Religious faith in Ireland is in crisis according to a new worldwide survey just published.

The Red C poll, re-printed in the Irish Independent, shows that the Irish are abandoning religion faster than any other country in the world.

The paper reports that only Vietnam has seen a bigger drop in people declaring themselves to be religious over the past seven years.

A series of crises within the Catholic Church in Ireland in that time has had a devastating effect on religious faith.

The poll was conducted amongst 51,000 people worldwide, a thousand of them in Ireland.

An overwhelming 69pc of Irish people declared themselves to be ‘a religious person’ in the last survey conducted in 2005 but that figure is now down to 47pc.

Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin acknowledged: “The results of the global index require closer critical reading.

“It highlights the challenges facing the Catholic faith in a changing Ireland.

“The Catholic Church, on its part, cannot simply presume that the faith will automatically be passed from one generation to the next or be lived to the full by its own members.”

Dr Martin told the paper that there is a need for strong ongoing education in the faith with a growing need for adult religious education to stop people drifting from the faith as they got older.

A spokesman for the Catholic Communications Office told the Irish Independent that faith is not a ‘numbers game’.

He also claimed that the latest survey contrasted sharply with the 2011 Census which found that 84pc described themselves as Catholic and just 5pc said they had no religion.

The spokesman appeared to be critical of the poll. He said: “The word 'religious', if left unqualified, is too general to be used as the keyword in a survey questionnaire, especially in the Irish context where people prefer words such as spiritual.

“Being religious is a very subjective measurement. For example, in the Catholic Church, someone who attends Mass on a daily basis may not describe themselves as religious yet they are outwardly a person of deep faith.”

The latest research has Ireland in the top 10 for the number of people declaring themselves to be ‘a convinced atheist’, a stark rise from three per cent seven years ago.

Speaking on behalf of the Association of Catholic Priests, Fr Brendan Hoban said: “The Red C results are predictable enough given the fall-off in Mass attendance and the drop in interest in the Catholic Church in recent years.

“However Irish Catholic numbers are holding up markedly. But the Catholic Church here is almost traumatised by the scandals of the last 10 to 15 years, and this is affecting its ability to take steps to address declining religious observation.

“It’s so difficult for the bishops to provide leadership because, on the one hand, if they speak out, they are criticised, and if they don't speak out, they are also criticised.”