There are more people in the State now than there was six years ago, but there has not been the same increase in the number of new homes to match that population growth.
This is one of the main takeaways from the first data to be published from the forms that every household in the country should have filled out on the night of Sunday, April 3rd.
Clearly, the public did not need the preliminary findings from Census 2022 to know that there were not enough homes being built to meet the growing number of people in the country.
But the preliminary figures from the census, delayed by a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, offer important new details that help explain the pressure the Government faces providing basic services.
The Central Statistics Office was at pains to stress the initial figures are simply summaries of the headcount data for population and housing. A more detailed analysis of what the census figures actually mean will not be available until fuller data is published next year.
Overall, the population stands at its highest level in 171 years, rising above the five million mark for the first time since 1851 in the wake of the Great Famine, the most traumatic event in the country’s history that devastated the population through death and mass emigration .
Census 2022 shows there are just over 5.1 million people in the State, an increase of 361,671 people, or 8 per cent in the past six years. This is down to a natural increase of 171,338 and net migration of 190,333. In other words, the population rose because births have been outstripping deaths over the past six years and, at the same time, more people moved into the State than left.
The rate of increase in the past six years was twice the increase seen in the previous five years when the State was still dealing with the fallout of a crippling financial crisis and economic crash.
The average annual natural increase (births minus deaths) in the population was 28,556 a year in the last six years, compared with 39,656 in the previous five years. It will be next year before the CSO can provide a more detailed breakdown to understand the difference in the two periods.
The emigration-immigration flows are more easily explained by the improved economic fortunes of recent years. On average, there was a net inflow of 31,722 a year between 2016 and 2022 when there were better economic prospects in the State. In contrast, there was a net flow of 3,934 people a year out of the country between 2011 and 2016 as more people were forced to seek work abroad.
In a positive sign, every county recorded an increase in their population over the past six years, but the spread of population increase was far from even.
The concentration of population growth has been, unsurprisingly, in the east of the country, with Dublin, Cork and Meath recording the largest inward migration of all counties.
In response to the new census figures, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said they showed the need for continued investment in childcare, education, health and housing “to keep pace”.
The early data shows the Government is not keeping up. Population growth outstripped the increase in the number of homes over the past six years by two percentage points.
Among the more alarming statistics in the data was the fact that one in five vacant homes are rental properties and that the percentage of these was found to be the highest in Galway city (38 per cent) and in Dublin (30 per cent). These are concerning figures in the middle of a housing crisis.
Further details published next year will provide more data around what is at play here that should help feed into more policy fixes by Government.
On a lighter note, some men may delight in the fact that the ratio of males for every 1,000 women has fallen to its lowest level since 1871.