Census Night 2016

Declan Smyth outlines the close link between the census and policing

Members of An Garda Síochána delivered and collected forms in the first census taken by the Irish Free State in 1926; as the police force had done in Ireland under British jurisdiction since 1821. The role of the Force was rolled back for the 1951 census when postmen were used to deliver forms in Dublin. Civilians were recruited for the first time to work on the census in 1961 alongside gardaí, and by 1979 the entire enumeration work was carried out by a specially recruited temporary field force.

Although An Garda Síochána no longer has official responsibility for delivering and collecting the census forms, local stations have an important role. The Central Statistics Office (CSO)  instructed its regional and field managers to contact their local gardaí to let them know that enumerators will be in their area and collecting until Friday May 27. The field managers sought advice from gardaí on safety and security issues which they can pass on to enumerators in the area. In some areas, enumerators may ask local gardaí for assistance in gaining access to the increasing number of apartment blocks and gated communities around the country.

For Census 2016, over 5,100 temporary field staff have been recruited. The bulk of these staff, the 4,700 enumerators, have responsibility for ensuring that census forms are delivered to every household in the country in advance of Census Night, Sunday April 24th. They will then be required to return to every house, apartment, flat and communal establishment in order to check and collect the completed forms.  The census count must be 100% of the population so the enumerators will have to continue to call until a completed form has been collected.

Gardaí may also be called upon by census field staff to help them deal with aggressive or threatening householders who have objections to participating in the census. Instances such as these are rare, however. Completing a census form is a statutory obligation under the Statistics Act 1993, backed by a fine of up to €44,400. Based on past experience the vast majority of householders are happy to co-operate with enumerators and complete and return their forms on time.

It has been common practice in advance of each census to conduct a public consultation on possible new questions and changes to existing questions. With constraints on resources across the public sector, it was not possible to pursue this route for census 2016. Accordingly a ‘no-change’ census with the questions on the 2016 questionnaire unchanged from those used in the 2011 census, with the exception of the question on marital status.

Under the Statistics Act 1993, the detailed data being collected in Census 2016 will be made available to future historians in the year 2117. This reflects the absolute commitment to the confidentiality of census returns. All census field staff are sworn in as Officers of Statistics which entails that by law they may not disclose any personal information they come across during their work on the census. Furthermore, all persons filling out census forms are given a statutory commitment that the information they provide will not be used for any other purpose other than statistical. The issue of confidentiality is at the cornerstone of a successful census.

Once the census forms are completed, collected and returned to CSO, the first preliminary population estimate will be available in July 2016. The population total counted in 2011 was just under 4.6 million. Approximately 2.1 million forms in almost 16,000 boxes arrive in CSO they will be scanned, the data captured will be coded, analysed, and the results will be published as a series of thematic releases in 2017.

The CSO will also be making census data available at garda region, division and district level. This will provide local gardaí with detailed information on their local districts. Gardaí will have access to the age profile, social class breakdown, number of foreign nationals, levels of education and commuting patterns in their district. This and most other data and reports released after the census will be available on the CSO’s website, www.census.ie. Data for 2011 is currently available.

Declan Smyth is a CSO Statistician