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Freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion are, subject to public order and morality, Constitutionally guaranteed. The State guarantees not to endow any religion. The majority of the people belong to Christian denominations. At the 1991 census, approximately 92% of the population of the Republic of Ireland were classified as Roman Catholic, approximately 3% as Protestant (including Church of Ireland: 2.35%; Presbyterian: 0.37%; Methodist: 0.14%). There is a small but long-established Jewish Community (0.04%). The remainder of the population belonged to other religious groups, many of them newly-established in Ireland (Islamic: 0.11%, Jehovahís Witnesses: 0.10%, etc.) or claimed no specific religious beliefs.

The main religious denominations are organised on an all-Ireland basis. They are as follows:

  • The Roman Catholic Church


    The Catholic Church has four ecclesiastical provinces, each with its own archbishop: Armagh, Dublin, Cashel and Tuam, covering the north, east, south and west of the country, respectively. Each province consists of a number of dioceses, of which there are 27 in all. The Archbishop of Armagh is the Primate of All Ireland and is normally a Cardinal. The present diocesan structure has remained basically the same since the 12th century and does not conform to modern political divisions.

    The combined Catholic population of the Republic and of Northern Ireland is about
    3.9 million. There are approximately 1,300 parishes served by about 4,000 priests. The rate of religious practice among Irish Catholics is one of the highest in the world. There are approximately 20,000 men and women in various religious orders of priests, brothers and nuns.
    The Catholic Church is closely involved in the provision of education and health services. This involvement began as a service to the poor but expanded considerably over the years. The Church cooperates with State agencies in many areas such as education and welfare.
    The Irish Catholic Church sends missionaries to every continent. Today there are over 4,500 Irish missionaries working in 85 different countries throughout Africa, Asia, Central and South America, and Oceania.

  • The Church of Ireland


    The Church of Ireland is a Protestant Episcopal Church, an autonomous church within the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Church is organised into twelve dioceses. The Archbishop of Armagh is the Primate of All Ireland and the only other Archbishopric is Dublin. Chief legislative power lies with the General Synod, consisting of the archbishops, bishops, 216 representatives of the clergy and 432 representatives of the laity. The clerical and lay representatives are elected every three years. The Church of Ireland is actively involved in education and social services. The total membership of the Church of Ireland is around 380,000, 75% of whom live in Northern Ireland.

  • The Presbyterian Church


    The Presbyterian Church is a Protestant Church of the Reformed tradition with a strong emphasis on the authority of the Scriptures in the life of the Christian. The Church has 558 congregations or parishes grouped into 21 districts called Presbyteries, and five regional Synods. These are all represented at the highest court of the Church, known as the General Assembly of ministers and elders. Elders are men and women elected by the congregation and are responsible for the spiritual welfare of Church members. The Assembly makes rules and decides the policies of the Church. It meets annually and is presided over by the Moderator who is elected to represent the Presbyterian Church for a one year period. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has ordained women to the ministry since the 1950ís. There are approximately 312,000 Presbyterians in Ireland, more than 95% of whom live in Northern Ireland. Most of the latter stem from the 17th century Plantation of Ulster.

  • The Methodist Church


    The Methodist Church in Ireland owes its origins to the missions of John Wesley, the evangelic preacher who visited the country on several occasions in the 18th century. Although closely linked to British Methodism, the Irish Methodist Church is an autonomous body with its own President and Secretary. There are 240 local churches grouped into 77 Circuits which are in turn grouped into eight Districts. The Methodist Church has approximately 130 ministers engaged in active parish duties. The total membership of the Church in Ireland is around 60,000 people, about 90% of whom live in Northern Ireland.
    Irish Methodism has developed a wide range of social work activities, mainly through its missions in the larger cities. These provide facilities for the elderly and the needy. The Church is also involved in education

by Michael Green

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