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Armstrong: Census still doesn’t recognise NI’s societal change

Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong has said she is disappointed that yet again there has been no change to the 2021 Census questions, meaning there is still no accurate representation of societal change.

Speaking during a debate in the Assembly, the MLA for Strangford said it meant questions around religion continued to disregard fact and instead insist respondents answer a question on what religion they were brought up in – something that meant many who no longer wish to be defined by a specific religion will only be counted if they mark themselves into one or other of the main Christian religions, namely Protestant or Catholic.

She added: “The only reason for demanding this information in the Census is to perpetuate ‘Troubles’ sectarian division when we should be asking questions that will help to develop future services based on the wealth of diversity towards a shared society.

“I want it put on record that if we keep considering Northern Ireland only in terms of Catholics or Protestants, or putting people in those specific religion/cultural designations, and as a special case, how can we move forward in our peace process to a future if we keep using backward facing data.

“What’s more, the question is not asked in other regions of the UK and there is no penalty for not answering the question in Northern Ireland. So with no legal obligation why is it deemed necessary? The data quality is flawed”

“It is also frustrating that people aren’t fully informed when it comes to their options. With the census moving online this is something that should be easy to do – which is why when I meet NISRA I raised the opportunity for a ‘pop up’ to appear at this question, explaining to people that the question was optional and does not have to be answered. This was flat out refused without any consideration.

“Alliance has always supported independent census data collection, and we continue to do so. But as we move towards building a shared and inclusive future, the census must be brought up to date to reflect this, removing this unnecessary question that harks back to a segregate, divided past that we are all working so hard to move on from.”