The latest tranche of Census 2011 results for Northern Ireland were released yesterday. They provide information of demography, identity, health, housing, education, labour markets, and travel and migration at a variety of geographic scales: 18 Assembly Areas, 26 Local Government Areas, 582 electoral wards, 890 Super Output Areas, and 4,537 Small Areas. Data is available for download here and accompanying mapping boundaries here (Great work by NISRA and a good example of open data)

The rich diversity of data released, and its detailed geographic resolution, enables the general public, policy makers, government and business to better understand the people and places of Northern Ireland in 2011, and the trajectories of change over time, and provides a fresh evidence base for formulating new policy and business plans. Indeed, fresh evidence was needed as Census 2001 has been used as a core base for policy formulation right up to this new release, despite it being over a decade old. What the data makes clear is that whilst there is some continuity, there has also been much change with respect to Northern Irish society and economy over the past decade. By mapping the data and undertaking time-series analysis it will be possible to understand the processes shaping different facets of everyday life and to model future scenarios for planning purposes.

To get started on all of this we have developed an interactive mapping tool for the Northern Ireland Output Areas (OA) and selected some interesting variables for Day 1: Population, National Identity, Religion, Qualifications and Unemployment. Have a look at the new mapping tool here


Over the coming weeks we’ll add to this tool and will also start on our new INTERREG funded project (with colleagues at ICLRD) that will allow us to develop a very comprehensive All-Island Census Mapping Atlas that will look at change on the island from 2001 to 2011.

Justin Gleeson


The AIRO team have produced an interactive data visualization of the initial results of the Northern Ireland census 2011.  The data visualization shows the results at district and province level for religion, economic status, national identity, country of birth, and age groups.

With respect to religion the headline statistics was that the percentage of the population who self-declared themselves Catholic has risen to 45.1%, just three percent less than self-declared Protestants (48.4%).  5.6% declared no religion and 0.9% other.  However, it one looks at the data at district level it is clear that very few districts have such a near 50/50 ratio of Catholics/Protestants.  Rather, most districts have a clear religious majority.

NI census

The economic status shows that 467,805 people are in employment, but also that 10,957 people who are unemployed have never worked and 29,324 are classed as long term unemployed.  Worryingly, of those unemployed over 40 percent in all districts are long term unemployed, illustrating the difficulties of re-entering the labour force after job loss in the present recession.

38.9% of the population of Northern Ireland declare themselves to be British, 25.3% Irish, 20.9% as Northern Irish, 6.1% as both British and Irish, and 5% as other.  Clearly the declaration of British maps somewhat imperfectly onto Protestant and the relationship between religion and nationality is by no means synonymous.

More than ten percent of the population were not born in Northern Ireland. 3.6% were born in England, 2.1% in the Republic of Ireland, 2% in EU Accession countries, 2% other, 0.85% Scotland, 0.54% elsewhere in Europe, 0.14% in Wales.

The population is quite youthful with 20.9% of people aged 0-15 and 12.6% aged 16-24.  27.5% are aged 25-44 and 24.4% aged 45-64.  14.6% of the population is at retirement age or older (65+) (the EU average is 16%).

Rob Kitchin and Eoghan McCarthy

NAMA have today revealed a bit more of a detailed breakdown of the NAMA loan book in Northern Ireland and its geography.  NAMA NI loans total £3.35bn (c. €4bn) and relate to 180 individuals and companies.  The loan book is 5% of NAMA’s portfolio.  Undeveloped land accounts for £2bn (60%), investment properties £1bn (29%), and land and property under development, £350m (10%).  Just 1% relates to residential development. With respect to Geography: 32% of the loan portfolio is located in Belfast, 21% in County Down, 19% in County Antrim, 8% in County Londonderry, 7% in County Tyrone, 7% in County Armagh, 4% in County Fermanagh and 2% in the city of Derry.

What is striking here is the amount of land in the portfolio.  I’m assuming that the £2bn figure is after the haircut is applied and using Nov 2009 prices.   Of course the market has fallen since Nov 2009 and £2bn in today’s market will buy an enormous amount of acreage, so one presumes the NAMA holding constitutes a very sizeable landbank.  Given the geographical spread of the loans, much of it has to be located in rural areas and around small towns and villages, and one presumes that it’s main commercial usage over the short term is agriculture.  It would be very interesting to get a further breakdown of the size of the landbanks, where they are, and how much was paid by NAMA for the loans on them, so as to get some idea as to how they view the long term use of the land – I’m working on the principle that much larger haircuts will have been applied to land that has limited development potential and is more suited to agriculture.

