Northern Ireland: Protestants Losing Majority

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Mon Feb 11 21:19:27 MST 2002

>From the Independent (London)

Protestants stand on brink of losing their majority in Northern Ireland

By David McKittrick Ireland Correspondent

11 February 2002
The Protestant majority in Northern Ireland, the mainstay of the state for
eight decades, may have almost disappeared, demographic experts believe.

The numerical supremacy of Protestants over the Catholic population has
dwindled to no more than a few percentage points ­ the result of years of
large-scale political, social and economic changes.

One statistician calculates the population could consist of 50 per cent
Protestants, 46 per cent Catholics and 4 per cent others. Another more
cautious estimate puts the ratio at 51 per cent Protestant, 45 per cent
Catholic and 4 per cent others.

The private opinion of a third demographic observer is that Protestants may
make up just 49 per cent. One expert takes the view that, if the Protestant
majority has not already disappeared, it will do so within a few years.

These estimates are not based on the 2001 census, which has yet to be
analysed and will not be available until later in the year. But they
represent the best-informed estimates available.

Such findings are likely to have a profound effect on Northern Ireland's
political psychology, which is already characterised by pessimism and
apprehension among Protestants and Unionists.

The speed at which the gap between Protestants and Catholics has narrowed
will fuel speculation that Catholics could become the majority within a

Ominously for Unionists, statistics show a clear Catholic majority in the
school-age population. Of children in Northern Ireland's schools last year,
173,000 were Catholic, 146,000 Protestant and 22,000 other.

The estimate that Catholics comprise 45 per cent or more of the population
constitutes a huge rise from their traditional position of one-third.
Northern Ireland's three cities ­ Belfast, Londonderry and Armagh ­ all now
have Catholic majorities. So do at least 13 of the 26 local council areas. 

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