Current Affairs Politics

Census Of Northern Ireland 2011, Headline Figures

A rough distribution map of the Irish Nationalist and British Unionist populations in the north-east of Ireland, 1991
A rough distribution map of the Irish Nationalist (in green) and British Unionist (in orange) populations in the north-east of Ireland, 1991

The headline percentages from the initial results released today.

National Identity: 

39.89% = British only

25.26% = Irish only

20.94% = Northern Irish only

00.66% = British and Irish only

06.17% = British and Northern Irish only

01.06% = Irish and Northern Irish only

01.02% = British, Irish and Northern Irish only

05.00% = Other

Aggregate National Identity: 

47.26% = Irish

46.72% = British

01.02% = British/Irish/N. Irish

05.00% = Other


48.36% = Protestant / Other Christian

45.14% = Roman Catholic

00.92% = Other Religion

05.59% = No Religion

More later.

UPDATE: The aggregate percentages for “Irish” and “British” are of course a conflation of the census results for:

25.26% (Irish only) + 20.94% (Northern Irish only) + 01.06% (Irish and Northern Irish only) = 47.26%

39.89% (British only) + 00.66% (British and Irish only) + 06.17% (British and Northern Irish only) = 46.72%

I’m not stating that every single one of the 47.26% in the 2011 census self-identify as Irish in the sense of being citizens of the nation-state of Ireland. But all of that 47.26% percentage do regard themselves as Irish in some respect, including the 20% who self-identify as Irish in the sense of being inhabitants of the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland. And all of that 47.26% reject the definition of British, though offered it in several combinations.

That 47.26% is unsurprisingly close to the combined vote for the Nationalist parties in the North. Again, it is worth noting that half the population of the north-eastern part of the country reject the label of British.

The glass is very much half-full by any definition.

Census of “Northern Ireland” 2011, Aggregate Nationalities, Irish, Northern Irish, British
Census of “Northern Ireland” 2011, Aggregate Nationalities, Irish, Northern Irish, British

SECOND UPDATE:  46% of the population in the 2011 census unambiguously identified themselves as British of any type (excluding the tiny “British/Irish/N.Irish” category). That leaves Republicans with a challenge and an opportunity. A hearts and minds campaign to win over the half-hearted or doubtful or dual-minded represented by the 20% “Northern Irish”.

From a Republican point of view the stats below roughly represent the situation in the north-east:

42% = Nationalist Vote
47% = Irish and/or Northern Irish

If you were to accept the census at face value then a Nationalist percentage vote of 42% is derived from a census percentage of 25% “Irish”. Is that likely?

On the other hand a “British” percentage of 46% in the census is not far away from the percentage of Unionist votes (if one includes the Alliance Party).

Both political traditions must be drawing upon the “Northern Irish” vote (when it bothers to vote).

That 20% must be won to the Nationalist side and I believe that objective is achievable. In fact I would argue that a sizeable percentage is already sympathetic or de facto on-board.

“Partition” of some sort will probably remain a long-term (or permanent) feature of Irish politics. But within the context of a reunited Ireland. That is a regional legislature, executive, police and courts service, etc. in the north-east of the country but within a broader Reunited Ireland where the “border” is simply an internal administrative line. That is the New Ireland that can win over the 20% “Northern Irish”.

The DUP, UUP, etc. may be desperately seeking the “Catholic” vote but as recent events have shown they are incapable of genuinely doing so. The Alliance Party, or its political descendants, may well be the future voice of at least some of the British ethno-national minority within a reunited Ireland.

The future is being written in the demographics and Republicans and Nationalists must be the ones to shape that future.

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6 comments on “Census Of Northern Ireland 2011, Headline Figures

  1. How is one “British and Irish” only?


    • One of the many Census questions on nationality (a straightforward “Irish”, “British” or “Other” question might have been better). I presume those Unionists in Ireland who regard themselves as Irish and British. Like English and British or Scottish and British.


  2. You can’t count the Northern Irish only figure as Irish, as if all those people were united Irelanders. It’s more likely identifying with Northern Ireland – the ‘partitionist statelet’ after all, in doctrinaire Republican terms – shows some degree of acceptance of Northern Ireland and therefore the status quo. What you should be looking for is the total of people who have an Irish as opposed to NI identity – and that’s 26 per cent. The Irish nationalist vote percentage meanwhile has flatlined for more than 10 years. Then there’s the Life and Times Survey in 2010. But I agree there will be some of the ‘Northern Ireland’ identity people, particularly Catholics in that cohort, who could potentially persuadable back to a more Irish identity. But probably no more than half of them.


    • Thanks for the Comment, Simon. As I said in the post some of the “Northern Irish” should be seen as “the half-hearted or doubtful or dual-minded” while others should be counted on as favouring Irish reunification. However how those numbers will work out has to wait until the data is broken down (and even then doubts will remain). This is all guesstimates on my part and that of others. However the percentages are all very suggestive.

      45.14% = Roman Catholic [Census – Religion]
      47.26% = Irish (Irish and/or Northern Irish) [Census – Identity]
      42.2% = Irish Nationalist [Assembly – First Pref. Votes]

      The only true test of course will be in an actual referendum on reunification which I favour before 2020.


  3. Yes I’d be up for a referendum too – hopefully it would lance the distracting boil of the border for a generation at least. It’s so important that people focus on making Northern Ireland work now. We had it for a few years after Good Friday but the tendency to dissociate from the present and live in an imagined future seems to have crept back into some discourse. The aspiration to sever British links is fine but we have to guard against that eating away at engagement with the present reality


    • Perhaps the points you allude to keep coming back because of the inherent failure of partition and the reduction of the British colony in Ireland to the north-east of the country? It didn’t work because it never could work. There is no future to “Northern Ireland” and never can be. It will always be ungovernable, will always be in a state of conflict, cold or otherwise, will always be contested. The only genuine and enduring solution is the termination of its existence. No amount of tinkering around the edges will change that.

      That, I would suggest, is the present and past reality of 90 years of Irish history.

      Thanks for the Comments and your contributions.


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