Census 2011 Irish Ethnicity

Published on Tuesday 11th January, 2011 by Celtic Trust

Irish Ethnicity and the 2011 Census: 'Tick the Irish Box: be proud and be counted'

Irish Ethnicity in Scotland

At the end of March 2011 a question in the census refers to ‘ethnic’ background. It is NOT asking where you were born or about how you see your national identity – even if they might or might not be linked in some way. EVERYONE has an ethnic identity; Irish, Italian, Pakistani, Chinese, English, Polish, Iranian, Scottish etc. Ethnicity is NOT about skin colour. Ethnicity refers to past family and predecessors; people such as parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. There are at least half a million people in Scotland with parents, grandparents or often several great grandparents, that came to Scotland from Ireland over the past 150 years. Their ethnicity is Irish – they are, in the main, the Irish in Scotland. Various areas of Glasgow, Coatbridge, Hamilton, Clydebank, Dumbarton, Port Glasgow and villages like Glenboig, Croy, Carfin, Chapelhall and others in the west-central belt of Scotland are partly characterised by the Irishness of many in their inhabitants: those of Irish ethnicity even make up a majority in some of these areas.


Sometimes people have mixed ethnicity; Scots-Italian, Asian-Scots, Polish-Irish, Irish-English and Irish-Scottish-Italian are some of those common in Scotland: a multi-cultural country because, particularly since the mid 19th century, it has become home to numerous peoples’ that originate from other countries: the Irish from 1845 until about 1920, the Lithuanians at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, the Italians likewise, the Chinese after the Second World War and similarly people from Pakistan, India, and more recently Poland. There are hundreds of thousands of English born people in Scotland too. For different reasons many of Scotland’s immigrants have endeavoured to assimilate and conform to wider social, cultural and symbolic ‘norms’ (as sometimes they do in other countries). This in often an attempt to be tolerated and accepted in the face of disadvantage and prejudice: in this case sometimes people hide or disguise their ethnic origins (religion, surnames, culture, etc) so as to be seen as authentically Scottish or British. Others integrate into Scottish and British societies while retaining features and practices associated with their ethnic heritage and background: sometimes evident via choice of music, food, cultural habits, pubs visited, songs, sport, preference regarding holiday destination, their religion and of course in their surnames and forenames which are often obvious markers of ethnic and cultural distinctiveness.


With regards those from an Irish background that make up Scotland’s largest ethnic minority community, many are proud of their Irish heritage and expressions of this emerge in the use of Irish forenames, enjoying Irish dance, playing and liking Irish music and singing Irish songs, supporting Gaelic sport, visiting Ireland, political and cultural interests, reading Irish newspapers and magazines, listening to Irish radio, participating in St Patrick’s Day celebrations, and supporting Celtic Football Club, an institution founded within and largely championed by Scotland’s historic Irish community. But what about the forthcoming census: why is it important for those of Irish descent to tick the correct ethnic box? Irish ethnicity and cultural identity have until now been largely unaccounted for in official statistics, a situation that offers an inadequate and limiting picture of the multi-cultural composition of society: in other words, in the past Irishness in Scotland has often been ignored and unseen. To an extent, the forthcoming census deals with this and has become a more useful document in that it literally does not see its population in black and white terms. It recognises ethnicity has no basis with regards skin colour and seeks to allow those of Irish descent to accurately record their Irish background, heritage and cultural identity. In the forthcoming census it is important that people born in Scotland from an Irish background record themselves and their families accurately by ‘ticking the Irish ethnic box’. As well as having a range of needs similar to other communities, people from an Irish background have specific social, cultural, religious, economic and health issues and requirements. Studies show that: 1. Men with Irish surnames in west-central Scotland are 26% more likely to die prematurely as a result of social and health factors. The same group is 51% more likely to die of heart disease than a number of others from a non-Irish background. 2. Many 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation Irish in Scotland perceive injustice and inequality in numerous walks of Scottish life: not least of all in employment and sport. 3. Catholics from an Irish background form a disproportionate number in Scottish prisons. 4. Related to this, Catholics of Irish descent disproportionately abide in areas of the west-central belt where there are high levels of deprivation, and arguably degrees of religious, social, economic and cultural prejudice and discord. 5. People of Irish descent in Scotland are offered virtually no identifiable funding from Government, community and public bodies. Research that looks at the multi-generational Irish communities of Britain, carried out by university based academics, Patricia Walls, Máirtín Mac an Ghaill, Mary Hickman, Bronwen Walter, Joseph Bradley and Sarah Morgan amongst others, stress the need for people from an Irish background to tick the Irish ethnic box in the census to record and assess the cultural, health and economic needs of Britain’s largest group of immigrant origin and to ‘facilitate monitoring of social disadvantage and discrimination’. If society ignores and marginalises its Scottish and English born Irish communities then that is at odds with recognition of more recently settled ethnic minorities as well as publicly expressed aspirations for a just and equal society where a sense of common citizenship can be shared and celebrated alongside national, cultural and community distinctiveness. The psychology of being able, being allowed, and being confident enough, to say, ‘I’m Irish’, ‘my ethnicity is Irish’ or, ‘I’m proud of my Irishness’, is so profound it is incalculable to the health and welfare of individuals and communities. Without this right society is damaged by sustaining the cultural marginalization of a substantial number of its citizens largely ‘because’ of their Irish ethnicity Many have argued for Irish and religious categories to be included in the census. In 2001 Bashir Mann of the Asian community in Glasgow recognised that the then omission of a religious question for his community could result in 'obstructing the formation of proper plans and policies, and denying the equitable provision of services and distribution of resources to some deprived groups in Scotland'. The Scottish Government has recognised that such information is crucial in the pursuit of an equitable and inclusive society. Scotland is awakening to many issues that form a series of social, economic and political fundamentals. All census information is for statistical purposes only and is completely anonymous. If you have great grandparents, grandparents or parents etc who came from Ireland to Scotland, you should tick the Irish box at question 15 which asks your ethnic group. If you are of an Irish background in Scotland then you should answer the enquiry affirmatively. ‘Tick the Irish Box’: be proud and be counted. This information is produced by the Irish Diaspora in Scotland Association (IDSA) Question 15 What is your ethnic group? Chose ONE section from A to F then tick ONE box which best describes your ethnic group or background. A White  Scottish  Other British X Irish  Gypsy/Traveller  Polish Other white ethnic group please write


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