Alliance Party Justice Spokesperson Stephen Farry has responded to the results of a study conducted by Professor Ian McAllister for ARK (the Northern Ireland Social and Political Archive) which indicates that 11.5% of the people of Northern Ireland see themselves as having no religion, by stating that this is only one indicator of those moving away from tribal
labels, and has called for public policy to catch up with the changing reality on the ground.
Stephen Farry said: “These results are stark, yet only illustrate only one aspect of the growing trend of people in Northern Ireland moving away from tribal labels.
“In addition to the 200,000 who do not see themselves as having any religion, it should be acknowledged that there are those who do practice a religion but do not wish to be placed within an exclusive community separate from the rest of society. Furthermore, we must take into account those who are in or who are the products of mixed marriages and relationships, and of course the growing ethnic minority population.
“Overall, the body of people who do not see themselves in terms of unionist or nationalism is more than a quarter of a million. The 2001 Census indicated that 14% of the population did not associate with a communal label. The Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey regular indicate that around 25% of Protestants and 33% of Catholics do not primarily define themselves as either Unionist or Nationalist.
“These figures cannot be ignored. Yet, why does Government persist in building public policy around the assumption that Northern Ireland is divided into two exclusive Protestant/Unionist and Catholic/Nationalist communities? The evidence on the ground is that people are moving away from this.
“It is high time that Government caught up with reality, and changes policy in areas such as fair employment monitoring regulation, its approach to the census, and provision of services such as education.
“When Government publishes its Shared Future Action Plan shortly, it will be a cause of concern if there is no further recognition of the changing nature of identity in Northern Ireland society.”