If there’s one thing policymakers love and fear, it’s a census.
They enjoy freshly caught data that may inform public service planning for years to come.
And they worry that if the services are not provided, they will be plagued by data.
The sudden lack of school places for young children was not so sudden. It was signposted five years earlier.
These angry complaints from rural businesses about the lack of internet didn’t just erupt. They were signaled in good time.
“You can’t run away from the census. That’s probably the most important thing,” says sociologist Professor Niamh Hourigan.
Her position is illustrated by a series of exchanges in the Dáil in recent weeks.
TDs took the government to task on issues such as the disproportionate burden of care work on women, the large parts of rural Ireland still without broadband access, the number of empty homes at a time of a housing crisis and the huge inequality in educational attainment among Travelers compared to general population.
Transport Secretary Eamon Ryan, meanwhile, outlined how his forthcoming sustainable mobility policy would address the diverse needs of children, women, people with disabilities and the elderly.
All discussions and presentations were based on or corroborated statistics from the last census.
For Prof. Hourigan, who has spent a great deal of time trawling through census figures for her own research, the prospect of a new batch is exciting.
“As a scholar, you will never have the resources to take snapshots of everyone in the country, so always do spot checks.
“We see it in political opinion polls that try to represent the whole country of 1,000 people.
“The census takes us into completely different territory because it’s an attempt to cover everyone. It cannot be surpassed by any other research.”
It is this very extensive nature of the census process that can sometimes rouse conspiracy theorists.
Some online groups have tried to dissuade people from participating in the Big Brother exercise, arguing that the information is private and the motives behind its collection are suspicious.
Niall Cussen, the planning regulator, sees the motifs transform into maps as he assesses county and city development plans designed to anticipate and respond to the basic needs of the population.
“The census is one of the cornerstones of our planning process for many different parts of public services and the built environment, particularly housing, education, healthcare and transport, but also other key areas,” he says.
“Take schools, for example. In recent years we have had challenges in keeping up with population growth in certain areas – making sure there are schools and teachers when the children are ready to present themselves for class.
“The census is the key piece of information that informs the Department of Education, child care committees and education and training authorities and gives them an overview of upcoming developments.
“It is also used to fulfill long-term needs such as predicting trends around regional development and telling us whether we are achieving balanced regional development goals.
“It is critical that citizens recognize their role in conducting the census to provide the very services they depend on for themselves and their families.”
Concerns arising from the 2022 census will not be detracted from their importance by the disruption caused by Covid to where and how people live, work and travel, Prof Hourigan says.
“We have this census at one of the most important times in the last 30 years.
“The changes Irish society has seen during Covid have been quite profound. The census gives us the opportunity to map that,” she says.
It’s not just about hard facts.
The inclusion of the time capsule feature will also provide a wealth of detail that will help provide future historians and sociologists with a fuller picture of who we were.
“I saw someone tweet a photo of his form and he said ‘Has Mayo won the overall in Ireland yet?'” says Prof Hourigan.
“It might sound like a joke, but the fun element is really valuable because what’s interesting about the Irish is that we communicate a lot through humor.
“I think this role will reveal a lot about what our occupations are today. A lot of people are very concerned about Covid and the invasion of Ukraine and I think we will see some of that fear being captured.
“But it doesn’t have to be deep to be insightful. If it’s quirky or funny, it still tells you something about people’s values and what’s important to them.
“Sociologists don’t dismiss the whims — actually, that still tells us something to learn from.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/census-gives-the-chance-to-map-the-changes-society-has-gone-through-during-pandemic-41512744.html The census provides an opportunity to map the changes society has undergone during the pandemic