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The NI Census results and contingency… September 23, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

The question that fundamentally is raised by the new Census in Northern Ireland is what is the purpose of Northern Ireland? We know that initially it was established in order that Unionists – ironically given their antipathy to home rule – would have a political context within which they would be dominant and which could not be overturned by Nationalists/Republicans. Bearing in mind the adjacency of religious identification with political identification it is hardly surprising that this was seen in religious terms as well as political. Hence Craig’s comments about “a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant State”. One can’t quite ignore the religious aspect. 

And this was the political context which, like it or not, persisted – even with the proroguement of Stormont – for the best part of a century. Northern Ireland continues to exist. But what is the function now that that majority has gone? 

It is true that a political majority is still within grasp – in a polity where there are softer Unionists and less soft ones. There could well be a tussle between the largest blocs (that is, to adopt the not entirely unuseful short hand – CNR and PUL) for decades to come, and for all the rhetoric in some parts of the media that ‘middle-ground’ isn’t particularly large. Brexit has, as the phrase goes, sharpened the contradictions too. But the overall trends are clear – a CNR bloc which has increased. A PUL bloc which has declined and others who are there or thereabouts. Eamon Phoenix was interviewed yesterday arguing that those trends will likely accentuate in coming years.

Which again raises the questions, what is Northern Ireland for if a foundational aspect, that is the primacy of Protestant people there, is now ended. Surely this makes the broader linkage to Britain more contingent again. Yet the reality of those competing national identities requires acknowledgement and some sort of shape for the future.

After all this was the place where the British had to remove political power from Unionism. Quite frankly their tenure exercising state power was so abysmal that even the British felt they were unfit to wield it. To be clear this isn’t intrinsic to unionists as people, but rather a function of a reality where the manifestations of political Unionism appear to have been, and this remains true to the present day, remarkably counterproductive to the Unionist project. 

It would seem safe to suggest that from here on out the architecture framing Northern Ireland may become both more unstable and unpredictable. After all, the majority is now a minority. And implausible that that will turn around. Micheál Martin was saying yesterday that the shared island approach was optimal. Well, perhaps, up to a point. It’s certainly of considerable utility. But the shared island approach seems to suffer from a flawed perspective, one where Ireland is divided between the competing nationalisms of Republicanism/Nationalism and Unionism, with the South largely representing the former and the North the latter. 

But that’s not quite the case (and arguably never was). The Northern polity has just seen demographic change that at a minimum reflects political changes and likely will inflect future political change. The island is now shared between the Republic and a polity where those who identify with the Republic are the largest single bloc and where there appear to be a number more who are Republic-curious, or at least not Republic-hostile. That this latter dynamic is spurred both by Brexit, which was supported by much of political Unionism and by the efforts of political Unionism subsequently is another irony. Yet it is another factor in the mix. As is a revitalised Nationalism/Republicanism.

That changes matters – we only need to see how the new British monarch was received not by Unionists but rather by elected Sinn Féin representatives. How does the ‘shared Island’ approach work when – as is inevitable if the institutions are revived, sooner or later the First Minister and the subsequent First Minister is a Sinn Féin MLA? What aspects are shared and with whom? Does Unionism become the ‘shared’ aspect, but if so what of Northern nationalism and Republicanism? Because those too are key strands of the North and will become increasingly prominent too. A shared island approach that ignores the complexity of Northern Ireland isn’t much of an approach at all. Nor is on which ignores the potential political developments that changing demographics may bring. 

That said there’s a long stretch yet before a United Ireland, or at least as was long contemplated. Even if we reach a UI it is plausible that many aspects of the current dispensation will remain – power-sharing, a local Assembly and Executive and so on. That won’t be the only area where the future may look very like the present even as the fundamentals continue to change. So all that in mind it might be best to let the dust settle for a number of months. Without question the census returns will come as a shock for some, perhaps many. Time to let that to subside. But if the results of the Census tell us nothing else the necessity for this state to prepare for what may occur, sooner or later, is very great. 


1. banjoagbeanjoe - September 24, 2022

I know the headline figures were put out there. But were any figures given for numbers of ‘Catholics’ and ‘Protestants’ in various age brackets? Say 0-20; 21-40; 41-60; 61-80; 81-110.
Those figures would tell a tale.


Tomboktu - September 24, 2022

Plus, how many 21-year-olds were listed on the census form as the religion Daddy decided they are?

I had a look at the published data. There are four spreadsheets, and the only breakout — in addition to the primary one of religion — is geography: https://www.nisra.gov.uk/news/census-2021-update

Liked by 1 person

2. roddy - September 25, 2022

Anyone who equates “no religion” with ambivalence on the national question is off the mark.For example members of PBP or CPI would hardly put religion as having any role in their lives but would be pro Irish unity.Also there are members of some small Protestant sects who would be religious fundamentalists but who do not vote or take any role in “worldly ” activities like politics.


3. The NI Census results and contingency… – seachranaidhe1 - September 27, 2022

[…] The NI Census results and contingency… […]


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