Catholics outnumber Protestants for the first time in Northern Ireland in a tipping point deemed to be of huge historical significance. Data from the 2021 census, recorded almost a century after Northern Ireland was created with borders intended to guarantee a Protestant majority, show that Catholics now make up more than half of all Christians in the province. The figures also highlight the “increasing secularisation” of the country, with a sharp increase since 2011 in those saying they have no religion. The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency said: “Combining current religion and religion of upbringing gives 45.7% of our population who were Catholic, 43.5% who were ‘Protestant, other Christian or Christian-related’ and 1.5% who were from other non-Christian religions.” In 2011, 48% were Protestant and 45% Catholic. In 1991, 58% were Protestant and 42% Catholic.
Unionists who favoured remaining part of the UK would now “have to get Catholic voters” on side. Patricia MacBride, of Ireland’s Future, which wants a referendum on reunification with Ireland, said the figures had “historical significance” but people may not necessarily vote along religious lines. She said: “A border poll is likely to be based more around the economy, housing and education.” More people in Northern Ireland still identify as British, with 31.9% identifying as “British only” compared with 29.1% as “Irish only”. In 2011, 40% identified as British only and 25% as Irish only. A further 8 identify as “British and Northern Irish” compared with 1.8% who identify as “Irish and Northern Irish”, while 1.5% identify as “British, Irish and Northern Irish” and 19.8% as “Northern Irish only”. Asked about their religious beliefs, 17.1% said they had no religion, up from 10.1% in 2011.
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