‘New debates’ needed for Northern Ireland’s changing demographics

Imagining NI highlights ‘big issues’ not on political election agenda

The Detail, a Belfast-based news and analysis website, has pulled together statistics from various sources to “paint a picture of modern Northern Ireland”.

The Detail, a Belfast-based news and analysis website, has pulled together statistics from various sources to “paint a picture of modern Northern Ireland”.


Changes in the demographics of Northern Ireland mean the percentage of Protestants and Catholics living in the region is now closer than at any time in its history. However, a closer look at population statistics show the controlling majorities differ across the 11 local government districts.

The demographics reflect the reality facing modern Northern Ireland, according to Steven McCaffery, editor of the Detail, a Belfast-based news and analysis website.

“Politicians promising the delivery of old certainties” – whether unionist or nationalist in nature – are “fooling themselves”, he said of the clamour ahead of the UK election.

The online newsroom has launched Imaging NI, a series of articles and infographics addressing some of the big issues affecting the North which, it says, have not formed part of the political agenda ahead of the May 7th election.

The website drew together statistics from various sources to paint a picture of modern Northern Ireland. It examined the shift in its demographics, the continuing religious division in its schools and how the changing political landscape of its neighbours might impact on the North.


The data indicated the North’s future “must be a shared one” and said new debates are required in what is a transformed Northern Ireland, said Caffery.

The population statistics show the controlling majorities of Protestants or Catholics differ widely across local government districts. In Derry/Strabane 72 per cent of residents are of a Catholic background compared to 25 per cent Protestant. The remaining 3 per cent are of another religious background.

The reverse is the case in Mid/East Antrim where almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of the population are of a Protestant background compared to 19 per cent Catholic and 8 per cent “other”.

In the education system, just 62 of Northern Ireland’s 1,044 schools are integrated while Catholic and Protestant children and teachers continue to be largely educated or trained separately.

The divides in the education system are not just religious but also social in nature. Three times as many secondary school pupils are entitled to the free meal scheme as those attending grammar schools, pointing to inequality in a schools system which tests 11-year-old pupils to determine whether they attend a grammar or secondary school.

The impact that this type of academic selection is having on disadvantaged pupils has led Northern Ireland’s new Children’s Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma to call for an integrated education system in Northern Ireland.

The project also examines the challenges facing minorities. Pointing to an average of 663 racist crimes and 136 homophobic crimes recorded each year in the decade to 2014, the series notes that Stormont has failed to provide promised strategies with campaigners saying protections in the North lag behind the rest of the UK.

McCaffery said the project, which was produced with financial support from the Community Relations Council, aims to “highlight issues which the political system is refusing to face, but which could have a major impact on the future” as well as illustrating the opportunity that exists for new thinking.

The full series can be viewed at thedetail.tv