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Catholics becoming less a minority in Northern Ireland

Census statistics are expected to show the Catholic population of Northern Ireland has surpassed 45%.

The Irish Times reports that it seems "universally accepted" that a combination of higher birth rates, a younger population and a stark differential in death rates will point to a significant jump in the Catholic population. It says the population trend indicates that if the union with Britain is to survive, it may do so in future years only with Catholic goodwill.

A BBC Northern Ireland investigation said that of 15,000 deaths each year in the North, roughly 10,000 are Protestant and the remainder Catholic.

Dr Paul Compton, a demographer at University College London, told the program that differentials in birth and death rates between the two communities could result in a Catholic majority within 30 years. According to the Department of Education, there is now a Catholic majority among the under-16 school population.

In 1921 the population breakdown was 66:33 in favour of Protestants.

Demographic trends suggest that a rise in the Catholic total is due to a combination of factors. These include a "working through" of a bulge in the Catholic birth rate in the late 1960s; stemming of emigration in general, and Catholic emigration in particular; and a trend among Protestants who qualify for third-level colleges to study in Britain and not return.

Corruption of previous census data is also a significant factor according to Dr Brian Feeney, a Belfast-based political commentator.

The censuses of 1981 and 1971 were unreliable, he says. "The 1971 census was flawed because of internment, the 1981 was flawed because of Sinn Féin, who organised the burning of census forms."

Northern Ireland Assembly

Irish Times