Ahead of the first results of the 2021 census, Brian Feeney predicts that there will be no Catholic majority in the north
The first results of the 2021 census are due out in March, however, much-anticipated data showing regional religious breakdown may not be released for another six months.
It has been speculated that the 10-year statistics may see Catholics outnumber their Protestant counterparts for the first time. However, commentator and historian Brian Feeney disagrees, saying it would take “a huge leap” for the Catholic population to cross the 50% barrier in a survey he called “crude” in its measure.
The 2011 census, the results of which were published the following year, showed that the Protestant population had fallen to 48% and the Catholic minority had risen to 45%.
It also showed an aging Protestant community, with only those over 60 having a significant majority, while the number of Catholic schoolchildren was significantly higher than their Protestant counterparts.
In 2018, an academic specializing in tracking social trends said it was likely that Catholics would outnumber Protestants by 2021.
However, Dr Paul Nolan said trade unionists should not be too alarmed by his predictions because coming from a Catholic or Protestant community does not necessarily equate to supporting Irish unity or staying in the UK.
Mr Feeney said that while he expected official statistics to show continued growth in the Catholic population, the numbers had not risen at a rate that would see them overtake Protestants.
“Everyone is talking about the possibility of a Catholic majority, but I don’t think it’s likely this time around because it would require a huge leap from what was recorded in 2011,” he said. he declares.
“Of course there will be an increase in the Catholic population proportionally, but birth rates have been declining in recent years, so growth has slowed.”
He also noted that a Catholic majority does not automatically translate into a nationalist majority.
“The fact is that there are a large number of Catholics who would never vote for a Unionist party but who would also not vote for a united Ireland,” he said.
“Their outlook would be based on the fact that they just don’t know what this new Ireland will look like – no one has yet to define it.”
Mr Feeney said the “raw measure” of the census had failed to recognize the golden mean, on which he believed a vote for Irish unity would rest.
He also speculated that, as in 2012, the “juicy bits” of data would not be released until later in the year.
A finance ministry spokesman said a “working calendar” for the census results would be released at the end of this month, providing a timetable for the release of key statistics throughout the year.