Few Surprises in the NI Census Results — But What of the Atheists?

census 2011 logoThe 2011 Census data released today continued the growing trend of religiosity losing its majority populace throughout the UK. In Northern Ireland 16.86% of the population responded as having “no religion” or “did not state religion” whereas the response for “persons with no religion or religion not stated” in the 2001 census was 13.88% — this marks a small increase of an increase of 2.98%.

In England and Wales the number of people selecting “no religion” increased from 15% in 2001 to 25% in 2011.

The NI data reveals 48% of the resident population are either Protestant or brought up Protestant, a drop of 5% from the 2001 census.

However, the numbers show that 45% of the resident population are either Catholic or brought up Catholic, yet only 41% Catholic on census day.

  • 41% Catholic
  • 19% Presbyterian
  • 14% Church of Ireland
  • 5.8% other Christian or Christian-related denominations
  • 3% Methodist
  • 0.8% other religions and philosophies

Putting this with the figures for national identity — the first time this question has been asked — the overall statistics become much more interesting as well bringing a better understanding of the politics of people in Northern Ireland. Just 25% regard themselves as Irish only. This just shows there is not a definable correlation between religion and national identity/voting pattern.

According to the BBC

7% say they either belong to another religion or none

And the UTV reported this as

Just over 5% of people in Northern Ireland said they do not belong to any religion

Each news outlet is taking different data to be the correct response.
The BBC are giving the number of 6.75% of those who “who did not state religion” for Question 17 which asked “What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?”. While UTV gave the number of those 5.59% of those who answered “none” to Question 18 which asked “What religion, religious denomination or body were you brought up in?”.

Neither of these take into consideration the 10.11% of people who answered “No Religion” under the same Question 17.

This inaccuracy of the data reporting is extremely important, and it’s a shame to see the media portray the numbers incorrectly. The numbers of those who have no religion are

Jill Farquhar states why this is important:

As politicians use the census statistics to form policy and allocate resources this type of misrepresentation is extremely significant. The use of data conflating religion with religious background produces an image of Northern Ireland which is significantly more religious and significantly less diverse than is actually the case. This reinforces the Catholic/Protestant binary and justifies the continued intrusion of religion into lawmaking in NI (see the restrictive abortion legislation for example).

More broadly, the conflation of ‘religion’ with ‘religious background’ perpetuates the idea that the religion of our parents defines our own religious identity and produces religion as something essential to the individual rather than something which can be changed, challenged and/or rejected.

For the purposes of the NI census, it seems, atheists really are ‘catholic atheists’ or ‘protestant atheists’.

Based on the data in English and Wales, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has calculated that if the change in Christianity shown between 2001 and 2011 continues, then Christians would be recorded as being in the minority from September 2018.

This is highly significant data as we watch rationality become the norm, yet there are still continued efforts to be done in education, particularly in Northern Ireland, which has seen a rise in Atheism and secularism, and indeed a growing progressive liberal community, however this has been much smaller than elsewhere in the UK.

Below is the data comparing the 2011 census data with that from 2001:


Every once in a while a trend kicks off on Twitter which flies in the face of the serious issue taking place elsewhere. This humour is a particularly passive method of showing the disdain of the majority for the violence and unruly behaviour from the minority.

Sure, it’s a throwaway “hashtag” game on Twitter, though the very fact that it spread so quickly shows the support it garnered by local people. Many of the offerings from Twitter users were accurate displays of disparagement and frustration, through the clever replacement of words and choosing of titles. Here are some of the best examples:

Geek Manifulster

The GeekManifulster Pledge reached its target! But there is still a lot of work to be done.

geek manifestoThe idea behind the pledge is to have a copy of the Geek Manifesto: Why Science Matters on the desk of each MLA in Stormont. 56 people have now pledged that they will send a copy to an MLA of their choice, though there are 108 MLAs in Stormont.

The book is written by Mark Henderson, Head of Communications at the Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health by supporting the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities, while the book sets an agenda for how science should be much more central than it is to government and the wider national conversation. Science and critical thinking should be at the forefront of government and political decisions — the current state of affairs is from from this, and no less so in Northern Ireland than the rest of the UK.

And so with this in mind, we have the “GeekManifulster”, as coined by Shane McKee.

In Northern Ireland we have our Legislative Assembly with 108 elected Members (MLAs), largely elected along the lines of the traditional parties who have tussled and wrangled over Our Wee Country for the past 45 years (a time that has not always been happy). Political rhetoric in Northern Ireland is often based along religious faultlines, and people seem reluctant to toss that aside in favour of a more inclusive and evidence-based future.

