Current Affairs Politics

A Fourth Green Field?

Census of “Northern Ireland” 2011, Aggregate Nationalities, Irish, Northern Irish, British
Census of “Northern Ireland” 2011, Aggregate Nationalities, Irish, Northern Irish, British

Several days ago I posted some thoughts on the first round of figures released from the top-level results of the 2011 Census of “Northern Ireland”. The headline news was the linked revelation that those who declared they were of a Protestant background and those who identified as British now made up less than half the population of the north-east of the country. Considering the sectarian and ethno-nationalist origins of the British-imposed partition of the island of Ireland and the creation of the apartheid-state of “Northern Ireland” this was something of a political earthquake, the ramifications of which are now being played out in northern politics.

At the time I made some quick calculations in relation to the numbers released, not to be taken too seriously, and came up with a suggestion for the overall figures on national identity in the North:

2011 Census Result – Religion: 

48.36% = Protestant / Other Christian

45.14% = Roman Catholic

00.92% = Other Religion

05.59% = No Religion

2011 Census Result – National Identity: 

39.89% = British only

25.26% = Irish only

20.94% = Northern Irish only

00.66% = British and Irish only

06.17% = British and Northern Irish only

01.06% = Irish and Northern Irish only

01.02% = British, Irish and Northern Irish only

05.00% = Other

2011 Census Result – An Aggregate Of National Identities?: 

47.26% = Irish (Irish and/or Northern Irish)

47.74% = British (British and Northern Irish/Irish)

05.00% = Other

Interestingly the 2011 election to the regional assembly in the north gave the following result (from Wikipedia):

First Preference Votes:

29.3% = DUP

26.3% = Sinn Féin

13.9% = SDLP

12.9% = UUP

7.7% = APNI

2.4% = TUV

0.9% = Green

0.8% = PBP

0.6% = UKIP

0.2% = PUP

0.2% = BNP

0.2% = WP

0.1% = SP

2.3% = Independents

A Suggested Aggregate Of Voters:

42.2% = Irish Nationalist (SF/SDLP/Green/PBP/WP/SP)

53.3% = British Unionist (DUP/UUP/APNI/TUV/UKIP/PUP/BNP)

2.3% = Independents

2.2% = Other

Now Colm Ó Broin in Gaelscéal has done a far more detailed analysis and arrived at the following conclusions (via Slugger O’Toole):

“One of the most interesting results of the census published last week was the number of people describing themselves as ‘Northern Irish’.

Based on analysis done by Gaelscéal, it seems that most of them are from a Catholic background and that they vote for nationalist parties.

If you add the number of people who said they were British under the various headings, the total is almost identical to the number of Protestants.

The number of Catholics is also similar to the number of people who said they were Irish only, Northern Irish only or Irish and Northern Irish only.

There is also a strong correlation between the number of Catholics, Irish and Northern Irish and the nationalist vote.

So then, why are people who vote for United Ireland parties describing themselves as ‘Northern Irish’?

According to Belfast SDLP Councillor, Colin Keenan, ‘Northern Irish’ is a geographical term, not a political statement.

“In terms of people I speak to they don’t see a big difference between Irish and Northern Irish, it’s a subcategory of Irish.”

A Sinn Féin constituency office worker told Gaelscéal that she and many others in her town would call themselves Northern Irish.

The views on the Republic are of particular interest given the survey published by the Irish Times recently showing that 88% of people (excluding don’t knows) support a United Ireland, and that 77% would vote for unity even if they had to pay more tax to fund it.”

12 comments on “A Fourth Green Field?

  1. Hi SoS, I hope you are keeping well.

    I think this is a pretty interesting and concise article (I should really learn something from you on that score). Mick over on SOT as well as Gerry Lynch are trying to say that Catholics or Nats will NEVER be in the majority, something I find somewhat laughable as this is next to impossible to predict and it could even be argued that Catholics may even be in a majority sooner rather than later owing to:

    i) Increased numbers of births;
    ii) Protestants being the majority of the elderly and therefore more susceptible to being closer to death (I must note that I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, I am merely pointing out something that must be obvious to all, right?); and
    iii) A large number of young Catholics have emigrated, however, large numbers may return between now and 2021 with spouses and children.

    Also, I do like your map above, it makes for an interesting sight and something that tallies with anecdotal knowledge on the ground. Places such as Craigavon, Banbridge and even the area near Coleraine are seeing increasing numbers of Nats and or Catholics moving there which begs the question, when will unionism be confined to Antrim and North Down?


    • I think most of my articles are so concise simply because I don’t have the time or energy to write anything further.
      Having a full-time job makes for a wonderful editor 😉

      Personally I prefer your articles. There is a place for more considered ”long piece journalism” in blogging.

      Well, as I said already, my look at the percentages in the census and elsewhere are in the broadest of brush strokes. There is certainly nothing very academic or scientific about it. But it’s interesting to see that a few others are taking a broadly similar view about where the figures are pointing. Possibly!

      As it is I do believe we are approaching a 50/50 balance in the north, however one gauges it (that is between people who are culturally Irish/Nationalist and people who are culturally British/Unionist). You are certainly correct in your three points. Even limited immigration from mainly Roman Catholic nations like Poland etc. will play a part. Unlike some commentators I would guess that over the long term second generation northern Polish-Irish, etc. will tend to favour a Nationalist point of view given the inherently sectarian core at the heart of Unionism. And Eastern Europe is not exactly without its own Catholic/Protestant prejudices (and the Polish remember very well their own history, the partitions of Poland, etc.)

