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Census results are unspinably bad for unionism, but more complex than some are claiming

Sam McBride


Focusing on religious figures depresses many who want to see politics move beyond a  sectarian headcount but is legitimate given the basis on which NI was founded

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Stock image of Belfast

Stock image of Belfast

A man walks past a Catholic religious mural on the day that the Northern Ireland census was released on September 22, 2022 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The latest census figures show that for the first time in Northern Irelands 101-year history there are more people from a Catholic background in Northern Ireland than Protestant. The proportion of the resident population which is either Catholic is 45.7% compared to 43.48% Protestant. The previous census, in 2011, found that 45.1% of the population were Catholic compared to 48.4% who were from a Protestant or other Christian background. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

A man walks past a Catholic religious mural on the day that the Northern Ireland census was released on September 22, 2022 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The latest census figures show that for the first time in Northern Irelands 101-year history there are more people from a Catholic background in Northern Ireland than Protestant. The proportion of the resident population which is either Catholic is 45.7% compared to 43.48% Protestant. The previous census, in 2011, found that 45.1% of the population were Catholic compared to 48.4% who were from a Protestant or other Christian background. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

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Stock image of Belfast

The most dramatic finding of the Northern Ireland census results released today is crudely simple: Catholics now outnumber Protestants in a part of the UK whose boundaries were drawn in 1921 to ensure a hefty Protestant majority.

But beneath that simple headline lies buried a plethora of other complex information – not that much of it is any more encouraging for unionist leaders who for years have failed to comprehend, much less successfully address, the reasons why support for unionist parties has dramatically fallen.


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