO field staff, coupled with the need to deliver a census that achieves the highest possible response rate, across all facets of Irish society. Furthermore, the census of population is a major logistical operation and Covid-19 restrictions have prevented or delayed many key planning activities from taking place over recent months. On consideration of these challenges the Government decided to postpone the 2021 census until April 2022 to enable the CSO to undertake a comprehensive, inclusive and safe census in 2022 which will provide valuable and accurate data for our country in the years ahead.

Between censuses, the Central Statistics Office produces annual population estimates rolled forward from the previous census, which was in 2016. Consequently, the CSO will roll these estimates forward for an additional year until they can be recalibrated with the new detailed census data, preliminary results of which will be available in mid-2022 and definitive results on a phased basis from April to December 2023. Under framework Regulation (EC) No. 763/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council and implementing Regulation (EU) No. 2017/712, Ireland is required to transmit census data to EUROSTAT with a reference date in 2021.

This transmission must be made by March 2024. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, will work closely with EUROSTAT to mitigate the impact on the changed census date and consider the introduction of the additional methodologies and data sources in order to satisfy EUROSTAT's requirements.

The planning for census 2022 involves revising project timelines and the introduction of new approaches to reduce further potential disruption with the likes of online interviewing and training is now taking place.

The census was correctly postponed because of the pandemic but we cannot hold off on it any longer because the data are central to all our decision-making. The date is now fixed for April 2022, as the Minister of State indicated, and I presume that is an absolute decision. If that is the case, when will recruitment for enumerators and extra staff that will clearly be needed this time around begin? Is there a plan to do this much quicker and will the process be paper-based?

The census will contain eight new questions on matters ranging from renewable energy to smoke alarms, childcare, working from home, commuting and a range of other matters. Is that definite? In light of the pandemic and the major changes made to our society, will there be other new questions based on the changes we experienced in Ireland? The question on religion is still unclear, asking what is a person's religion before listing a number of faiths, having a space in which a person can write in a religion or the option of stating "no religion". Would it be more accurate to ask if a person is just religious?

I have a question I would like the Minister of State to answer directly. Finally, and very important for all of us here, given the fact that the census will now be April 2022 and under legislation there is a requirement for a constituency commission to set the constituency boundaries in the country - I know from my time as Minister that this is fixed in time - will this commence on time? This is particularly relevant for the preliminary census. It would be totally unfair and unbalanced to have the next election with current constituency boundaries if we did not take on board the new census data.

It was understandable and appropriate that the census was deferred but it is really important for it to go ahead next year. What opportunities are there for additional questions? Is there a limit on the number of questions that can be put? The question on religion is quite useful as we can measure, for example, the requirements of schools with regard to particular religions. We have been trying to change the ethos governing schools and the process is particularly slow, so it is an important measurement.

The Minister of State indicates the data are important with respect to European institutions and our obligations. It is also important if we are to provide public services like schools in proportion to population centres. I have certainly heard people talking about emigrating and, unfortunately, that is likely to be a feature in future.

Has work commenced on digitising the data from the 1926 census? There is the question of the 100-year rule but this is quite an important census.

What measurements are applied to ensure the census of population is actually used? We can look at what is often a chaotic process in providing schools. Sometimes I wonder if the very valuable information collected is used appropriately. Is there a function at all in ensuring the data collected can be used as it should be?

I specifically ask about the collation of data relating to domestic and gender-based violence. As the Minister of State knows, it has been almost two decades since a landmark sexual abuse and violence in Ireland report. Following a very lengthy campaign by advocates and front-line service providers, agreement was reached between the Department of Justice and the Central Statistics Office by way of a memorandum of understanding in 2019 on the undertaking of a comprehensive State-wide survey on the prevalence of sexual violence here, as well as looking at the under-reporting of such crimes. The survey is to be done in five stages and was to be completed by the end of 2023. Phase 2 of the survey was due to be completed at the end of this year.

Will the Government Chief Whip confirm the CSO will conclude the survey design, preparation and pilot by the end of this year and that the methodology the CSO intends to use to conduct this survey has been decided? Will the data collection phase of the survey begin in January as planned, with data processing and analysis in October? Finally, will the survey include vulnerable cohorts of men and women, such as those with disabilities or in direct provision, migrant women, LGBTQI and the Traveller and Roma communities?

It is welcome that the census is rescheduled but I must ask whether the Government plays a blind bit of notice to the critical data it gathers, which allows us to plan, particularly in the area of school provision. Judging from my constituency, the Department of Education and the Government does not use the data.

I could name some of the patron school bodies and recite the numbers they have to deal with but none of them has a site. Sallynoggin Educate Together is on a temporary site that is too small and we have no idea when it will get a permanent site. We are not quite sure if the temporary site it has been given will be able to accommodate its numbers. Gaelscoil Laighean had to fight for years in order to get a permanent site but it is still on a temporary site. Dún Laoghaire Educate Together finally got a site, after years of campaigning, but it is still at an unsatisfactory temporary site. Booterstown National School is seeking to acquire a parish hall for an autism spectrum disorder class that is needed in the area but it cannot get any kind of decision from the Department of Education. At Clonkeen school in Deansgrange, the Government is allowing the Christian Brothers to sell all its playing fields to the detriment of the facilities needed in the school when there is a clear shortage of sites for schools in the area.

