By Faha

The Department of Education has recently released data on the religion of pupils for the 2020-2021 school year. This data has been compiled yearly since the 2000-2001 school year. The religion of pupils for primary and secondary schools is recorded for Protestant, Catholic, Other Christian, Non-Christian and No Religion/Not Recorded.

Since 2018 the Other Christian, Non-Christian and No Religion categories have been combined into one. However, based on trends since 2000 it is possible to give estimates of the different groups in the 2020-2021 school census.

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I will compare the results of the 2020-2021 school census with that of the 2000-2001 school census.

The 2000-2021 school census recorded 328,044 primary and secondary school pupils and the 2020-2021 school census recorded 328,627 primary and secondary school pupils. The number of students has been remarkably stable over that 20 year period. However, that unchanged number of total students does not reveal some important underlying changes.

Protestant              2000-2001             140,337

2020-2021             105,115

Net Change                                        -35,222

Catholic                2000-2001             166,311

2020-2021             166,487

Net Change                                        +176

Other Christian     2000-2001             4,275

2020-2021             14,000

Net Change                                        +9,725

Non-Christian       2000-2001             1,110

2020-2021             4,200

Net Change                                        +3,090

No Religion           2000-2001             16,011

2020-2021             38,825

Net Change                                        22,814

The number of Catholic students is unchanged from 20 years ago. There has been a large decline of over 35,000 students who are Protestant.

Since the number of total students and Catholic students is unchanged, that 35,000 decline in Protestants has been offset by a 35,000 increase in the number of students who are Non-Christian, Other Christian and No Religion.

The 4,200 Non-Christians would be mainly Muslim and Hindu. The No Religion group are those who are not being raised in any religion.

The Other Christian group is very mixed. The Other Christian students are much more likely to attend Integrated schools. These students would include the Eastern Orthodox children of Romanian, Bulgarian, Latvian, Greek, etc. immigrants. Others would be children of mixed Catholic-Protestant marriages who are being raised as Christian but not belonging to a particular Catholic or Protestant denomination. Some would be Christian related such as Mormons.

In looking at the percentages of the different religions of the different groups in the 2020-2021 census these are the results:

Catholic                 50.66%

Protestant              31.99%

Other Christian      4.26%

Non-Christian        1.28%

No Religion           11.81%

It is clear that there has been a dramatic decline in the Protestant percentage of the student age population.

This will have major implications for future elections since all of these students will be of voting age within 13 years at the latest for the youngest and 1 year for the oldest.

Some may claim that the No Religion students are future Unionist voters. However, multiple opinion polls in recent years show that 50% of those with No Religion prefer the Alliance-Green parties, 25% nationalist parties, and 25% unionist parties. Since approximately 15% of Protestants vote for Alliance and other non unionist parties these new voters will gradually introduce a declining unionist total vote.

The unionist parties share of these new voters will struggle to exceed 30% with the other 70% voting for nationalist or non sectarian parties.

The unionist political parties do not seem to be aware of or be preparing for the coming demographic changes in the future electorate as evidenced in the school census figures above.