North Catholics heading for majority

New statistics show that Catholics in Northern Ireland now makes up nearly 46 percent of the workforce.

The figures, from the Equality Commission's 21st Annual Monitoring Report on the composition of the workforce in Northern Ireland, reveal that the number of Catholics in the workforce has risen to 45.9 percent, compared to 54.1 percent Protestant, an increase in the Catholic share of 0.5 percentage points from the previous year.

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In 2005, the Catholic share of the workforce stood at 43 percent.

The report also showed that there are now more Catholic applicants for jobs than Protestants at 50.7 percent. The report stated that, as has been the case since 2006, the Catholic share of appointees in the workforce continued to exceed that of Protestants - at 52 percent and 48 percent respectively in 2010.

When the previous report was published in December 2010, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, Bob Collins, said: "We know from the 2001 Census that in every five-year age group of those then under 25, Roman Catholics represented over 50 percent. That pattern will have worked its way up the age scale in the years since and it is a reasonable estimate that, of those currently in the 16-34 age group, Roman Catholics now represent some 52 percent."

What's interesting about these figures is that they corroborate other statistics that have been released in recent months that show a continued rise in the Catholic population, all of which comes ahead of the publication of 2011 Census later this year.

Back in 2001, the census revealed that the Protestant population stood at 53.1 percent while the Catholic population made up 43.8 percent, continuing the trend of a closing gap between the two.

However, figures from the Department of Education for 2010/11 show 120,415 Protestants and 163,693 Catholics in the North's schools. Starkly, these figures breakdown to 57.6 percent Catholic and 42.4 per cent Protestant. There are an additional 37,609 who classify themselves as "other Christian", "non-Christian" or "other/no religion/religion not recorded."

Furthermore, figures for 2009/10 from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that at Queen's University there are 8,710 Northern Ireland domiciled students of a Catholic background compared with 6,740 from the Protestant tradition. At the University of Ulster there are 11,070 Catholics and 7,020 Protestants. In the two teacher-training colleges - Stranmillis and St Mary's - there are 1,215 Catholics and 650 Protestants.

In total, at third level education, 59.3 percent of students are from a Catholic background and 40.7 percent from a Protestant background.

The figures confirm that the Catholic population of Northern Ireland is younger and growing. All of which makes for growing interest ahead of the publication of the 2011 Census in the autumn of this year.