Linking the numbers of Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland to the prospect of a border poll is “lazy analysis”, a DUP politician has said.
Gregory Campbell said writers and politicians using “religious counting” to speculate on a United Ireland referendum “should step back” and look at election results over the past two decades.
His comment comes ahead of the release of Northern Ireland’s 2021 census, which is expected to show Catholics as the region’s largest religious group for the first time since its inception.
National identity and passport statistics will also be released by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency on Thursday.
The last census of 2011 showed that 45.1% of the population of the North were Catholic or had grown up in the Catholic religion, and 48.4% were of Protestant or Christian origin.
Mr Campbell said: ‘The census of Northern Ireland every 10 years leads to the inevitable ‘religious count’ with writers and some politicians making ill-informed comments about religious collapse and what it might mean politically .
“Some make an automatic reading that more Roman Catholics or fewer Protestants mean a border poll. It is undeniable that there has been a change in the demographic composition of Northern Ireland over the last 50 years.
“As the census will show, there is no majority. There is a Protestant minority, a Roman Catholic minority and a minority of people who do not describe themselves as belonging to either of these two backgrounds.”
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Mr Campbell said recent election results in the North show “a very categorical rejection” of the idea that religious affiliation is tied to politics.
He claimed that support for nationalist parties in the North had declined rather than increased in elections over the past 20 years.
In the last Assembly election, the combined Sinn Féin, SDLP and Aontú vote was 39.6%, up from 41.1% in 2011. The combined trade unionist (DUP, UUP, PUP, TUV) vote was 40 .4%, compared to 46.5% in 2011.
He added: “Whatever the outcome of the census, those of us who support Northern Ireland and remain in the UK cannot be complacent, but those who think otherwise must face reality. ironic that the more diverse Northern Ireland is within the UK, the less likely we are to want to leave.”