The #GeekManifulster Pledge sets out to help change the culture in Stormont. We want to give each MLA a copy of the book, and let them know that science-minded people (whether they are actually scientists or not) form a major part of their constituency. If they want our votes, they need to show they are ready to take on the challenge.

Northern Ireland’s economy was once built on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). We built ships, from the Titanic to the Canberra. We built planes, generators, turbines. We developed textiles that helped win World War II. Our scientists split atoms, unlocked the mysteries of thermodynamics, discovered quasars. We have nothing to be ashamed of, and science can help pull us out of this recession.

What to do now?

  1. If you haven’t read The Geek Manifesto, do!
  2. Join the Geek Manifulster Facebook Group.
  3. Share with friends on Facebook, Twitter, email etc.
  4. Then pick which MLA you would like to send a copy to… (perhaps try to pick someone who you may not have voted for in the past, or whose views you might normally disagree with – go on – get out of your comfort zone!).
  5. You’ll need to add your name beside an MLA on the spreadsheet.
  6. Start thinking of ways you might be able to enhance the profile of science in the public sphere

Science is vital, and science and reason have never been stronger within Northern Ireland.
Let’s make this happen.

Abortion Clinic To Open in Belfast

It was announced today that the Marie Stopes charity will be opening a sexual health clinic in Belfast on Thursday 18th October — the clinic will offer abortions to women “within Northern Ireland’s current legal framework”.

A spokeswoman said: “Medical abortion up to nine weeks’ gestation will be available at the centre.

“Our provision of early medical abortion will be the same service that is currently available from the NHS in Northern Ireland, available only within the current legal framework: that is, if a woman’s life is at immediate risk or there is a risk of ‘real and serious’ long term or permanent damage to her physical or mental health, she may have an abortion in Northern Ireland.” — The Detail

Abortion is a particularly hot-topic in Ireland, both North and South of the border, however what the planned opening of the clinic has done is to make the debate more relevant and is playing a large part in educating people about the legal stance on abortion in Northern Ireland. It has come as a surprise to many that abortions are legal in through the NHS. While this service is only available under highly regulated circumstances where the life or mental and physical well-being of the pregnant woman was at immediate risk. It is clear that many eligible women in Northern Ireland are turned away from this service under the NHS as doctors often do not know the full extent of the law.

From the BBCNews website:

Q. What is the law on abortion in Northern Ireland?

The law in Northern Ireland is as it was in Britain before 1967. The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act makes all abortions illegal. The 1929 Infant Life (Preservation) Act was extended to Northern Ireland in 1945 and allows abortion to preserve a mother’s life. Also the Bourne judgement 1938 – case law allowing abortion in circumstances of risk to mental or physical health.

While the service is available under these circumstances through the NHS, programme director Dawn Pervis has said that the clinic offers “a safe place for women and men to find support, be provided with help and counselling, to feel that they are being listened to and not judged. It is a matter of choice, every step of the way. A woman may decide that she does not want to choose a termination. If she does, then offering early medical abortion cuts out the stress of having to travel outside Northern Ireland to access those services.”

The Marie Stopes website details the abortion pill procedure.

Women over 16 will be able to avail of the abortion service provided, however the clinic also provides a number of other serivces:

  • Abortion
  • Contraception
  • Female sterilisation
  • Well Woman screening
  • Cervical screening
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Chlamydia tests
  • Gynaecological checks
  • Menopause checks
  • For men

  • Vasectomy
  • Well Man screening
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • HIV testing
  • Chlamydia tests

In a statement released this morning, Alliance MLA, Anna Lo said:

“I would like to welcome the opening of the first Marie Stopes clinic in Northern Ireland. I will be giving them my full support and I would like to send my warmest wishes to Dawn Purvis the director of this clinic.

“They will be operating within the current law, so I am deeply saddened by the criticism that some people have directed towards this development.

This is a step forward in the right direction for Northern Ireland, especially considering that we are decades behind the rest of the UK on this issue. There is still more work to do to offer women full choice but this is a ground breaking day for women in Northern Ireland.

We should not be forcing women to travel to Britain to even have a termination that would be legal in Northern Ireland. We are putting extra pressure on women by forcing them to travel across the Irish Sea to have a termination.

I hope people can treat this issue with the sensitivity that it deserves and not use inflammatory language that puts stress on women who will have to make a difficult decision.”

It is this support and and counselling which is vital and this clinic makes it easier for women to seek the help they need. It is important to stir opinion and making women aware of what their options are. It is also worthwhile noting that 9 weeks actually looks like: an inch long, the head very big in proportion to the rest of it, eyes out to the side, brain cells still unconnected, some spontaneous movements purely due to reflexive activity, no conscious awareness.

