A century after its creation as “a Protestant state for a Protestant people”, Northern Ireland’s six counties now have a majority from the ever smaller Catholic community.
nited ireland see you next tuesday after tea anyone?
Well, it’s not that simple. Let’s dig a little beyond the headlines.
The long-awaited census figures released today show us that NI society is evolving in diverse and complex ways. The community from the union tradition, now outnumbered, does not mean that a majority will suddenly look to Dublin rather than London in their daily lives.
This choice between London or Dublin has been one of the basic necessities of existence since Northern Ireland was formally founded in 1921. When NI became a political reality it was overwhelmingly Protestant/Unionist with only a third of the population being a Catholic/Nationalist community.
Census figures now show that Catholics (at almost 46 per cent) outnumber Protestants (at almost 44 per cent) in Northern Ireland’s population for the first time since the partition of the island of Ireland.
This is a radical and sea change, marked by decades of sporadic fighting and killing and dominated by more than 30 years of open war that claimed more than 3,600 lives.
The “rabbit theory” – according to which the nationalist/Catholic minority would essentially outperform their Protestant/union neighbors for decades – has long been put forward. It is now a reality, posing real challenges to the already embattled political leaders of the union community.
These census figures tell us that Northern Ireland now has essentially three identities: 32 per cent of people say they are British and 29 per cent identify as Irish. But 20 percent say they are Northern Irish.
These and other figures strongly suggest a decoupling of the old and dreary certainties that hold close correspondences between Unionists and Protestants and Nationalists and Catholics. It’s a positive step in a place where change has always been too slow and uplifting news too scarce.
At the heart of Sinn Féin’s policy priorities is the creation of a united Ireland embracing all islands. In May this year, party leader Mary Lou McDonald told Sky News that this would become a reality within a decade, by 2032. The party holds a large chunk of political power in Belfast and may well be poised to lead the next government in Dublin.
This date line is extremely optimistic and based solely on long-held nationalistic aspirations. The number of issues from health to education to the cost of living remains unresolved and almost limitless.
The prospect of a swiftly united Ireland remains extremely problematic as there are far more questions than answers. But this 2021 census tells us that some kind of change is in the air.
The idea of a six-county Protestant part of Ulster is certainly outdated. But also the idea of an Irish island, which emerges as a late consummation of the aspiring 1916 leaders’ aspirations.
Talk of a united Ireland must now focus on pragmatism. The question must be: what political structure will serve all Irish people in their daily lives?
https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/will-we-get-a-united-ireland-by-teatime-forget-it-northern-ireland-now-has-three-identities-42009327.html John Downing: Will we get a united Ireland by teatime? Forget it, Northern Ireland now has three identities