International Religious Freedom Report 2006
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 27,136 square miles, and a population of approximately four million. The country is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. According to official government statistics based on the 2002 census, the religious affiliation of the population was 88.4 percent Catholic (3,462,606), 2.9 percent Church of Ireland (115,611), 0.55 percent Christian (unspecified), 0.52 percent Presbyterian (20,582), 0.25 percent Methodist (10,033), 0.49 percent Muslim (19,147), and less than 0.1 percent Jewish (1,790). Approximately 5.5 percent (217,358) of the population stated no preference or adherence to a particular religion.

The number of immigrants increased, and they tended to be non-Catholic. Muslim and Orthodox Christian communities in particular continued to grow, especially in Dublin. Immigrants and noncitizens encountered few difficulties in practicing their faiths.

According to 2005 figures released by the Catholic Communications Office (CCO), approximately 60 percent of the 4,155,368 Irish and Northern Irish Catholics attended Mass once a week and 220,000 attended Mass once a day. The CCO reported that there was a noticeable increase in attendance during Christmas and Easter holidays and around the time of the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005. A similar survey conducted in 2005 by the Evangelical Alliance Ireland (EAI) estimated that up to 30,000 evangelicals (comprising Baptists, members of Assemblies of God, Pentecostals, charismatics, and former Catholics) attended services each week.

Section II. Status of Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. The Government at all levels sought to protect this right in full and did not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

The constitution prohibits promotion of one religion over another and discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, and the Government does not restrict the teaching or practice of any faith. There is no state religion, and there was no discrimination against nontraditional religious groups. There is no legal requirement that religious groups or organizations register with the Government, nor is there any formal mechanism for government recognition of a religion or religious group.

The Employment Equality Act prohibits discrimination in employment on nine grounds, including religion. The Equality Authority works toward continued progress in the elimination of discrimination and the promotion of equality in employment. The Equal Status Act prohibits discrimination outside of employment (such as in education or provision of goods) on the same grounds cited in the Employment Equality Act.

While Catholicism is the dominant religion, it was not favored officially or in practice. Because of the country's history and tradition as a predominantly Catholic country and society, the majority of those in political office are Catholic, and some Catholic holy days are also national holidays.

The following holy days are considered national holidays: St. Patrick's Day (the country's national day), Good Friday, Easter Monday, Christmas, and St. Stephen's Day. These holidays did not negatively affect any religious group.

The Government does not require but does permit religious instruction in public schools. Most primary and secondary schools are denominational, and their boards of management were governed partially by trustees within the Catholic Church or, in some cases, the Church of Ireland. Under the terms of the constitution, the Department of Education must and does provide equal funding to schools of different religious denominations, including Islamic and Jewish schools. Although religious instruction is an integral part of the curriculum, parents may exempt their children from such instruction.

In 2003, the Equality Authority published a booklet stating that church-linked schools are permitted legally to refuse to admit a student who is not of that religion, providing the school can prove that the refusal is essential to the maintenance of the "ethos" of the school (i.e., too many Catholics in a Muslim school could prevent the school from having a Muslim "ethos"). However, there were no reports of any children being refused admission to any school for this reason.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Anti-Semitism

In 2005, there were reports of acts of vandalism against Jewish establishments in Dublin. The culprit was identified and, in February 2006, sentenced to twenty months in jail for multiple counts of vandalism. He was scheduled to appeal this sentencing on June 26, 2006; however, his appeal was rescheduled to take place in October 2006. The individual was out on bail for these charges at the end of the period covered by this report. In another February 2006 case, the same individual was charged and placed on probation for six months for the 2005 painting of swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti on the Dublin Jewish museum. On May 19, 2006, he was scheduled to face twenty-three further charges of sending offensive e-mails to Jewish community individuals; however, trials pertaining to these charges were rescheduled for September 2006. After his arrest, the attacks on Jewish establishments ceased.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

In November 2004, in an effort to reach out across community and faith lines, the Government invited key religious leaders, including the imam from a prominent mosque, to take part in the country's presidential inauguration. In March 2005, government officials took part in a "Muslims in Ireland Today" conference held at a prominent mosque in the country. In addition, the Garda (the police) Racial and Intercultural Office placed 145 Ethnic Liaison Officers around the country to advise police and monitor policing activity in light of the increasing number of ethnic and religious groups that were immigrating to the country. In December 2005, the prime minister announced that the Government initiated contact with and decided to meet annually with leaders of the religious communities to institute regular interfaith dialogues.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

The generally amicable relationship among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom. Society largely was homogenous; as a result, religious differences were not tied to ethnic or political differences. Various religious groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and academic institutions conducted activities or projects designed to promote greater mutual understanding and tolerance among adherents of different religions.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. In September 2004 the U.S. Embassy began its Muslim Outreach program aimed at fostering greater understanding of political, social, cultural, and religious views prevalent among Muslims in the country, and embassy officials, including the ambassador, met regularly with Muslims. Embassy officials also met with the chief rabbi of the country, the head of the Egyptian Coptic Church, and prominent leaders from both Catholic and Protestant religious groups. The embassy's interfaith Thanksgiving reception facilitated dialogue and understanding of religious freedom among governmental, NGO, religious, and community leaders, and assisted government outreach to minority groups.

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