• UK Census results indicate that Northern Ireland has more people who identify as Catholic than identify as Protestant.
  • However, only 42% of NI respondents currently describe themselves as Catholic and only 46% said they were from a Catholic background – both amounting to less than half of respondents.
  • Based on this data, Northern Ireland does not have a majority Catholic population. However, Christian denominations collectively account for the vast majority of both people’s current religious beliefs and their family backgrounds.

The National Catholic Reporter published an article with the headline:

“Northern Ireland has majority Catholic population for first time, UK census shows.”

Is this right? No.

The 2021 UK Census indicates that 42% of the Northern Ireland population currently describe themselves as Catholic while 46% say they were brought up in that religion.

Both 42% and 46% are minorities, not majorities.

Based on the Census data, Northern Ireland has no majority religion, either in terms of people’s current religious position or their family background.

The National Catholic Reporter article was originally published in September 2022, and only recently brought to our attention.

  • Article

In fact, the article contradicts its own headline in its second paragraph:

“The results of the 2021 United Kingdom census poll, released on Sept. 22, show that nearly 46% of the country’s 1.9 million population were raised Catholic, compared to 43% who were raised Protestant.”

Given that 46% is less than half, these figures indicate that a majority of the population is not Catholic (and, similarly, a majority of the population is not Protestant).

The only thing left to check is whether the figures cited match results from the Census.

  • Census

Relevant data from the 2021 UK Census has been published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).

In total, 42% of respondents said they would currently describe themselves as Catholic while 46% said they were from a Catholic background.

By comparison, 17% said they were currently Presbyterian, 12% Church of Ireland, 2% Methodist and 7% other Christian denominations, and overall 43% said they had a Protestant or other (non-Catholic) Christian background.

Not every respondent is Catholic or Protestant, with 1% of respondents saying they currently belong to another (non-Christian) religion, while 19% either did not state a religion or said they did not subscribe to one.

In terms of background, 1% of people said they were raised in a non-Christian religion and 9% said the were not brought up in any religion.

Figure 1 – source: NISRA