Catholics now outnumber Protestants in Northern Ireland Belfast Media Group photo

Catholics Are Majority in North

Statistics from the 2021 Census which have been released showing that the percentage of the population brought up as Catholic in Northern Ireland has overtaken Protestant for the first time.

And the number of people identifying as "British-only" has plummeted by 8 percent in the ten years since the last census in 2011.

Combining current religion and religion of upbringing gives 45.7 percent of the population as "Catholic," 43.5 percent as "Protestant, Other Christian or Christian related," and 1.5 percent who were from other non-Christian religions.

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The 2011 census found that 45.1% of the population were Catholic or brought up Catholic. It found 48.4% were from a Protestant or other Christian background.

In the 2021 Census 814,600 people (42.8 percent) living in the North identified solely or along with other national identities as "British." This is down from 876,600 people (48.4 percent) in 2011.

634,600 people (33.3 percent) living here identified solely or along with other national identities as "Irish." This is up from 513,400 people (28.4 percent) in 2011.

The number of people holding a British passport currently sits at one million, down from 1.7 million in 2011. The number holding Irish passports increased by 60 percent to 614,300 from 375,800 in 2011.

12.4 percent of the population aged over three had some ability in the Irish language which is up from 10.7 percent in 2011 and 10.4 percent had some ability in Ulster-Scots which is up from 8.1 percent in 2011. In terms of ethnicity, 96.6 percent of the population in 2021 identified as white, this is down from 98.21 percent in 2011. 

Figures released earlier this year showed that the number of people aged over 65 living in the North is set to be larger than the number of people under the age of 14 by 2027.
The data showed that the current population of the North sits around 1.903 million which is an increase of five percent on the 2011 census and the largest population ever recorded in the North of Ireland.
The number of males in the North outnumber females until the age of 25, where the number of females subsequently outnumber their male counterparts.

Reacting to the census figures, Sinn Féin MP for North Belfast John Finucane said the results indicate that "historic change is happening" and said preparations and dialogue on building a better future should begin now. 

“Today‘s census results are another clear indication that historic change is happening across this island and of the diversity of society which enriches us all," he said.

“There is no doubt change is underway and irreversible. How that change is shaped moving forward requires maturity to take the challenges which face our society. 

“We can all be part of shaping a better future; a new constitutional future and a new Ireland. 

“But we must prepare for it. The Irish government should establish a Citizens’ Assembly to plan for the possibility of a Unity referendum.

“A period of planning is critical. That planning, and dialogue, and engagement needs to happen now and it must include people from all backgrounds and communities.

“The partition of Ireland has been a failure. We can build a better future together, for every person who lives on this island.”

These views were echoed by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

“This is a seminal moment in the history of modern Ireland," he said.

"The census figures published today reveal that, by any measure, the constitution of the North has been transformed utterly one hundred years on from partition. That is a moment of true change because it reflects a sustained period of lasting change.

“As we have built a more inclusive and diverse society, we have together shattered the bonds of an oppressive state which engrained discrimination against a Catholic minority in its every outworking for far too long. We are never going back to state sponsored discrimination against any religious minority. I hope that all those who lived through decades of discrimination and who experienced the sharp end of that oppressive state are able to breathe a sigh of relief today.

“The significance of this transformation should not be downplayed or diminished out of fear or insincere politicking. I acknowledge that today’s figures may generate feelings of insecurity for some. But it is my honest hope that we can all now take a moment of serious and sincere reflection about the scale of change we have experienced and commit to a conversation about the powerful potential for change in the future."

Additional census figures which detail information such as sexual orientation will be released by March 24, 2023.