Significantly more people in Northern Ireland consider themselves British as opposed to Irish, answers to a census question have indicated.
Contrary to some traditional perceptions, the expression of national identity does not appear to correlate directly with religious breakdown, as the gap between the proportion of Catholics and Protestants in the region’s population has narrowed to just 3%.
According to the figures from the 2011 Census, the percentage of people who are either Catholic or brought up Catholic in Northern Ireland has risen to 45%, while the Protestant representation has continued to decline, falling to 48%.
However, the question on national identity showed that 40% of the population said they were British only, 25% said they were Irish only, and 21% said they were only Northern Irish.
Last year’s census was the first time the question of national identity was asked.
The answers provide arguably the most accurate reflection of attitudes to national identity ever collated in Northern Ireland because, unlike other surveys on the constitutional position in recent years, it polled the entire population.
Demographically, Northern Ireland’s population has increased by 7.5% to 1.811million since the 2001 census. That survey recorded the religious breakdown as 44% Catholic and 53% Protestant.
The 2011 survey witnessed a significant increase in residents of other religions or none.
On the national issue, people were able to define themselves as having one identity only or choose a variety of terms with which to describe themselves.
In terms of those who opted for a mixed or overlapping identity, just over 6% said they were British and Northern Irish only, just over 1% as Irish and Northern Irish only with almost the same proportion defining themselves as British, Irish and Northern Irish only.
Less than 1% said they were British and Irish only with 5% defining themselvesas others.
Adding up the results, 48% of the population consider themselves to be wholly or part British and 28% said they were wholly or part Irish.
A greater proportion (29%) stated Northern Irish as either the only or one ofthe identities that define them.
As might be expected, the census showed stark differences across the region.
The council area with the greatest proportion calling themselves British only was Carrickfergus (62%) with the highest prevalence of Irish-only identities in Derry (52%).
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