Irish Republican News · December 14, 2012
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Protestants decline as ‘Northern Irish’ are tallied


The Protestant population in the north of Ireland is continuing to fall with the gap between the two religious traditions narrowing further.

The 2011 census shows that 48 per cent of the resident population is either Protestant or brought up Protestant while 45 per cent is either Catholic or brought up Catholic.

The figures represent a continued decrease in the north’s Protestant population.

In the 2001 census the proportion of Protestants stood at 53 per cent, compared to a Catholic population of 44 per cent. Almost all the rise in the Catholic population can be accounted for by the relatively high rates of immigration in recent years. Polish speakers now make up almost 1% of the North’s population.

A breakdown based on religion will not be published until next year, but census chief Robert Beatty said the trends identified in the 2001 census were instructive as they had highlighted an ageing Protestant community.

“If you look at the age profile of the Protestant people - those who belong or were brought up as Protestant - in 2001 and the age profile of the Catholics in 2001, given the older age profile of Protestants you would expect mortality to have a bigger effect on Protestants - more Protestants will die proportionately than Catholics,” Mr Beatty said.

“And also we have the [separate] publication of the school census which shows a Catholic majority in school-age children.

“So if you bring those two together I think the expectation would have been a narrowing of the gap.”

Other factors include migration and an increase in those describing themselves as having no religion.

A decade ago 3 per cent of people said they neither belonged to, nor had been brought up in, any religion but the figure has doubled with the highest proportion of those people living in North Down (12 per cent) and Carrickfergus (10 per cent).

Almost 6 per cent of people belong to another Christian or Christian-related denominations while just under one per cent to other religions and philosophies such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism.

The census also shows that just 25% of residents consider themselves Irish only.

The 2011 census contained a new question on national identity which showed that nearly as many people described themselves as ‘Northern Irish’ as ‘Irish’.

The census revealed that 40 per cent categorise themselves as British, 25 per cent as Irish and 21 per cent as Northern Irish.

Respondents could choose more than one national identity and of those who did 6 per cent described themselves as British and Northern Irish, one per cent Irish and Northern Irish and the same percentage picked all three -- British, Irish and Northern Irish. Five per cent categorised themselves as other.

A breakdown of the figures relating identity and religious background should be available next year, with most interest around those who describe themselves as “Northern Irish”. It is thought this group could be influential in any constitutional change in Ireland, similar to those supporting further devolution (“Devo Max”) over independence in Scotland’s constitutional debate.

The answers to the national identity question varied across the council areas.

In Carrickfergus 62 per cent of people have a British-only national identity, followed by Ards at 59 per cent.

In Derry, however, 52 per cent of residents consider themselves Irish, as do exactly half of Newry and Mourne residents while residents of Omagh (28 per cent), Down (27 per cent) and Strabane (27 per cent) are most likely to call themselves Northern Irish.

The census also revealed that 59 per cent of people hold a British passport, 21 per cent have an Irish passport and 19 per cent do not hold a passport.

Demographically, the North’s population has increased by 7.5 per cent to 1.811 million since the 2001 census.

Sinn Fein has called for a border poll to be carried out in response to the results.

Newry and Armagh MP Conor Murphy said there would be “claims and counterclaims” about what the national identity statistics mean “when it comes to the constitutional position of the north and what the population are for or against”.

“The way to have a definitive result for that question is to hold a border poll,” he said.

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© 2012 Irish Republican News