Sinn Fein wants referendum plan as Catholics outnumber Protestants in Northern Ireland for first time

Sinn Fein has called for preparations for an Irish reunification referendum after a census showed Catholics outnumber Protestants in Northern Ireland for the first time in the country’s history.

During partition in 1921, Northern Ireland’s borders were drawn to ensure a Protestant majority. Unionists are traditionally Protestant, while historically nationalists are mostly Catholic.

However, in the census, taken last year, a total of 45.7 per cent of the 1.9 million population identified as Catholic, compared to 43.5 per cent who were Protestant. 

There was also a drop in the number of people in Northern Ireland who saw themselves as British and an increase in those identifying as Irish compared to the last census in 2011.

The 2011 census recorded 48 per cent of the population as Protestant or raised Protestant, and 45 per cent as Catholic.

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s First Minister designate, said the change was “historic”.

John Finucane, a Sinn Fein MP, said: “The Irish government should establish a Citizens’ Assembly to plan for the possibility of a unity referendum”. He described the shift as “irreversible”.

Philp Brett, a DUP Member of the Legislative Assembly, told BBC Radio Ulster:  “I don’t come from a traditional Protestant background but my support for the Union isn’t in question.

“What most worries me is an attempt by some to try to use a census […] as some sort of mini-referendum on the position of Northern Ireland within the UK.”

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