Census figures outlining the religious composition and sense of national identity of people in Northern Ireland will be released on Thursday.
Long-term demographic trends suggest the 2021 census may be the first in the region’s history to record more Catholics than Protestants in the population.
The 2011 census recorded 48% of the population as Protestant or High Protestant, down five percentage points from 2001. The Catholic population stood at 45% at the last census, up one point. percentage compared to 2001.
The publication of the census traditionally sparks a debate about what the figures may mean for Northern Ireland’s constitutional future.
Some may seek to draw a direct link between the religious break and public opinion on the potential reunification of Ireland.
However, critics of this approach view religious affiliation as a crude metric for measuring sentiment on the constitutional issue, insisting that just because someone is Protestant or Catholic does not mean their respective political outlook is different. necessarily unionist or nationalist.
In this regard, more weight can be given to census figures on national identity.
This question was first included in the census in 2011, when 40% said they had a uniquely British national identity, 25% said they had a uniquely Irish identity, and 21% considered their identity to be uniquely Northern Irish.
Under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement peace accord, the constitutional status of Northern Ireland can only be changed with the consent of its people.
The outgoing Northern Ireland Secretary is obliged to call a referendum on Irish unity if he believes there has been a shift in public opinion which would indicate a majority in favor of constitutional change.
However, the 1998 peace agreement did not provide any details on the measures or criteria on which to base this judgement.
Figures on religion and national identity are part of the second set of data released from the 2011 census.
The first tranche of figures, released in May, focused on the population and the number of households.
It showed Northern Ireland’s population had reached an all-time high of over 1.9 million.
The second figures release will also include data on ethnicity, sexual orientation and a range of other demographic statistics.
The 2021 census was carried out on March 21, 2021.