The size of the land holding in the portfolio is what troubles me.  It is the part of the portfolio that has fallen most in value and will be more difficult to sell on, unless an investor is prepared to sit on it for a while to let it appreciate in value.  Most developers seek to turn land over quickly because it’s a sunk cost with no working return.  Clearly NAMA has time to wait for the market to stabilise and recover before selling on, but even so that’s a lot of land to be managed, sold on or developed.

Clearly, one of the concerns for the Northern Ireland property market is for NAMA to destabilize it through firesales, and Ronnie Hanna, Head of Risk and Credit, who released the figures today, went on to try and reassure that this would not happen and that NAMA will act responsibly.  To quote him, he said that NAMA would:  “assist in the stabilisation of the property market in Northern Ireland, by providing liquidity to the market and by being able to take a longer-term approach where necessary”.   That’s all well and good, but what I would like to see is a more detailed business plan as to how NAMA intends to try and realise its assets over the long term in NI given the nature and geography of the portfolio.  This is likely to provide more reassurance to the property market there.  At the minute we’ll still at very broad brush generalities, though at least it’s a small step in the right direction.

Rob Kitchin

House prices seem to be on the road to recovery in the North.  The market stabilized somewhat in 2009 after falling 35% from the peak (Q3, 2007) and has risen by 4.9% in the first three months of the year.  The authors of the University of Ulster Quarterly House Price Index note, however, that price growth varies by area (with Belfast increasing and Mid-West and West declining) and house type (terraces and semi-detached continued to fall, detached and semi-detached bungalows increased), and the level of activity in the market is significantly below what it was in 2006 and 2007.  Belfast prices have risen by 18% over the past year.  Prices in the Republic for the same period continued to decline, falling another 4.8% to 34% of peak prices.  The average price of a house in the North rose to £169,497 (c.€200,000), bringing average prices for the North and South into approximate alignment (the average price for a house in the Republic in Q1 2010 was €204,830 according to the PTSB/ESRI index).

One of the major differences between the North and the South is that, due to a much tighter planning system, the North does not have a sizable overhang in the market, with supply and demand more aligned.  And there has been no need for a NAMA response by government, though a sizable proportion of NAMA assets (€4.8bn) are located in the North and agencies there are clearly worried about how these properties will be affect the market.  Whilst the market might be turning there, it seems likely that it’ll be some time before it turns in the Republic given supply/demand imbalance, the lack of access to credit, and the low levels of confidence in the housing market and the general state of the economy.  The way the southern market is heading, the performance of overseas assets is going to be important as to whether NAMA delivers.  The good news is that NAMA housing assets in the North are gaining value (or at least are not still falling).  The bad news is that the wider macroeconomic situation in the North is somewhat uncertain and widescale cut backs in public expenditure is expected in an economy highly dependent on the public sector could weaken any recovery.  One hopes that this recovery in the North is not a dead cat bounce.

Rob Kitchin

The Halifax has reported that Northern Ireland house prices rose by 99% over the last decade (end 1999 to 2009).  That seems like very good news for homeowners who have owned their home for a while.  However, whilst house prices have started to show a slight increase across the rest of the UK in Northern Ireland prices were down 11.6%, Nov 08-Nov 09, and the reversion of stamp duty from £175K to £125K has so far seemingly had little effect.  It seems likely that the hiatus in the political process, the shadow of NAMA into Northern Ireland, and its stagnant economy is stifling recovery.  Given the prediction that the economy will be in the duldrums until the second half of 2010, it may be some months or longer before the market picks up the follows the UK market into slow recovery.

There were two reports in today’s media covering analysis by Alan Bridle, head of economics at Bank of Ireland Northern Ireland (Belfast Telegraph and Irish Times).  He suggests that the Northern Ireland economy will be in a ‘twilight zone’ this year, neither in recession (well not technically) nor experiencing sustained recovery. He forecasts that it will take years for the private sector in the North to recover after the recent slump, particularly in manufacturing, and that unemployment, business failures and house repossessions will continue to grow until at least the second half of the year.  We haven’t discussed how the economic crisis is affecting the North to any degree on IAN; we’ll try and rectify that over the coming months.

Rob Kitchin