The Catholic population in Northern Ireland now outnumbers the Protestant population.
The country’s Census 2021 results, which were published Thursday, show that the percentage of the population that reports being Protestant or being raised Protestant had fallen to 43.5 percent.
The Catholic population, meanwhile, stood at 45.7 percent.
Since partition — when Northern Ireland was divided from the Republic of Ireland — the Protestant population has always had an edge on the Catholic.
In 2001, 53.1 percent of the population reported being raised Protestant; by 2011, that number had fallen to 48.4 percent.
The raw data seems to indicate that the Protestant population is losing adherents while the percentage of the population identifying as Catholic has grown — 43.8 percent in 2001 to 45.1 percent in 2011 and 45.7 percent in 2021.
The sector that has seen the most growth, however, is people with no affiliation: 2.7 percent in 2001; 5.6 percent in 2011; and 9.3 percent in 2021.
PA Media reports:
The publication of the census traditionally prompts debate over what the figures mean for the constitutional future of Northern Ireland.
Some may draw a link between the religious breakdown and public opinion on the potential reunification of Ireland.
Others view religious affiliation as a crude metric to measure sentiment on the constitutional question, insisting that being a Protestant or Catholic does not necessarily translate into unionist or nationalist politics.
For some observers, the religion-as-national identity component may need to be balanced against the census’s national identify questions. Citizens were asked about their personal identification with Northern Ireland as a country and as part of the United Kingdom. PA Media continues:
The proportion of the population that said they were “Irish-only” was 29.1% while those identifying as “Northern Irish-only” was 19.8%.
In Census 2011, when the question on national identity was included for the first time, 40% said they had a British-only national identity, 6% said they were British and Northern Irish, 25% said they were Irish-only, and 21% viewed their identity as only Northern Irish.
The Census also showed a 63.5% increase in the number of people in Northern Ireland who hold an Irish passport.
The number of people who held an Irish passport rose from 375,800 in 2011 to 614,300 in 2021.
Brexit will undoubtedly have been one factor in that surge, with people seeking an Irish passport to retain EU rights lost when the UK left the bloc.
The number of people holding a UK passport in Northern Ireland was one million in the latest census, down from 1.07 million in 2011.
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