In Northern Ireland, national identity is complex and diverse. The question of national identity was asked in the 2011 census with the three most common identities given being British, Northern Irish and Irish. Most people of Protestant background consider themselves British, while a majority of people of Catholic background consider themselves Irish. This has origins in the 17th century Plantation of Ulster, when mainly-Catholic Ulster was colonized by Protestant settlers from Great Britain.
In the early 20th century, most Ulster Protestants and Catholics saw themselves as Irish, although Protestants tended to have a much stronger sense of Britishness. With the onset of the Home Rule Crisis and events that followed, Protestants gradually began to abandon Irish identity, as Irishness and Britishness became more and more to be seen as mutually exclusive. In 1968 – just before the onset of the Troubles – 39% of Protestants described themselves as British and 20% described themselves as Irish, while 32% chose an Ulster identity. By 1978, following the worst years of the conflict, there had been a large shift in identity amongst Protestants, with the majority (67%) now calling themselves British and only 8% calling themselves Irish. This shift has not been reversed. Meanwhile, the majority of Catholics have continued to see themselves as Irish.
From 1989, 'Northern Irish' began to be included as an identity choice in surveys, and its popularity has grown since then. Some organizations have promoted 'Northern Irish' identity as a way of overcoming sectarian division. In a 1998 survey of students, this was one of the main reasons they gave for choosing that identity, along with a desire to appear 'neutral'. However, surveys show that 'Northern Irish' identity tends to have different meanings for Catholics and Protestants. Surveys also show that those choosing 'Northern Irish' regard their national identity as less important than those choosing British and Irish.
In the 2011 census, respondents gave their national identity as follows: