Dublin, (EFE).- The number of Catholics in Northern Ireland has exceeded that of Protestants for the first time since the creation of the British province 101 years ago, according to the 2021 population census.

The study revealed that 45.7% of the population residing in the region is Catholic or grew up in a Catholic background, compared to 43.5% who declared themselves Protestant, while 9.3% do not belong to some of these two groups.

The census is published five months after the Republican Sinn Féin party, the main representative of the Catholic-nationalist community, won regional elections for the first time in its history, giving impetus to its proposal to call a referendum on the reunification of Ireland. .

A century of tension

After the War of Independence (1919-1921), the United Kingdom divided the island into two jurisdictions, the Province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, resulting in almost a century tensions and armed clashes between the two communities.

The Good Friday Peace Agreement (1998) ended the conflict, but since then the Protestant-Unionist population has steadily declined, from 53% in 2001 to 45.7% in 2021.

In contrast, Catholic rose by one point between 2001 and 2011, to 45%, and has grown over the past decade, to reach 45.7% currently.

Archive image of union protests in Belfast, January 2013. EFE/Paul Faith

Irish identity and referendum

This latest census also addressed the issue of national identity with 31.9% of the population saying they considered themselves ‘British only’, while 8% opted for the ‘British and Northern Irish’ option.

In this sense, 29.1% of the population identified themselves as “Irish only”, compared to 19.8% who filled in the box “Northern Irish only”.

This distinction is important because while Irish identity and Catholicism have strong ties, it does not mean that a majority of Catholics in Northern Ireland will automatically lead to reunification.

Observers point out that a significant number of Protestant Republican heroes, such as Wolfe Tone or Roger Casement, appear in Irish history, while some Northern Irish Catholics doubt reunification or simply oppose it.

“The big difference is that the demand for a referendum on this issue will increase. Not just because of the demographics between Catholics and Protestants, but because of Brexit,” pundit Brian Feeney told NewsTalk radio today.

The UK’s exit from the European Union (EU), rejected by the majority of the Northern Irish electorate in the 2016 consultation, had a ‘huge impact’ and ‘increased divisions’ in the region , Feeney pointed out.

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