All things Skeptical — Sunday Summary

This may or may not be a regular thing, we’ll see how it goes.

A round-up of news and stuff from the past week:




Northern Ireland



A Secular Agenda for Northern Irish Politics

Matt Johnston has some brilliant ideas which should be taken on board by those in Northern Ireland who wish to better the our future; political parties, voters, and potentially new political parties. Matt has created a list of terms — “a political ‘purity test’” — which can be applied to a local manifesto. The bottom line is that this is about a secular agenda with aims to improve the life of people and economy in Northern Ireland.

They are all excellent and valid points which need to be reverberated throughout our government and should be fought for as a society.

  • Do they support raising the bar for education in schools (especially with regards to computing education)?
  • What is their stance on equal marriage?
    Why do you want to stop people from getting married except under your definitions?
  • Do they support total transparency on finances?
  • What is their policy on parades and illegal organisations? If you support flying flags of illegal organisations (involved in murder) then you’re part of the problem. If you support parades going through anywhere but city centres, then you’re part of the problem. Keep parades the hell away from where people live.
  • What’s your policy on integration in schools? If it’s any less than 100%, then you’re just propagating the issues we’ve been suffering with for my entire lifetime. Religious instruction in state-funded schools is not appropriate. Religion is a personal experience. Keep it in your family and your congregation.
  • Do they support the teaching of Creationism in schools? This is a hot topic considering that government is trying to increase interest in STEM subjects and including a mythology alongside science is counterproductive. Creationism is a great story for goatherds two millennia ago. Let’s keep it for Sundays and get it out of our schools.
  • Are they prepared to apply the law to all without regard for historical or cultural sensitivity? This means no by-ball for their mates in the lodge (Orange or Hibernian). This means no unofficial vigilantes. This means more than simple “condemnation” of the violence.
  • Do they support the ridiculous opening hours restrictions placed on shops on Sundays? And not to mention the restrictions on pubs and nightclubs. We’re not a “party region”, we’re barely a tourist friendly region. Give tourists something to do on a Sunday morning other than listen to dreary bells.

These are all extremely valid and important, and, for the most part, they contribute massively to the reason Northern Ireland continues to remain years behind everywhere else on a number of issues. This list makes sense. And these issues need to be dealt with.

Read Matt’s post here.

World Suicide Prevention Day 2012

Today is the 10th anniversary of World Suicide Prevention Day: the purpose of which is to promote awareness, commitment and action in preventing suicide. This year’s theme is “Suicide Prevention across the Globe: Strengthening Protective Factors and Instilling Hope”.

Suicide is a very personal issue, and many of us know someone who has thought about it, or indeed gone through with it. According to recent statistics, Health Minister Edwin Poots said in June 2012 it is “almost six times the rate of death due to road traffic accidents”. With a record 313 suicides registered last year.

The rise in these figures has been linked to a number of factors, including unemployment and the current economic climate.

Suicide rates are twice as high in deprived areas of Northern Ireland – for young men, it’s often said to be down to the over-use of alcohol and drugs.

According to Psychology Today the six reasons for attempted suicide are:

  1. Depression
  2. Psychosis
  3. Impulsive
  4. Crying out for help
  5. A philosophical desire to die
  6. They’ve made a mistake

A recet study by Queens University Belfast found that the highest rate of suicide in Northern Ireland is among men aged 35-44, also known as “Troubles Children”. Speaking about the study Professor Tomlinson, from the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work said:

“The increase in suicide rates can be attributed to a complex range of social and psychological factors.
These include the growth in social isolation, poor mental health arising from the experience of conflict, and the greater political stability of the past decade.
The transition to peace means that cultures of externalised aggression are no longer socially approved or politically acceptable.”

In June 2012 Edwin Poots launched the ‘Protect Life Strategy and Action Plan‘.

Worldwide statistics:

  • Data from The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that 1 million people die every year of suicide worldwide
  • There is one death by suicide every 40 seconds
  • There are more people lost to suicide than to homicide and war combined
  • Suicide ranks as the second leading cause of death worldwide among 15-19 year olds
  • More than 100,000 adolescents die by suicide each year worldwide
  • Highest rates of suicide are among those age 75 and older
  • Up to 90% of people who take their own life have a psychiatric disorder

How to support World Suicide Prevention Day 2012:

Review of the matters surrounding the Creationist Display at the Giant’s Causeway Visitors’ Centre

A member of the ‘Remove Creationist Display From Giant’s Causeway Visitors’ Centre‘ Facebook group has put together a paper reviewing all matters surrounding the creationist display at the Giant’s Causeway Visitors’ Centre which has been sent to Simon Jenkins, Chairman of the National Trust in London, and given him a week in which to respond.

