More detailed results were released today for the 2021 Northern Ireland Census. These included Religion and Religion Brought Up In, Ethnicity and National Identity. I will present the headline figures and then go into more detail as the headline figures do not tell the whole story.
For current religion the results were:
Protestant and Other Christian 37.36%
For Religion Brought Up In the results were
Protestant and Other Christian 43.48%
Now, these headline results do not reveal certain underlying factors.
Approximately 8% of the Northern Ireland population is of foreign national origin. 6% were born in
another country and 2% are their children (some of whom are adults now) who were born in the UK. The religious breakdown of this group has not yet been released but the relative percentages for each group are available in the 2011 census and would be similar in 2021. Contrary to what is generally believed Catholics are in the minority in this group and 3.5% of that 8% are Other or None. Over 1% are Eastern Orthodox or Protestants
So, for Northern Ireland the population is approximately:
Native Catholic 39%
Native Protestant 36%
Native None 17%
Foreign National Origin 8%
What the media focuses on is the increase in the Catholic population. However, it is the marked decline in the Protestant population that is of more significance. In the 2021 census the Protestant and Other Christian population was 711,000. However, once foreign nationals are removed (there are over 5,000 Eastern Orthodox alone) as well as some native denominations that are not obviously Protestant (almost 2,000 stated their religion mixed Catholic-Protestant), the Protestant total is only 685,000. In the 2001 census the Protestant population was 895,000 in an era when there were very few foreign nationals. Those “None” raised Protestant population was approximately 30,000 so the comparable Protestant population was 865,000 versus 685,000 in 2021. That is a decline of 180,000.
That decline is due to 3 factors
#1 Greater number of deaths compared to births (1,000 per year)
#2 Emigration (approximately 2,000 per year)
#3 No longer identifying as Protestant. This latter is the major cause of the decline in the native Protestant population.
Another interesting finding is that the “None” Group (not raised in any religion) is 177,000. This is much higher than what one would expect based on the 2011 census. This group was 101,000 in 2011. In looking at the results of the schools census one would expect this group would have increased to 127,000. So why the additional 50,000 increase ? Approximately 10,000 would be from immigration of foreign nationals with no Religion. Some of the other 40,000 would be those whose parents recorded them in a religion when they were younger (age 8 to 18 in 2011) but who as adults in 2021, did not recall any significant religious connection as a child when they filled out the 2021 census form.
Results were also available for District Councils and the findings for the Protestant % of the population are as follows:
|Antrim and Newtownabbey 46.26%|
|Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon 41.73%|
|Causeway Coast and Glens 45.32%|
|Derry City and Strabane 21.09%|
|Fermanagh and Omagh 27.93%|
|Lisburn and Castlereagh 49.17%|
|Mid and East Antrim 57.85%|
|Mid Ulster 27.82%|
|Newry, Mourne and Down 19.04%|
|Ards and North Down 55.48%|
|There is only a Protestant majority in the Ards and North Down and the Mid and East Antrim Councils.|
The census results do have major implications for the political future, especially for a Border Poll. There are 4 different groups that will determine the outcome of a Border Poll. I assume that the voting age for a Border Poll would be 16 as it was for the Scotland independence referendum. If such a poll were held in 2024 the voting age population would be approximately:
Native Catholic 37.5%
Native Protestant 37.5%
Native None 17%
Foreign National 8%
The results of a Border Poll will be determined by the preferences of the “Native None” group of 17% and the Foreign nationals.
Do we know anything about the preferences of the None Group ?
LucidTalk did a poll just prior to the May 2022 Assembly election and the “None” group voter preferences were:
Nationalist parties 36%
Unionist parties 22%
The None’s have a low preference for unionist parties and it is possible that a significant majority could be persuaded to vote for a United Ireland.
The foreign nationals are 8% of the voting age population but only 4% of those registered to vote. Approximately 5% are EU nationals and this would be the group most likely to support a United Ireland since a United Ireland would result in the Northern Ireland rejoining the EU.
The census shows that there are 1,470,000 old enough to vote and 1,370,000 were on the May electoral register. Of the 100,000 not on the register at least 60,000 are foreign nationals. Of the 40,000 native population approximately half of those could not be registered due to underlying medical problems (dementia, severe autism, etc. ). I mention this because it is often claimed by certain unionists that there are a large number of unregistered potential unionist voters but they are actually very few of the unregistered.
The election turnout in May 2022 was 870,000. I expect that it could be 400,000 higher for a Border Poll. Those extra voters would be more likely to be younger and thus less likely to be unionist. Others would be foreign nationals who are concerned about Brexit.
The Religion results for the 2021 census are probably very accurate, unlike those for any census from 1971 to 2011. There were only 27,400 who did not fully answer the religion question. Some of those would have been those who designated None but did not list a Religion Brought Up In. There was another estimated 58,700 who did not fill out census forms. There were only 86,000 for which no Religion date was available. In 2011, the number for which no religion data was available was well over 200,000. The census office estimated that those 86,000 in 2021 had a similar religious breakdown to those who actually responded to the census question on religion.
There will be more data released in 2023, including the breakdown of Religion by Age and the breakdown of National Identity by Religion.