Northern Ireland is becoming less and less Protestant and is likely to have a Catholic majority within three years, according to a new analysis of demographic trends in the country.
A report this week by the Catholic News Agency suggests that according to census data, Protestants outnumbered Catholics by just three percent in 2011, while more recent data show a Catholic majority “in every age group of the population, except for those over 60.”
Founded in 1921, Northern Ireland has always had a Protestant majority. Now, however, Catholic schoolchildren outnumber Protestants of the same age by a significant margin of 51 percent to 37 percent.
The Republic of Ireland, on the other hand, has always been predominantly Catholic, ever since the religion took hold in the middle of the first millennium.
Northern Ireland separated from Southern Ireland in 1921, and the religious identities of the two countries exacerbated friction of a social and political nature.
The 1960s saw an escalation of interreligious conflict that lasted until 1998. According to Catholic News Agency, there were more than 16,200 bombings, more than 3,500 people killed, and about 50,000 people injured during this bloody period.
The conflict reached a tentative end with the “Good Friday Agreement” of 1998, even though occasional outbursts of violence were not uncommon even afterward.
As Breitbart News reported following outbreaks of violence in Belfast in 2011, while conflict in Northern Ireland is usually portrayed as religious in nature, underlying it is an ethnic conflict between indigenous Gaelic Irish people (usually Catholic, Republican, nationalist) on one side and descendants of invading English and Scottish people (usually Protestant, loyalist, unionist) on the other.
As is often the case, religion is not the root “cause” of this conflict, but a tool used by the factions to rally supporters to their cause. And, in fact, clashes between the two groups actually predate the Protestant Reformation and the establishment of the Church of England, dating back at least as far as the 1400s.
In early April, the Catholic and Anglican Primates of All Ireland issued a joint statement marking the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, giving thanks for “all that has been achieved in shaping a peaceful and shared future” in Northern Ireland.
The Good Friday Agreement was signed on April 10, 1998, and established a power-sharing government involving parties representing both the majority Protestant population and the minority Catholic population.
In their joint letter, the archbishops said the peace in Northern Ireland had required a great effort to achieve and that it will “equally take risk, and leadership at all levels, to maintain.”
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