The paper is set out into four sections:

    1. Factual falseness of the display and related issues.
    2. Illegal nature of the display
    3. Treatment of members/supporters
    4. Future safeguards against similar incidents

The paper goes into detail on the factual falsities of the display:

There is no objective evidence to suggest that the Earth is 6000 years old. It comes entirely from one theological view of a literal interpretation of the Bible that the Old Testament provides a complete genealogy from Adam to Jesus.

There is no debate on this issue and as mentioned in the National Trust’s press release [1] on 18th July “There is clearly no scientific debate about the age of the earth or how the Causeway stones were formed. The National Trust does not endorse or promote any other view.” – This clearly contradicts the display at the visitor’s centre. Either there is a debate or there isn’t a debate, all the evidence points to there being no debate.

Clearly detailing the 1960’s creation movement in America and the 1968 Epperson vs. Arkansa in which the Supreme Court prohibited the teaching of religious dogma or tailoring teaching to any religious sect, it is clear that historical cases have fought against this type of teaching as anything which is factually true or up for debate. In allowing the opinion of the creationist view the “National Trust is representing one very small denomination of one religion and not others”.

The paper states that the inclusion of the display is illegal according to a statement from the Equality Commission regarding the Northern Ireland Act 1998 Section 75:

While the National Trust is a private charity it was using, in part, public money and as such the money should be used appropriately according to the laws of the country any of its sites are in. It is the funding body (DETI) who are responsible for checking that there wouldn’t be any imbalanced views or that there is no promotion of said imbalance.

The paper goes on to detail how the National Trust have given “standardised responses” on Facebook and in emails to complaints made, as well as stating that the National Trust are well overdue the deadline in which to respond to complaints made regarding the display:

The National Trust’s complaints procedure states that once the National Trust has recognised a problem then they will seek to resolve it within 21 days. Given that the National Trust made a press office statement on the 18th July this would make the deadline for resolution the 8th August. The removal group made it apparent that we would give the National Trust time to do the review and reduce pressure through methods of communication and it was understood by both the removal group and the BBC [13] that the 18th August would be an acceptable timeframe. Come the 18th August the National Trust claimed not to know of this, given that cached results would not go back a month we have no choice but to accept this on good faith. It is, regardless, highly suspicious and many suspect that mention of the date was removed from communication deliberately. Given that the National Trust were more than aware that this (not unreasonable) timescale was accepted by the removal group and the national press then an effort should have been made to hold to it.

In conclusion, the review communicates that it is essential that any future National Trust projects maintain secular views and given that the Visitors’ Centre was funded in part using public money the National Trust have two options: “to remove the offending display, or a more inclusive display that involves several historic religious views, none of which should be portrayed as scientific views.

The full paper can be viewed and downloaded here [doc].

Equal Marriage NI Committee Elected

Last night, Wednesday 5th September, a public meeting was held in order to elect the Equal Marriage NI Committee who will head the campaign for the fight for equal marriage in Northern Ireland. While much heated discussion has taken place online in regards the running of the election and the committee, the night went ahead successfully and votes were cast and counted.

The following positions were elected:

John O’Doherty – Chairperson

Mark Brown – Vice Chairperson
Malachai O’Hara – Vice Chairperson
Nicholas Young – Campaigns Officer
Gavin Boyd – Communications Officer
Cara McCann – Treasurer
Matthew McDermott – Secretary
Pádraig Ó Tuama – Faith Representative
Ciaran Moynagh – Non Executive Officer
Adam Murray – Non Executive Officer

A full breakdown of the election results can be found on Gyronny.com.

Now the hard work begins as the campaign works towards securing full equality of marriage.
You can follow the campaign on Twitter and Facebook.

Millar Farr Believes Law Should Be Based on the Bible?

“How politicians can imagine they have the right to create legislation which is contrary to holy scripture is beyond belief.”

Millar Farr, Sovereign Grand Master of the Royal Black Institution, spoke at north and west Tyrone demonstration for Black Saturday. According to The Newsletter there were around 1,000 members of the institution on parade in 24 preceptories accompanied by 22 bands from Strabane, Castlederg and Omagh.

In his speech, Farr spoke of the adoration towards the Queen and Royal Family, as usual, while also chiming in on the issue of gay marriage stating:

“In God’s law there is no provision for same-sex marriage,” he said. “Holy scripture is quite clear on the subject – marriage is between male and female only.”

“While man-made laws can be changed, God’s law is unchangeable. How politicians can imagine they have the right to create legislation which is contrary to holy scripture is beyond belief.”

What else would he like to see made illegal?