      The most interesting thing about the map is how little has really changed since the 1920s. The British Unionist minority continues its slow withdrawal into a relatively small “Pale” in the north-eastern corner of the country (actually Unionists dominate an area as a local 50%+ majority more or less equal in size to that of the original Dublin Pale). See this information map from several decades ago. I suspect that if Belfast and Antrim had tiny Nationalist communities the crowding of the north-east coast would be even more pronounced.

      Unionists will have to accept some day what they were offered in the 1920s and turned down. Autonomy within a united Ireland.

      But not before, I suspect, we hear the call for repartition. And not just from Unionists 😦


      • Thanks SoS. It’s probably to do with my training as a lawyer, however, I like to go over what people say pretty much line by line and question things as I go along, not taking things for granted or making assumptions. I know it can make for difficult reading for many, however, I find that by doing this I am able to understand better the main thrust someone is trying to get at rather than take it at face value, also, it helps show where someone is talking out their back end and is a trojan horse.

        Just to clarify one point, I was specifically referring to emigration of young Nats to places like Aus (where I am) to eventually return (which I most certainly will do). Not all will of course, but many will. Regarding how new Catholic immigrants will vote, placing Polish flags on bonfires in July does not really enamor them with unionism. I think there is a real opportunity in working class areas across the North for community representatives to start to integrate Eastern Europeans into the fabric of our communities, this is something we should be good at. This shouldn’t be done for electoral reasons of course, however, if it does have an electoral benefit too then so be it. Honestly, Nat pols need to treat this a bit like ‘Gangs of New York’ and go out and get these guys to vote for them, sans beating them to polling stations of course.

        I noticed that too re the map. It would appear that the unionist community had a high water mark era during the separation of the North and it has been receding slowly ever since. Something is bound to change in the coming years, though I suspect it may be 2 electoral cycles before it does. If the boundaries remain untouched these changes may include:

        i) Upper Bann coming into play at Westminster elections for Nats while a 3rd MLA is picked up;
        ii) North Belfast becoming a Nat seat at Westminster;
        iii) BCC becoming an outright Nat council; and
        iv) Banbridge and Coleraine councils starting to drift Nat (the former more than the latter).

        Aside from this, I see it being pretty stagnant after that, maybe pick up a seat in Strangford for Stormont, ditto from Lagan Valley, otherwise I am out of ideas!


        • I think your writing is very clear and concise. That legal training is worth it 😉

          Myself, I tend to go for broad brush strokes, with more detailed pieces thrown in when needed or time permitting. I also find the more passionate or angry the post the better the reaction (and sometimes the writing!).

          I agree with your analogy. One could also look to the US and the birth of the Tea Party movement or the Evangelical Right for organisational inspiration (if not ideological, of course). Though there are also warnings there, as Fox News, Karl Rowe and that ridiculous buffoon Trump recently found out. The Christian Right began their political crusade in the school boards and town councils 20 years ago and slowly worked their way up to Congress. The struggle will be won on the ground, in the local, not just the regional or national.

          The major component of all this, of any campaign for reunification, is the All-Ireland one. Until parties like Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour organise and stand north of the border the north-east of the country will always remain on the long finger. Likewise the recent turning of some of the north-east into NAMA-land is an opportunity to push for integration with the south and enhanced “soft power” by the Dublin authorities. I would certainly pursue areas like that.

          For the billions the Irish state has paid to the banks and international creditors we could have funded the reunification of the country. Even a percentage of those billions could have been used to effectively “buy up” the North, through state-funded corporations or semi-state companies purchasing property, utilities, services, etc.

          Perhaps it is time for a new anti-partition league based upon the weight of recent demographic changes?


          • Re the Bank Bailout and it’s after effect, that is something I had never considered before and can see the logic behind your opinion and largely agree with.

            As for Southern parties organising in the North, this may come across as somewhat mad and not in keeping with my allegiances but the party I would love to see up North is Fine Gael. There is a gap in the market for this type of Nat party which in many ways would be akin to a mirror image of APNI but with a more Nat flavor. I doubt Inda has any plans on organising here but he should.


        • I still dont know how the SDLP didnt pick up a seat at Strangford last time round but it will be a sure thing next time also the SDLP lost seats by a whisker in South Antrim and North Antrim
          so I would expect them to take them back in the near future other than that not a lot else will change. There are now catholic numbers in East Belfast and North Down for a Nationalist quota but I presume they are happy enough to continue voting for Alliance and Green. The boundary changes now look unlikely but we may see a reduction of MLAS from 6 to 5 in each constituency and again that will hit Unionism harder as they are slightly over represented at the moment (quick check on arc and a 5 seat format will hit UUP especially hard).


          • A drop to 5 seats looks like unionists will lose 12 seats and nationalists 6. Currently we have a 56-43 split with 9 others in the 108 assembly. A new 90 seat assembly would have a 44-37 split with 9 others which would reflect the percentage of votes better and more importantly Unionism would lose its overall majority!


            • Some great info. Thanks for Commenting. A 90-seat assembly would certainly seem to make the Nationalist/Unionist divide tighter in terms of assembly votes, if some predictions are correct.


  2. I must say I long for the day Fianna Fail announce they are to contest elections in the North. I believe this will happen in the medium term but pressure needs to be applied to FF representatives in order to make this a short term goal. Likewise a merger of Labour and the SDLP would be very positive.


    • The southern parties coming north could be a bit of a dilemma for the SDLP as yes a merge with the labour party seems obvious but a number of the politicians would probably be more at home in FF.


    • FF have cumainn in the north-east but, as yet, they are still baulking from actually contesting elections. I wonder whether the SDLP would merger with Labour, especially as the latter is in thrall to former Workers’ Party apparatchiks. Some in the SDLP might prefer Fine Gael while others would no doubt seek to continue their party’s existence.


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