NI Census shows one in six people are not religious – almost double in just 10 years » Humanists UK

The 2021 census in Northern Ireland, released today, shows the number of people identifying as non-religious has nearly doubled. To the question “What religion, denomination or religious organization do you belong to?” », 330,983 people ticked None, against 183,164 in 2011, an increase of 80%. This represents a growth in population share from 10% to 17%.

More people identify as non-religious than as Presbyterian, Church of Ireland, Methodist or any denomination other than Catholic. Humanists in Northern Ireland said it showed it was time for politicians in Stormont to give non-religious ‘a seat at the table’, and that religious divisions in our education system ‘just aren’t not sustainable”.

The “Catholic” share only increased by 1%, from 41% to 42%. The share of ‘Presbyterian’ fell from 19% to 17%, ‘Church of Ireland’ from 14% to 12% and ‘Methodist’ from 3% to 2%. Those who checked “Other Christian” increased from 6% to 7%, “Other” (i.e. other religions) remained at 1%, and non-respondents decreased from 7% to 2 %.

The highest results for non-religious came despite the fact that there is a problem with the way the census question is phrased, in that the question assumes that people are religious. It therefore underestimates the non-religious part of the population. A better question is asked by the annual Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey. He asks “Do you consider yourself to belong to a particular religion? If yes, which ones ?’ One of the options is “No religion”. In 2021, 28% of the population ticked this box.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented:

“The biggest demographic change in Northern Ireland over the last ten years has been the dramatic growth of non-religious people – and today’s census results confirm that.

“The implications of this trend are wide-ranging but, given that young people are more likely to be non-religious, they are particularly urgent for our school system. We now have an increasingly untenable situation where one fifth of the population is not Christian but 100% of our schools are. Compulsory Christian RE and worship in our schools simply no longer fits our society and the Assembly should bring about a radical overhaul of our education system in particular as soon as possible.

The census also asks a second question: “In what religion, denomination or body were you raised?” Many commentators and politicians use it to try to argue that people affiliate with one of the two historical communities in Northern Ireland: Catholic or Protestant. This is a problem because it may not take into account how people choose to identify themselves today. It should therefore be ignored in many contexts.


For further comment or information, media should contact Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator at or by telephone on 07918 975795.

Visit the 2021 census campaign website.

Read it Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency 2021 Census Results.

As the census approaches, Humanists in Northern Ireland and Humanists in the UK have encouraged non-religious people to tick the ‘None’ box.

Read previous press releases from Humanists UK on this:

Northern Ireland Humanists is part of Humanists UK, together with the Humanist Association of Ireland. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thought and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonial, pastoral care, education and support services to over one million people each year and our campaigns advance humanistic thinking on ethical issues, human rights and equal treatment for everyone.

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