Figures reveal just 54,000 more Protestants than Catholics in NI

There are just 54,000 more people from a Protestant background than from a Catholic one in Northern Ireland, latest figures from…

There are just 54,000 more people from a Protestant background than from a Catholic one in Northern Ireland, latest figures from the North’s 2011 census have shown.

The gap between those in the North who are or were raised as Protestant and Catholic has narrowed to 3 per cent, figures released yesterday disclosed.

There are 864,000 people in Northern Ireland from a Protestant tradition, compared with 810,000 from a Catholic background.

The census showed 48 per cent of Northern Ireland’s 1.8 million population originated from Protestant households while those from Catholic households were 45 per cent. This marks a 1 per cent increase in the Catholic population from 2001 and a reduction of 5 per cent in the Protestant population. It is the first time the Protestant population has gone under 50 per cent.


The Protestant population is older than the Catholic equivalent, the census shows. A separate school census shows a Catholic majority among school-age children.

Question of identity

The census figures indicate that while there is a continuing decline in the Protestant population, chiefly because of mortality, that this does not necessarily mean the prospect of a united Ireland is any closer.

This is because the census also revealed that only one in four of the overall Northern Ireland population sees themselves as exclusively Irish. This contrasts with 40 per cent who view themselves as solely British and 21 per cent who see themselves as Northern Irish only. This is the first time this question of identity was asked in the Northern census.

Almost half (48 per cent) of people usually resident in Northern Ireland included British as a national identity while 29 per cent included Northern Irish and 28 per cent included Irish as identity. Here there would have been some overlapping identities.

One-sixth (17 per cent) of the population either had no religion or no stated religion while 5.6 per cent neither belonged to, nor had been brought up in, a religion. The stated religion of the population was 41 per cent Catholic. This compared with 19 per cent Presbyterian, 14 per cent Church of Ireland, 3 per cent Methodist, and 5.8 per cent other Christian or Christian-related denominations – a total of 41.8 per cent.

Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy, on the basis of the figures, called for a Border poll on a united Ireland, while the DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said “the overall picture ... is one where a clear majority of people are content with the constitutional status” of Northern Ireland.

Definitive result

The British government could hold a poll on a united Ireland under the Belfast Agreement. But this is unlikely, with just one in four stating they are solely Irish.

Newry and Armagh MP Mr Murphy said a poll would “make sense of the census”.

“It’s very clear that there have been significant changes since the 2001 census . . . There will be claims and counter-claims of what this represents when it comes to the constitutional position of the North and what the population are for or against. The way to have a definitive result ... is to hold a Border poll.”

North Belfast MP Mr Dodds said the figures for religious background indicated only religious views. “It is deeply unfortunate that ... some politicians have been inferring an automatic political indication from someone’s community background. Those are purely sectarian assumptions which do nothing to move Northern Ireland forward.”

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times