Census likely to show increase in North's Catholic population


The latest census figures published today are likely to show an increase in the Catholic population of Northern Ireland compared to the Protestant population.

The last census in 2001 showed the population of Northern Ireland was 53 per cent Protestant and 44 per cent Catholic. There is an expectation that there will be a narrowing of that difference when the 2011 census religion figures are published today.

Figures already in the public sphere point to significant demographic changes happening over the coming years. Statistics from the North’s Department of Education for 2010/11 showed 120,415 Protestants and 163,693 Catholics in schools.

That is a breakdown of 57.6 per cent Catholic and 42.4 per cent Protestant pupils. That, however, is not allowing for an additional 37,609 who classify themselves as “other Christian” (8,282), “non-Christian” (1,726) and the 27,601 who fall into the “other/no religion/religion not recorded” category.

Queen’s University

Figures for 2009/10 show that in Queen’s University, Belfast, there were 8,710 Northern Ireland-domiciled students of a Catholic background compared with 6,740 from the Protestant tradition.

In the University of Ulster there were 11,070 Catholics and 7,020 Protestants.

In the two teacher-training colleges – Stranmillis and St Mary’s (which is virtually exclusively Catholic) – there were 1,215 Catholics and 650 Protestants.

While politicians generally try to eschew sectarian headcounts there is also a pragmatic acknowledgement that these figures could define potential political changes ahead, and the problems that could arise as a result of them.

For example, the current tensions and violence arising from the flags row at Belfast City Hall is because of such demographic changes. That decision on flying the British union flag over City Hall on 15 designated days rather than 365 days each year arose because unionists no longer have a majority on the council and the balance of power is held by the Alliance.

While the main focus today will be on the religious breakdown, the census will also throw up interesting information in areas such as national identity, passports held, age structure, living arrangements, knowledge of Irish and Ulster Scots and marriage and civil partnership status.

Second tranche

This is the second tranche of census 2011 data to be released. The initial statistics showed that the Northern Ireland population is now 1,810,900, the highest ever recorded, bringing the population of the island of Ireland to just under 6.4 million – the highest population in Ireland since the first post-Famine census of 1851.

The population on the island has increased by more than 1.25 million in the past 21 years and by well over two million in the past 51 years.