“When census returns are released this month, the figure beside the Catholic 45% will not be 55% Protestant. When ‘others’ have been factored in, the Protestant population in the north is likely to emerge as less than 50% for the first time in its history.”
Such a collapse in the ‘stated’ protestant population will be extremely worrying for Unionist leaders, and not just for ‘symbolic’ reasons. Previous estimates put the expected figure at 51-2%. Though there is likely to be a larger proportion of ‘Protestants’ amongst the ‘not stated’ or ‘no religion’ figures, many are also likely be ‘Catholic’. Putting the figure of those inclined to vote as though they were Catholic at anything up to 47-8%.
Even taking into account that the Catholic birth rate has been plummeting over the last 5 to 6 years, the forecasted equilibrium in populations is likely to arrive much sooner than previously thought. This has huge implications for all parties in a political system that appeals to its electorate largely on the basis of religion. However it takes shape, it looks like change is coming sooner rather than later.
Though Lord Killooney doubts there will be a Catholic majority for the foreseeable future, we are not so sure. What it doesn’t mean is an inevitable vote for Irish unification.
For more background see the excellent PDNI.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty