Massive rise in non-religious identity in Northern Ireland

10 June, 2021

The share of adults in Northern Ireland with no religion is surging, according to the latest data from the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey.

The results of the 2020 survey have been published today. 27% of respondents said they had no religion – an increase of 7% on 2019. This latest surge means that the overall figure has more than doubled in the last decade, with just 12% saying they belong to no religion in 2009.

The question asked was ‘Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion? If yes, which?’ 28% said Catholic, 18% Presbyterian, 11% Anglican, and 12% some other form of Christian.

Northern Ireland Humanists said that the surge was confirmation of widespread changes in beliefs and attitudes. It should have meaningful consequences for law and policy in the region. Its Coordinator, Boyd Sleator, said:

‘We’re delighted to see such rapid growth of the non-religious in Northern Ireland. To us, this suggests more and more people who have long been non-religious are finding the confidence to identify that way publicly.

‘The non-religious community in Northern Ireland is now reaching parity with the Catholic and Protestant communities. This is a huge change. And it provides a stark contrast to the divisions that defined Northern Ireland in years gone by.’

Reflecting on the upcoming single education system review, Mr Sleator added:

‘With so many in Northern Ireland not belonging to any religious camp, our divided education system simply can’t be justified today. We want to see integration across Northern Ireland’s schools, and an end to religious segregation and compulsory collective worship. We’ll be making the case for that as part of the upcoming education review later this year.’

The increase of non-religious people in Northern Ireland is also reflected in the growth of humanist ceremonies. Humanist marriages were legally recognised in 2018. Since then, they have ballooned in number, with hundreds of couples opting for a humanist wedding every year.

Northern Ireland Humanists was founded in 2016 to advance humanist values in Northern Ireland and provide a public voice for the growing non-religious population. Its membership has grown by a factor of 10 in just five years, with the organisation now representing over 2,500 people across Northern Ireland.


For further comment or information, please contact Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator at or phone 02890 029946.

Read the latest Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey results.

Northern Ireland Humanists is part of Humanists UK, working 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 thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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