Protestants (48%) are now only three percentage points ahead of Catholics (45%) in Northern Ireland, 2011 census results revealed yesterday. It is the narrowest gap since the establishment of Northern Ireland after the partition, and it may be explained because of the age breakdown - Protestants have an older age profile, so proportionately there are more deaths among their community.
But another fact has come as a surprise for many. For the first time, the census included a question on the national identity of people. And it reveals that, side by side with the expected British and Irish national identities, a Northern Irish national identity is revealed. And, what is more: the Northern Irish identity is almost as strong as the Irish.
Thus, 48.4% of the inhabitants of Northern Ireland declared to have a British national identity (39.9% said it is their only national identity). But then, 29.4% declared their national identity to be Northern Irish (20.9% in exclusive terms). 28.5% considered themselves to have an Irish national identity (only one for 25.3%).
Slight increase in the knowledge of Irish
In relation to languages, the census shows that 10.6% of Northern Irish inhabitants declared to have "some ability in Irish", which includes those able to speak the language but also those able to understand it. Ten years ago, the figure was 10.4%. At least 5.6% of the people now said they can speak Irish.
Thanks to the fact that the census has also included a question on Ulster Scots, it is now clear that Irish has far more speakers than the language brought by Scottish settlers. 8.1% of the people declared to have "some ability" in Ulster Scots, but only 2% admitted to be able to speak the language.
Nevertheless, none of those two languages has a strong everyday use. Only 0.24% of the respondents said that Irish was their main language. The figure for Ulster Scots has not been included in the information released, but it must be below 0.06%. In fact, Irish is only the fourth main language of Northern Ireland, with English being the first one (96.7%), Polish the second one (1%) and Lithuanian the third one (0.36%).