In Northern Ireland, Catholics outnumbered Protestants: something exceptional for a country a century ago envisioned for Protestants to maintain their demographic majority.
If the facts are stubborn, the numbers are probably more than that. The results of the 2021 Great Census – the first after Brexit – released on September 21 are unequivocal: 45.7 per cent of Northern Ireland’s population is Catholic, ahead of Protestants, who now make up 43.88 per cent of the population.
Historian and essayist Diarmid Werther sees this as a real turning point: “The Protestants have long suffered from the loss of their political supremacy. Now comes the time to lose their numerical dominance, which is another blow to them,” she explains.
Is this demographic trend, driven by a rising birth rate among Catholics, likely to alter the political landscape in a way that threatens the integrity of the UK? Not necessarily, because as Diarmed Ferriter points out, religious identity no longer necessarily influences voting: “Things are getting more and more ambiguous in this area,” says the article’s author.
In the last election, support for the two national parties – Sinn Fein and the Union – was around 40 percent each, while 20 percent of voters favored new, less divided political groups.
Likewise, opinion polls consistently show that citizens of Northern Ireland would rather remain united with the British Crown than join the Republic of Ireland. This is mainly for economic reasons.
However, at the same time, the sense of belonging to the British domain declined: 31.86 percent of respondents identified themselves as British and 29.13 percent as Irish, while in the last census – from 2011 – 40 percent identified themselves primarily as British and Irish. 25 percent described themselves as Irish.
These conflicting statements were summed up well by Patricia McBride, spokeswoman for the future of Ireland, a movement campaigning for Irish unity in a post-Brexit society: It will improve. She concluded her speech by saying: “You do not choose with your heart as much as you choose your mind.”
Especially with your wallet…
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