Sunday 24 April 2016

Census Night

Big day for data-wonks in Ireland: tonight is census enumeration night in the Republic.  The government, through its Central Statistics Office, has handed out nearly 2 million census forms over the past month - one for every household in the country. The homeless will be swept up and quizzed with some care by such groups as the Simon Community; and hotels will have a lot of extra work to do in the morning. Ireland goes through this ritual every five years whereas the Brits, who started the idea off in these islands, are on a ten-year cycle.  That is a little ironic because, the austerity government has been cheese-paring about the cost of the exercise and has used almost exactly the same model and list of questions as for 2011. Doing it every 5 years acknowledges the fast-moving pace of our increasingly multi-cultural and dynamic society, but you he to move the questions along with the times for this to mean much.

The cost of the exercise is pushed up because each of us is assigned to a census enumerator who is required to give out each census form and collect it in person. Ours drove up the lane on Tuesday for the 3rd time of asking and found us up to our wrists in sheep-fleece, so I didn't have much time to waste on the transaction. Nevertheless, she kept me at her car-window for a solid 10 minutes gossiping about our neighbours and, when I confessed to working at The Institute, my work-colleagues. I guess you'd only apply for that sort of part-time temporary work if you were 'interested in people'; but you'd wish that they had been schooled more in discretion as well as GPS and Eircodes.  That would be a mild harumph!

Another thing that has been exercising a vociferous minority is the question of religion.  For reasons of cost-saving and inertia we are presented with the same old same old list as last time:
Q12 What is your religion? is given 7 choices:

  1. Roman Catholic
  2. Church of Ireland
  3. Islam
  4. Presbyterian
  5. Orthodox
  6. Other, write your RELIGION
  7. No religion

The Humanist Association of Ireland is urging us all to not tick the first box simply because we collected a load of money when we did First Communion 20, 30 or 40 years ago. The Irish Times is arch and too clever-by-half in explaining the issues. Religion is, according to the HAI, a regular practice, not a set of rituals only dusted off for weddings and funerals. "The HAI appreciates that some people may want to identify themselves as Atheist, Agnostic or Humanist or even leave the question unanswered. Marking ‘No religion’ is better because in doing so your count is added with others to show the true number of those with no religion". While it would be hilarious to record your religion as Jedi or Giant Spagettista, a surge of No Religion just may implement change in the governance of our increasingly secular society in matters of education and health provision. Would you rather have nuns or doctors in charge of your local hospital?
Parents [L parent who, despite the red hair and Aran sweater, is identifiably protestant from the width between her eyes] across the country are going through all sorts of shenanigans, including the cost of first communion and confirmation to get their kids into the local school despite the fact that it has the RC parish priest as chairman of the board of governors. [Propaganda vid] They don't want to sign up for a school-run nightmare for the next decade and they don't want to be ghettoised with a lot of long-hairs and tree-huggers in an Educate Together school (if indeed there is one anywhere close) or <frisson> join the Home Ed whoowah Birkenstock-and-ricecake brigade. There is a certain social éclat in getting your kids into the dinky local protestant school if there is one nearby: they will will rub shoulders with the children of doctors, barristers and entrepreneurs. I know of outrageous hypocrisies to achieve this entré to the local Church of Ireland national school or hoping to follow U2 into the black protestant portals of Mount Temple Comprehensive in North Dublin.

I'm going to have trouble with Q30 What is (was) your occupation in your main job? I'll be spending the night with my aged and esteemed father-in-law Pat the Salt.  He's been on the planet for 90+ years and has been a lot of things since running away to sea as a cabin-boy in 1939. I really don't know which of his many occupations paid the rent for the longest time and it may be hard to get dates from him. I don't think he is exceptional in this regard: the days of a a permanent and preferably pensionable job for life are no longer likely for many-or-most of us.  We need to plan for a portfolio society and if the census is about anything it is about planning for the future by extrapolating from today's data. Q30 assumes a single job in the same way as Q12 assumes Catholic. Both those assumptions are a) wrong and b) potentially expensive and destructive.

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