Irishness is to qualify as an ethnic category for the first time on the next official British census. Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has decided that a box marked "Irish" should be included in order to give ministers a more accurate picture of the country's ethnic communities.
The change will be announced in a White Paper, to be published shortly, which will also ask Britons to give their religion on the form for the first time since 1851. Until now, people living in the UK have been asked to classify themselves as "white", "black-Caribbean", "black-African", "black-other", "Indian", "Pakistani", "Bangladeshi" or "Chinese".
However, ministers believe that these categories are "outdated" in modern multi-cultural Britain. They are particularly concerned that censuses have failed to provide information on the Irish community, one of the oldest and largest ethnic groups in the country.
The decision will delight Irish support groups, who believe that they will be able to qualify for more financial support if specific information is available about their community.
According to groups such as the Federation of Irish Societies, the community has unique problems. Some research suggests that the life expectancy of Irish men is reduced by as much as 10 years when they move to Britain.
A survey last year by the Commission for Racial Equality found that Irish people still encountered racism. Three-quarters of respondents said they had suffered harassment or discrimination because of their Irishness.
People will also be asked to give their religion on the census form. Mr Straw, who has 20,000 Muslims in his Blackburn constituency, believes that racial categories fail to take into account that many Asian communities are identified more by faith than by country of origin.Reuse content