I was very concerned at how the BBC and RTE TV lunchtime news yesterday responded to the census data just released for Northern Ireland. They both emphasized religious data.
The census found that only 29.1% of people in Northern Ireland identify as ‘Irish only’. This is a similar level to support for Provisional Sinn Fein.
So much for all the ‘Border Poll’ – let alone ‘United Ireland’ – talk.
A total of 31.9% of respondents are ‘British only’ and a further 8% are ‘British and Northern Irish’. This represents a combined total of 39.9%, which is 10.8% higher than the ‘Irish only’ category, while 19.8% is ‘Northern Irish only’. This last figure also echoes the level of support for Alliance.
Even the combined ‘Northern Irish Only’ and ‘Irish Only’ categories make up just 48.9% – not a majority.
And this breakdown by nationality – not the “religious” one – is the only one that is politically and constitutionally significant, but it is revealing that in 2021 the Roman Catholic box was chosen by 45.7% – 16.6% more than the “Irish only” box.
The Protestant/Other Christian box is down to now 43.5%, but the ‘none’ box is up 9.3%, and since the RC box is up 1%, the ‘none’ box is clearly significantly ex-Protestants, while the Protestant decline reflects the very worrying – and ongoing – mass exodus of young people.
They go in large numbers “across the water”, either on leaving school or at the end of university in Northern Ireland. They clearly feel that NI has now become (in the striking phrase of David Trimble’s Nobel Prize speech) a “cold place” for young Prots.
The Union itself is clearly in no doubt – Ulster’s determined resistance to Home Rule (in 1912, 1886 or 1921) was never about a) enforcing – or privileging – Protestantism via the state or law, or level of church attendance, or level of Orthodox Reform creed, but all of both b) reject Home Rule of the 32 counties as Rule of Rome, and c) also preserving their long-established, cherished – and identifying – ties with Britain – ties in all areas (including in voluntary military service as well as economically).
The majority in Ulster never saw itself as an English overseas province (or civilian garrison) but as having its own distinct and legitimate historical identity, close to (but never identical to) that of Great Britain.
If GB ever chose to drop Ulster, in 2022 or 1912, 1886 or 1921, it could never turn Ulster into ‘The Fourth Green Field’.
Even Brexit, even though it was defeated in the referendum by a (very rare) cross-community majority in NI (including, as a QUB survey found, by one in four DUP voters).
Ulster is not Scotland where the divide over the Union is still very narrow, nor is it simply (or primarily) ‘Irish’.
Recognition of the current sacred values of ‘diversity’ and ‘multiculturalism’ should lead the south to unconditionally accept Ulster as it alone chooses to be – as different, both culturally and constitutionally, and not as a ‘ lost Irish province temporarily separated”. ‘, and so as eternal – empowered to freely determine one’s own destiny.
Geography is never a destiny.