19/12/2002

Religious gap in Northern Ireland ‘closing’: census

Statistics from the long-awaited 2001 census in Northern Ireland has shown a decline in the number of Protestants to around 53% of the population with Catholics now comprising nearly 44%.

The figures were released today by the Northern Ireland Statistic and Research Agency in Belfast.

It is the narrowest percentage point gap recorded between the respective communities since Northern Ireland came into being in the early 1920s.

The Protestant population in Northern Ireland has dipped by 5%, but the rise in the number of Catholics, at 2%, is not as high as was predicted.

The Catholic community now makes up the majority of Belfast's population, with many Protestants having moved away to live in other parts of Co Down and Co Antrim.

Since 1961, when the Protestant figure was 63%, it has fallen in every census while the Catholic population has increased from 35%.

The Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy said despite the wealth of statistics published today, only these two figures would be talked about.

“This head count will dominate discussion because Northern Ireland is one of the few places in the world where a fact gathering census can be thought to have ‘winners’ and ‘losers’,” he said.

“Once the dust settles today, I hope the majority will see the census as a useful reminder of what the Belfast Agreement was all about. Because at the heart of the Agreement, was a recognition that the bitter divisions of Northern Ireland will never be solved by mere demographics.”

Meanwhile East Antrim MLA Roy Beggs has dismissed republican speculation that a united Ireland is imminent as “crude sectarian headcounting”.

“Every 10 years at the time when the census figures are about to be published the usual suspects come out with their sectarian demography argument. They make the illogical quantum leap that growing numbers of Roman Catholics as stated on the census returns, equals the end of the Union.”

He added: “The lack of substance in the political arguments of Irish republicans is startling. Their campaign is aimed at demoralising the pro British electorate and attempting to portray Irish unity as being somehow ‘inevitable’.”

The leader of the SDLP Mark Durkan said the results showing the Catholic community had grown came as “no surprise”.

“No-one can say with certainty that this will lead to the united Ireland that the SDLP seeks. But we can be certain that there will be a United Ireland if a majority votes for one and the South agrees,” he said.

However he added that the SDLP would be seeking to promote a united Ireland only under the guidelines and protections of the Belfast Agreement.

“For whatever change the future brings, some things will remain the same," he said. "Nationalists and Unionists will still face the challenge of sharing our society together as partners and equals.”

(AMcE)

Related Northern Ireland News Stories
Click here for the latest headlines.

20 April 2015
Brick Thrown At House In South Belfast Being Treated As Hate Crime
A brick thrown through the window of a house in west Belfast is being treated as a "sectarian hate crime", according to police. The house on Walmer Street was attacked just before 7.30pm on Sunday. Sectarian abuse was also shouted at a woman who was in the property at the time of the attack, however she was not injured.
17 April 2015
Security Alert In South Belfast Declared A Hoax
A security alert in south Belfast has been declared a "hoax". Army bomb experts and police attended the scene at Windsor Drive on Friday morning. A controlled explosion was carried out on a suspicious device but was declared a hoax. All roads in the area have reopened.
16 April 2015
East Belfast Electrical Firm Ceases Trading
An east Belfast electrical firm has ceased trading. S&R Electrics, better known as 'Sam's Yer Man' has also closed its outlet in Newtownards. 20 staff at the family-run firm have been made redundant. A spokesperson for the company confirmed it will be in contact with customers who have ordered and paid deposits for goods.
15 April 2015
Sports Firm Burgled In South Belfast
Police suspect a vehicle was used to break into a business in south Belfast. Thieves made off with a large quantity of sports clothing during a break in at Teamwear Ireland on Stockmans Way. Cricket equipment, three laptops, an iPad and a sum of money was also stolen. Police are appealing for witnesses to contact them.
20 April 2015
Other News In Brief
Ringland Comments Support Alliance Claims About Opposition Pact The Alliance Party has said the remarks by Trevor Ringland in the Newsletter have backed what Alliance has been saying about opposition to the pact in East Belfast.
20 April 2015
Police Appeal Following Armed Robbery In West Belfast
Police are appealing for information following an armed robbery in west Belfast on Saturday. A man armed with a gun robbed a credit agent in the Westrock Gardens area at around 10.30am. The man made off with a sum of money.
20 April 2015
Independent Review Commissioned Over North Belfast Parades Impasse
The Orange Order has commissioned an independent review over the parades and protests on the Crumlin Road, north Belfast. The review is to provide an accurate account of the facts surrounding the current impasse and offer conclusions that will contribute to a just and equitable resolution.
14 April 2015
Arsonists Attack East Belfast Nail Salon
A nail salon in east Belfast has been set on fire. Police are treating it as a racially-motivated hate crime. Asta's Glam Factory on the Castlereagh Road is owned by a Lithuanain woman. A gang of men are believed to have forced the shutters up, poured an accelerant inside and then set it on fire on Monday night.
14 April 2015
Arson Attack At West Belfast School
Police are appealing for information following an arson attack at a school in the Glen Road area of Belfast on Monday. Detective Sergeant Melanie McGrory said: "At approximately 9.45pm Police received a report that three portacabins had been entered and set on fire. As a result of the fire the portacabins were completely destroyed.
24 April 2015
Two Women Attacked In West Belfast Car Hijacking
Two women have been attacked by a gang of men during a car hijacking in west Belfast. The women, in their 50s, were sitting in a Vauxhall Astra in McDonnell Street at around 1.30am on Friday. A gang of four men approached the car, opened the doors, assaulted the women and ordered them out of the vehicle.
24 April 2015
Elderly Woman Dies In North Belfast House Fire
An elderly woman has died in a house fire in north Belfast. The woman, believed to be in her late 80s, had lived in Rosepenna Parade. Neighbours attempted to break into the house but were not able to help the woman. Emergency services attended the scene and controlled the blaze.
24 April 2015
Police Appeal After Shots Fired At House In West Belfast
Shots have been fired at a property in west Belfast. The shooting occurred at a house in Norglen Drive in the early hours of Friday morning. Two men, who were in the house at the time of the incident, were not injured. Police are appealing to anyone with information to contact them.
13 June 2005
The 2005 Birthday Honours List for Northern Ireland
The full list of recipients of honours in the 2005 Birthday Honours list for Northern Ireland is as follows: Knighthood: Mr Hugh Orde OBE, Chief Constable, Police Service of Northern Ireland - for services to Northern Ireland. CBE: Mr Robert David Stewart Campbell, Belfast - For Political and public service.
29 May 2012
Access To Republic Of Ireland Digital TV Channels Confirmed For Northern Ireland
TV viewers in Northern Ireland will be able to watch TG4 and RTÉ One and Two on Freeview following digital TV switchover, the UK Government confirmed today.
20 February 2007
Northern Ireland goes to Washington
Washington DC is to experience Northern Ireland’s arts and culture during a four month programme to promote arts, business, education, food and tourism.

 Around 250 local people will be in Washington taking part in the Rediscover Northern Ireland programme and the Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife Festival.