All-island interactive census map shows north,south differences

AIRO atlas shows ethnicity, religious beliefs and health perceptions vary across Border

Map showing the breakdown of Roman Catholics on both sides of the Border. Screengrab: Airo

Map showing the breakdown of Roman Catholics on both sides of the Border. Screengrab: Airo


We share the same island but a new interactive atlas mapping census data from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland reveals some big differences north and south of the border.

An interactive mapping tool developed by the All Island Research Observatory (AIRO) based in NUI Maynooth reveals that ethnicity, religious belief and people’s perceptions of their own health vary between north and south.

In the Republic 93.6 per cent of the population were of a white ethnic background, a statistic taken from the 2011 census. Yet in the same year in Northern Ireland an overwhelming majority of the population, or 98.2 per cent, listed ‘white’ as their ethnicity.

The All-Island Atlas allows users to look at the data at small area level meaning they can zoom in on areas which contain an average population of 277 people.

So, for example, while some areas around Limavady in Northern Ireland are more than 99 per cent ‘white’, over 40 per cent of the population in one neighbourhood off the Ormeau Road in Belfast (population 118) lists their ethnicity as Asian.

The map, which is now available to browse on also gives users a striking visual breakdown of religious orientation on both sides of the border, as well as the concentration of religious backgrounds at a small-area level.

It also allows users to see, at a glance, how people rate their health in both the North and in the Republic with some surprising differences: less than half (47.7 per cent) of the population of Northern Ireland rate their health as ‘very good’ compared to almost 62 per cent in the Republic, while the percentage of people who rate their health as ‘very bad’ was four times higher in the North.

The combined mapping of the 2011 census data, which was carried out by the Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency in the North and by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in the Republic, can only be compared once every decade because the census is only carried out once every 10 years in the North.

Justin Gleeson of AIRO says that mapping the data, something he described as a “once-in-a-decade opportunity”, had been aided by improvements in technology in past 10 years as well as an enhanced level of detail at “almost neighbourhood level” which have combined to allow AIRO to map “seamless data” from both sides of the border.

Mr Gleeson said the combination of the two datasets were important as “life doesn’t stop for the Border”.

“There’s a huge interest in all this because the border isn’t a concrete wall: people use services on either side of it so you need this evidence base to see what’s going on on both sides: you can’t look at these two areas in isolation anymore.”

Today’s release is an early launch of the atlas and is confined to population, religion, place of birth, ethnic group, housing type and general health, however more releases are to follow in weeks and months to come.

Future releases will include information on unemployment, industry, transport, social class and housing among others. It is expected that the complete on-line atlas will be officially launched in early spring 2014.

This project is being developed under the Evidence-Based Planning theme of the Ireland Northern Ireland Cross-border Cooperation Observatory and is part-financed by the European Union’s INTERREG IVA programme.