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U.S. Department of State
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999

Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC, September 9, 1999


Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. The Constitution forbids promotion of one religion over another and discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, and the Government does not hamper the teaching or practice of any faith. There is no state religion, and there is no discrimination against nontraditional religious groups.

The country is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. According to official government statistics collected during the 1991 census (the most recent figures available), the religious affiliation of population is 91.6 percent Roman Catholic, 2.5 percent Church of Ireland (Anglican), 0.4 percent Presbyterian, 0.1 percent Methodist, and less than 0.1 percent Jewish. Approximately 3 percent of the population are members of another religion or have no specific religious belief.

Although almost 92 percent of the population are classified as Roman Catholic, this is a "nominal" figure. Only 60 percent of Irish Catholics are estimated to be active church members. There are also numerous and varied small religious groups.

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 are controlled partially by the Catholic Church.

Under the terms of the Constitution, the Department of Education must and does provide equal funding to schools of different religious denominations (such as an Islamic school in Dublin). Although religious instruction is an integral part of the curriculum, parents may exempt their children from such instruction.

Immigrants and non-citizens encounter few difficulties in practicing their faiths. In the case of non-Catholics, there are some difficulties associated with the availability of facilities and personnel outside of Dublin.

In June 1998, an amended Employment Equality Act was passed that outlaws discrimination in relation to employment on the basis of nine discriminatory grounds including religion. In April 1999, the Government proposed an Equal Status bill that would prohibit discrimination outside of the employment context (such as in education or provision of goods) based on the same grounds used in the 1998 Employment Equality Act. The bill would establish an Equality Authority (replacing the existing Employment Equality Agency) to assure continued work towards the elimination of discrimination and the promotion of equality in employment.

Adherence to Roman Catholicism can be politically advantageous because of the country's history and tradition as a predominantly Catholic country and society. Members of the major political parties (Fianna Fail and Fine Gael) tend to be practicing Catholics.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

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

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Relations between various religious communities are amicable and friction is rare. Various religions, nongovernmental organizations (NGO's), and academic institutions have established activities or projects designed to promote greater mutual understanding and tolerance among adherents of different religions.

Irish society is largely homogenous, thus religious differences are not tied to ethnic or political differences. However, some citizens have political attitudes toward the conflict in Northern Ireland that are driven by their religious identities and loyalties, for example, some Catholics support Nationalist and Republican parties or ideals in the North on the basis of their religious loyalty.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy maintains regular contact with all communities, including religious groups and NGO's that deal with issues of religious freedom on a regular basis. The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights.

[End of Document]

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Revised last: 10-09-1999