Catholic population outstrips Protestants in Northern Ireland first

Dublin, Sep 22 (EFE).- The number of people from a Catholic background has outstripped those identifying as Protestant in Northern Ireland for the first time in the nation’s 101-year history, according to 2021 census figures published Thursday.

The data show that 45.7% of people in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, are Catholic or brought up Catholic compared to 43.5% who identify as Protestant. A remaining 9.3% do not identify as either.

The census results come just five months after the region’s nationalist party Sinn Féin, a promoter of Irish reunification, won elections for the first time in the history of Northern Ireland, which has traditionally been dominated Protestant and pro-British politics.

Following the Irish war of independence (1919-21), the UK divided the island of Ireland into two jurisdictions — Northern Ireland, a British territory, and Southern Ireland, a free state.

What followed was a century of tension and periods of conflict in the region.

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement put a tentative end to sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, a period known as The Troubles.

Thousands were killed in the conflict between armed nationalist groups led by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on one side and unionist paramilitaries and the British army on the other.

Since the historic peace deal, the unionist-voting largely Protestant population has been steadily decreasing from 53% in 2001, to 48% in 2011 and 45.7% in 2021.

The latest census also asked respondents about their national identity.

It found that some 31.9% of people in Northern Ireland identified as British-only nationals, while 8% identified as British and Northern Irish.

Another 29.1% said they felt Irish only, while 19.8% Northern Irish only.

The distinctions are important with regards to a hypothetical vote on Irish reunification, and suggest that a Catholic plurality in the territory would not guarantee a majority in favor. EFE


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