The Government decided in July 2003 that a census of population should take place in 2006 in accordance with the long established five year frequency for census taking. Census day will be Sunday, 23 April. The Central Statistics Office began a consultation process in November 2003 to consider topics to be included in the census. Notices were placed in the national press and on the CSO website inviting public submissions on the suggested content of the 2006 census questionnaire.
A broadly based consultative group was set up in December 2003 to assist the CSO in assessing the merits of the various submissions received. The group agreed the content of the test questionnaire which was used in a census pilot survey. The survey was carried out in April 2004 and covered approximately 8,000 households in selected areas throughout the country. The results of the census pilot survey were discussed with the consultative group, following which the Director General of the CSO submitted a list of proposed topics to Government for its approval. The Government decided on the final content of the census questionnaire in January 2005.
In addition to long-standing questions on demographic and social topics a number of new questions will be asked in the upcoming census. These include a more comprehensive approach to measuring different family types, a question on female fertility, a question on ethnicity or cultural background and a question on participation in voluntary activities. New questions introduced for the 2002 census on Internet access, disability and carers are also being retained. For the first time in this country the responses to the disability questions will be used as the basis for a post-census disability survey to be conducted by the CSO in September-October.
A temporary field force is being recruited to carry out the census field work. This includes six liaison officers, 40 regional supervisors and 400 field supervisors who are already in place, along with 4,400 enumerators who will be taken on later this month to deliver and collect census forms throughout the country. It is estimated that the total cost of the census will be of the order of €50 million.
I would like to stress the importance attached by the Government to the census. The results are crucial for planning at national, regional and local level. The CSO puts major emphasis on ensuring that the census count is comprehensive. A unique strength of the census is its ability to provide accurate information on minorities and small areas and districts. This is particularly important in the context of the rapidly changing demographic environment in Ireland at present.
One of the factors which underpins the public co-operation which CSO enjoys is the guarantee of confidentiality of the information collected. The information collected can be used only for statistical purposes and individual information cannot be made available to any outside body or agency. This guarantee is contained in the Statistics Act 1993. In particular it implies that identifiable data cannot be made available to local authorities to enable them to check the accuracy of their electoral register data for particular individuals or households. However, the census information published at electoral division level, including the population classified by age, should enable local authorities to assess the coverage of their registers at that level of geographic detail. I wish the CSO well as it embarks on a vital national project, namely census 2006.