It appears we have all this data but they do not inform planning in school provision. That is certainly the case in my constituency and I suspect the same is true right across the country.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. The right decision was taken last September to postpone the census until 3 April next year. It is important to proceed and gather that information from the census so policymakers can make the right decision over the next ten years. Perhaps the Minister of State could detail the contingencies in place to ensure the census will happen next April.

A colleague has raised the question of the 1926 census, data from which is due to be published in 2026. Will the Minister of State consider doing that earlier? That census was taken at a tumultuous time for the State and the previous census was taken in 1911. It would be important to look at publishing it a bit earlier. There would be some great tourism and heritage benefits in this, especially for those who live abroad and who might come to the State to trace their roots. It is important that we look to try to publish that information as soon as possible.

I hope I have a few minutes as there have been plenty of questions from everyone. There was a query on how census questions are selected. The census forms for use next year have been finalised and preparation of the census questions is a multi-year project involving public consultation, commencing in 2017. There was a broad census advisory group, comprising 21 persons from Departments, social partners, the Economic and Social Research Institute, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, academia, local government and a range of other people. The holding of a census pilot survey took place in 2018.

Following the completion of the pilot, the census advisory group convened to consider the findings and finalise the questions to be concluded in census 2021.

Questions were asked about the potential inclusion of additional questions in the survey. As I said, the Central Statistics Office convened the group in 2017. It included a broad range of partners from across society and dictated the questions set. Any feedback on the current questions can be taken into account for the following census.

Questions were also asked about when the census results will be available. Preliminary results will be available in mid-2022 and definitive results will be made available on a phased basis from April to December 2023.

Deputy Kelly asked about the constituency boundary report. It is expected that the delay of one year will result in a similar delay to the report of the next constituency commission. The establishment of a commission is, however, a matter for the Oireachtas. The most recent constituency commission was established on 14 July 2016 following the publication of preliminary results of the census of population. The commission is required to present its report not later than three months after the publication by the CSO of the final result of the 2016 census.

With regard to how the postponement will affect next year, Covid-19 has impacted the CSO statistical work programme during the last year. More than 900 CSO staff moved from CSO offices to work from their homes. The single largest casualty by scale was the postponement of the census of population from 2021 to 2022.

Deputy Ó Broin asked about the progress being made on the development of the sexual violence survey. The Central Statistics Office agreed to a request by the Minister for Justice at the end of 2018 to oversee the development and delivery of a significant new national survey on the prevalence of sexual violence in Ireland. Given the complexity and sensitivity of the survey, it was envisaged that the entire process of scoping, planning, executing and reporting the survey would take in the region of five years, with exact timings only emerging as the scoping progresses. The survey involves the collection of extremely sensitive personal data from householders in a manner that is confidential and ethical, and which is designed to support accurate and reliable survey results. The protection of privacy and support for the needs of all householders and CSO staff involved is a priority. Strong project governance and oversight mechanisms have been established, internally within the CSO and externally with the Department of Justice and the stakeholder community, and this supports the project. Expertise is being built by engaging with the international experts in the field and other national statistical institutes. Expertise continues to be built through working with national experts, including in academia, policy development, personnel and service provision.

There has been excellent engagement from the stakeholder community, including NGOs such as Rape Crisis Network Ireland and Government agencies. Agreement was reached on the various areas to be tested on the pilot stage. These areas were translated into the questionnaire for the pilot. The pilot objectives and design have been outlined. Given the complexities and particular sensitivities in this survey, a pilot survey is important to learn lessons for the eventual main study. The pilot was scheduled to go into the field in July 2020, which was earlier than first estimated in 2019. However, the CSO household survey operations changed with the impact of Covid-19, with all face-to-face interviews cancelled. How the survey is delivered is important, not only for data quality but also for respondent and interviewer safety. Consequently, the pilot was postponed to April 2021. After a redesign, a pilot was agreed and fieldwork has now been completed. Findings from the pilot, including implications for the main survey, should be available in the third quarter of 2021. Pending the findings, it is still intended at this stage that the survey results will be available as per the original timeframe in 2023.

Deputy Devlin and others raised the issue of the 1926 forms. The censuses of population held between 1926 and 1991, inclusive, were carried out under the Statistics Act 1926, which does not permit release of any census records at any time. The Statistics Act 1993, however, repealed the 1926 and 1946 Acts and provided for the release of sensitive forms for these censuses 100 years after the date of the relevant census. The retrospective introduction of the 100 years' exemption was seen by some as undermining the original guarantee of confidentiality given to householders. It was generally accepted, however, that 100 years was a reasonable compromise in all the circumstances, including having regard to increased life expectancy.

I have tried to respond to most of the questions. I thank Members for their contributions.