Catholics outnumber Protestants in Northern Ireland for first time since partition, census figures show

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Shoppers in Belfast in June 2020 (Getty Images)
Shoppers in Belfast in June 2020 (Getty Images)

Census figures show that Catholics (45.7%) outnumber Protestants (43.5%) within the Northern Ireland population for the first time since the partition of the island of Ireland.

The shift could drive support for the region to split away from Britain and join a united Ireland, with the majority of Catholics, supporting reunification. Just 31.9% of those in Northern Ireland identified as ‘British-only’.

The Census 2021 figures, published on Thursday, show that 45.7% of the population said they were either Catholic or brought up as a Catholic.

The figures for Protestants (and other Christian faiths) was 43.5% while 1.5% were from other non-Christian religions.

There has been a 63.5% increase in the number of people in Northern Ireland who hold an Irish passport.

There has been a surge in applications for Irish passports (Getty)
There has been a surge in applications for Irish passports (Getty)

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 2011 Census recorded 48% of the population as being either Protestant or brought up Protestant, down five percentage points on 2001. The Catholic population stood at 45% in the last census, up one percentage point on 2001.

The 2021 Census showed 9.3% of the population as belonging to no religion – this figure is up from 5.6% in 2011.

The census also included a question on people’s sense of national identity.

Census 2021 showed that 31.9% said they were “British-only” and 8% deemed themselves “British and Northern Irish”.

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, 40% said they had a British-only national identity, 25% said they had an Irish-only identity and 21% viewed their identity as being only Northern Irish.