Religiosity is on the rapid decline in Ireland, in fact, the Irish are losing their religion at one of the fastest rates in the world. In 1961, 94.9% of the population stated Catholicism as their religion, this has now fallen to 84.2%. Not a drastic drop but it is nonetheless significant, especially considering that most of this decline has occurred over the past two decades, as those with no-religion have risen by over 400% since 1991. Although 84.2% still adhere to Catholicism, it is a misleading statistic as this does not accurately represent religiosity. Many Catholics are simply flippant about religion and merely equate themselves with Catholicism simply due to tradition. Many people who are non-religious, and even openly hostile to the Catholic Church, still go through the usual rigmarole of Catholic rituals such as baptisms, communions, confirmations etc. The statistics simply reflect unwillingness among Irish people to refuse the status quo. In fact, a recent poll by Ipsos MRBI found that 14% did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, and if you find that shocking, 7% do not even believe in god. So religiosity is in the decline, and coupled with the growth of non-religious people, this has led to an increase in the demand for secularisation.
The Catholic Church, and religion in general, has a great deal of influence in public life. The Church runs over 90% of primary (elementary) schools and over 50% of secondary (high) schools. Religious oaths are required if one is to hold any of several key public offices. To combat this, numerous organisations have been fighting for the secularisation of Ireland, and this week there was a huge win for one such organisation. The Humanist Association of Ireland (HAI) announced that their 10 year campaign to legalise Humanist weddings has final come to fruition:
The Bill to give legal status to Humanist weddings passed all stages in the Dáil on Thursday, December 20th 2012. Having already passed all stages in the Seanad, it is now set to be signed into law by the President.
This is a major victory for the Humanist Association of Ireland which has been campaigning for this change for the past decade.
Humanist wedding ceremonies have grown in popularity in recent years but, in order to have a legally binding marriage, couples have had to have a civil ceremony in addition to their Humanist ceremony. This change in legislation will give legal status to Humanist ceremonies and so provide real choice for couples getting married.
In early January the HAI will apply to the Registrar for registration under this new legislation and the HAI-accredited celebrants will have their names added to the General Register Office list of solemnisers.
Humanist weddings consisted of 29% of weddings in 2011, compared to just 6% in 1996. If religion continues to decline then the demand for Humanist weddings will continue to rise, and now, thanks to the HAI, Irish couples have a viable alternative to a religious ceremony. Ireland has a long way to go before we can enjoy a secular Ireland, but if organisations such as the HAI continue to battle in the manner that they do then it will surely be a reality in the future.
[EDIT] Thanks to some of my my readers for pointing out that 29% of weddings were civil, not Humanist. Here is a link to more detailed info regarding Irish ceremonies.