Current Affairs Politics

Northern Ireland: A Two Counties’ State

A new report from the Ulster University called Sectarianism in Northern Ireland: A Review has confirmed the widely shared analysis among Irish and British commentators that the UK-controlled region is approaching a demographic tipping point which will see its population move from a majority Protestant to a majority Catholic background in the next decade. While religious identity, even culturally so, is the crudest of indicators for political affiliation in the last remnant of Britain’s historical colony on the island of Ireland, there seems to be little doubt that an avowedly ethno-national British or unionist majority in the north-east of the country is a few years away from becoming a local minority. Crucially, however, that does not mean that the dominant pro-union electoral bloc will immediately lose its influence since that grouping also absorbs a significant number of voters from an otherwise explicitly nationalist background. Consequently in the very near future the main focus in the Six Counties will be on which way the voting “centre ground” moves on the big constitutional question: towards “the union” with Britain or towards reunification with the rest of Ireland. And whether this is driven by politics, economics or both (as can be seen in the cross-community opposition to Brexit).

In the meantime, in purely electoral terms the partition-state of “Northern Ireland” is now confined to the two most easterly counties of Ulster, clustering around the city of Belfast and its environs, with voting salients and enclaves to the west and south-west. The rest of the disputed region is broadly in the nationalist or theoretically “non-aligned” camp. Which has been evidenced in a string of recent elections, a few anomalous blips to one side. That trend seems likely to continue, squeezing the electoral territory of “British Ulster” into an ever-smaller collection of constituencies and districts.

13 comments on “Northern Ireland: A Two Counties’ State

  1. bradhar

    I suppose it makes sense for the DUP to push to copperfasten the hard border in that case even against the wishes and interests of their own voters. One last unpopular hurrah and they’ll have the Union secured for at least another generation, the walls will be held. And the famous virility of the taigs is losing steam too so if they can only maintain the status quo for another 20 years they’re probably safe in their Britishness, even if they’re in a small minority by then.


  2. gendjinn

    The equality point of Protestant & Catholic background populations was reached 2 years ago. That majority will manifest in the electorate (18+) in a few years.

    Brexit has already pushed sufficient Unionist voters into the arms of APNI/GP and towards IE/EU over Brexit that a border poll is a toss up right now and only the outright cancellation of Brexit will keep NI around for another 10 years at most.

    Time to start preparing for the irreconcilables within Unionism to start demanding all sorts of poison pill changes to flag, anthem, symbols, constitution for the very same reasons Unionism demanded PIRA decommissioning before talks could begin. To frustrate and prevent.


    • bradhar

      Ah but voting for AP in elections is very different to voting in a Border Poll. And that pro-Union block that Seamus mentions above is definitely real, it’s not as simple as Catholics 51% Protestant 49% – all the more so as some nationalists will be spooked by the tensions and turbulence that’ll be the inevitable fallout.
      10 years is seriously optimistic.


      • gendjinn

        Check out the APNI/GP transfers after exclusion or exceeding quota – Belfast for example. Unionism’s best case scenario for the Other vote is that it breaks 50/50 for the Union. Worst case it’s 2:1 for UI.

        If you want to wade into the finer numerical details behind the above check out Bangordub’s blog.


        • +1 gendjinn

          Bradhar, perhaps you’re right, ten years might be seriously optimistic, but what about 20, or 30? At some point in the foreseeable future it seems very very likely that there will be a majority pro-unity bloc in NI. At the moment the indications that political unionism are making any efforts to come to terms with that are just about zero. And I find that incomprehensible. If I were a unionist I’d be looking at the last twenty years and how political nationalism/republicanism was able to accept a situation lesser than unity relatively comfortably and how it would take minor enough gestures on a range of obvious areas to maintain that status quo into the indefinite future. And I’d be looking at the approach to Brexit that political unionism has adopted (near enough toying with No-deal rather than a softer Brexit) and how that has played with political nationalism/republicanism and a tranche of mild pro-union voters and I’d be shaping a very different message seeking to find common cause with them in regards to a softer Brexit position. And yet in every respect, Brexit, language, etc we’ve seen political unionism double down on very hard-edged positions.


          • Jim McGettigan

            To hard core loyalists ‘No Surrender’ is not just a slogan and you can be assured that they won’t go quietly of their own accord.


          • gendjinn

            With any form of hard Brexit there will be a majority in the north in favour of re-unification by the end of the year. Otherwise there will be a majority in favour of re-unification in 6.

            Although getting a Tory govt to call a border poll could take years and a Labour govt may not be much better. So when that electoral majority is permitted to have a political impact is the largest unknown in the timing.

            Even the irreconcilable Unionists see the writing on the wall – the rise in demands for new flag, anthem, symbols & constitution. Although when prompted I’ve never seen a Unionist point to any passage in the constitution that they would like to see changed or removed. Aesop would call this the Dog in the Manger and LBJ would have some crude euphemism about urination and soup tureens. The Remain Unionists are the ones that are willing to be partners, the others are irreconcilable and will be just trying to delay the inevitable by making a real pig’s ear of the whole process.


      • john cronin

        Precisely: a Catholic majority does not necessarily mean a Nationalist majority. The other point which the wishful thinker An Sionnach is desperately trying to ignore is that (a) the Republic doesn’t want the bloody place (well would you?) and (b) cannot afford it. look at some of the economic projections here: as one economist said a few years back Northern Ireland has a workhouse economy: it is only being kept on life support by UK subsidies. Outside of the border area, I cant see much enthusiasm for a united Ireland in the south: gen consensus is that they’re all a bunch of lunatics and thank Christ it’s the Brits who have to look after em and not us.


  3. “From partition to Brexit : the Irish government and Northern Ireland” by Donnacha Ó Beacháin, available in any library, the first book to chart the political and ideological evolution of Irish government policy towards Northern Ireland from the partition of the country in 1921 to the present day. Based on extensive original research which was not available to earlier historians.


  4. Breandán Mac Séarraigh

    We need urgently to establish an all-Ireland government that can manage the whole country (island) to protect all residents, whatever their religion, nationality or ethnicity before the looming collapse of complex society. We will need to be able to defend ourselves against English attack and occupation.


    • Hmmm… assume you’re correct. Might be worth looking at the respective weights of armed forces on these islands, and that’s before we get to nuclear weapons held by the British. Not sure we’d be able to defend ourselves if it came to that.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pat Murphy

    John, nothing like drinking the ramblings of a pro British rag put forward by two trinity college economists. The most loyal of loyal loyalists would still be able to rally to the call to go forth and fight the many battles her royal ness has throughout the globe as they have done throughout the ages. That would be them taken care of. The few papists left could still get a day or two at the building would keep them taking over. Maybe the free state reunited with the north forming a true republic could see the north not being able to afford to keep the south. Sir do not underestimate the ability of the real ulster man. A united ulster,Protestant,catholic and desenter. The only thing about a reunited Ireland would be we would have to help the freestaters repay their billions of debt.


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