Bookmark and Share

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.”


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

19 April 2016
Investigation Launched After Car Set On Fire In East Belfast
Police have launched an investigation after a car was set on fire in east Belfast. The blaze happened in the Short Strand area at around 2.45am on Sunday. Police believe a petrol bomb may have been used. A PSNI spokesperson said: "At this time it appears a petrol bomb may have been thrown inside the vehicle.
19 April 2016
Man To Appear In Court Charged With Robbery In North Belfast
A man is to appear at Belfast Magistrates Court today, 19 April, charged with a robbery at an off-licence in north Belfast. The incident happened at premises on the Crumlin Road at around 7.35pm on Sunday. The man, armed with a knife, threatened staff and made off with a quantity of cigarettes and alcohol.
26 April 2016
Ards Footballer Suffers Fractured Skull In Belfast Attack
Ards footballer Gary Warwick has sustained a fractured skull after being assaulted in Belfast. The attack happened in the Patterson's Place area of Belfast in the early hours of Sunday morning. The midfielder, 25, is currently being treated at the Royal Victoria Hospital. Manager Niall Currie said: "We are all sickened to be honest.
26 April 2016
Pensioner Hit On Head With Stick During Robbery In East Belfast
Police have launched an investigation after a pensioner was hit on the head with a stick during a robbery in east Belfast. The incident happened at Ashton Gardens in the Upper Newtownards Road area at around 4pm on Monday. The victim, aged in her 90's, had her handbag stolen and is currently being treated in hospital.
26 April 2016
Police Release Images Of Two People Over Robbery In North Belfast
Police investigating a robbery in north Belfast have released images of two people they would like to speak to. The armed robbery happened at a shop on the Antrim road on Saturday 31 October last year. A man entered the shop armed with a claw hammer and threatened female staff members. He made off with a sum of cash in the direction of Grey's Lane.
21 April 2016
Investigation Launched Following Armed Robbery In South Belfast
Police have launched an investigation following an armed robbery in south Belfast. Three men, armed with knives, entered premises on the Boucher Road at around 7am on Thursday, 21 April. The men tied up two members of staff and made off with a sum of cash. It is believed they left the scene in a white van in the direction of Boucher Crescent.
21 April 2016
Man Suffers Burns In East Belfast Arson Attack
A man has suffered burns to his hand following an arson attack at a house in east Belfast. The attack happened in the My Lady's Road area at around 4am on Wednesday, 20 April. A container with flammable liquid was set outside the front door of the property and set alight. The front porch was damaged and the man was treated at the scene.
21 April 2016
Work Begins On £20m Film Studio In Belfast
Over 200 construction jobs have been created after work started on Belfast's newest film studio at Giant's Park. The £20 million project, which will include over 120,000 sq ft of studios, workshops and offices, is being developed by Belfast Harbour.
18 April 2016
Sinn Féin Cllr To Become First Openly Gay Deputy Mayor
A Sinn Féin councillor is to become Belfast's first openly gay Deputy Mayor. The party selected north Belfast councillor Mary Ellen Campbell and she said it is another step forward for the rights of the LGBT community and for equality in Belfast.
18 April 2016
Teen Charged Over West Belfast Stabbing
A teenager has been charged with a number of offences relating to a stabbing incident in west Belfast. The attack happened at a property in Vere Foster Walk at around 4am on Saturday. The 51-year-old victim was stabbed in the abdomen and is in a critical condition is hospital.
18 April 2016
Man Arrested Over North Belfast Murder
A 34-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the murder of a man in north Belfast. Michael McGibbon, 33, was fatally shot a number of times in an alleyway in the Butler Place area just after 10pm on Friday. He was taken to hospital however he died from his injuries.
18 April 2016
Children Aged Between 12 And 16 Found Drunk In South Belfast Field
Up to 100 boys and girls aged between 12 and 16 were found by police drinking in south Belfast. Some of the children in the Lagan Meadows area in Stranmillis were "worst for wear with drink", according to the PSNI. The fire service was also called to put out some gorse fires.
14 April 2016
Two Men Charged Over East Belfast Robberies
Two men have been charged in connection with two robberies in east Belfast. The incidents happened at two commercial premises on the Albertbridge Road at 11:35am and 11:50am on Tuesday, 12 April. The suspects, aged 29 and 33, are due to appear at Belfast Magistrates Court later today, 14 April.
14 April 2016
Man Arrested After Charity Office Attacked In North Belfast
A man in his 40s has been arrested after he threw a brick through the window of a charity office in north Belfast. The windows of the PIPS charity building on the Antrim Road were smashed in the incident on Wednesday night. The man is believed to have been injured after the brick bounced back at him and hit him on the head.
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.