Jude Collins

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Big wave coming: what to do?

Having confidently stated a blog or two back that predictions are a waste of time, let me contradict myself: on one issue this year there will be lots of predictions. I’m talking sectarian head-counting here.

It’s started this morning in The Irish Times . There’s a detailed article by Gerry Moriarty talking about the rising tide of the Catholic population in the north which will have obvious constitutional implications. If not managed “properly and creatively” (whatever that means), he believes it could land us all “back in the mire”.  He quotes figures from the NI Department of Education for the last school year: 120,415 Protestants and 163,693 Catholics. At third level, the University of Ulster has just over 11,000 Catholics and just over 7,000 Protestants. The teacher training colleges tell the same story. Overall at third level education, students from a Catholic backround represent 59.3% and Protestant background 40.7%.

So clearly the notion of a permanent Protestant majority in the north is on its way out – it’s merely a question of how soon. For those alarmed by this prospect, it’s important to present this kind of calculation as sectarian head-counting and therefore sectarian, while at the same time finding reasons why Catholic votes= nationalist/Protestant votes= unionist won’t hold with the rising generation. Peter Shirlow of Queen’s University is quoted as saying the younger generation “feel politics is too sectarian or too nationalist”. (No, Virginia, it’s not clear if the ‘sectarian’ refers to unionists or to nationalists.) “They [young people] are in many ways – but not completely – sectarian blind, or tradition blind”. 

There’s more stuff – I’ll give you the link at the end – but it’s hard not to conclude that a number of people are going to be trying awfully hard to convince the world, including young people and themselves, that the rising tide of Catholic-background young people will not emerge as a rising tide of nationalist/republican voters. That’s what it boils down to. My own response would be, where’s the electoral evidence that this will happen? Young Catholics, if we judge by election returns, are if anything more republican in their thinking than their predecessors.

And did I mention that the results of the 2011 census will be released in the autumn of this year?

One last point: the Good Friday Agreement says that there can be constitutional change in the position of N Ireland only when a majority so decide. Moriarty’s article and lots of other people believe  that for nationalists/republicans to act on a 50+1 basis would be a recipe for disaster, that only when a majority of unionists favour change should there be change. One question: if that's so, why did they put in the Agreement a clause that meant nothing?



  1. "Moriarty’s article and lots of other people believe that for nationalists/republicans to act on a 50+1 basis would be a recipe for disaster, that only when a majority of unionists favour change should there be change". If thats the case then why even ask Catholics to vote, just ask the Protestants to vote and let them decide for all of us.

  2. Interesting one...as a unionist I would not want a UI but you play by the rules and if the tipping point comes I would have to accept it and make decisions then about my future.
    I do get a sense though that for you easing unionists gently into a UI would not be a huge concern,it would more be a win for you.
    I could be wrong but I sense it's all about the UI for you...I ask you would you rather have a unstable economically suspect UI or a stable north and south?
    I personally would not advocate any armed resistance to a UI but again just for my own amusement if there was an armed resistance to a UI would you support the state cracking down hard on it?

  3. Democracy, a great concept but will never catch on. for years we've had unionists lecture us about accepting that 1 million unionists would not be forced into a UI, that republicans should accept the ballot box. Now when it looks like democracy may mean things could change we need a rule change. Perhaps in the centenary year of the Ulster Covenant,we will see a re-run with crowds at the Ulster Hall all wanting to sign a declaration that it has to be a majority of unionists or else. Since this could go all the way down to 3 unionists. FI

  4. The reunification of Ireland is inevitable and it will occur in the coming decade or two as it will also occur for Cyprus and Korea and has already occurred in Germany and Yemen in recent times..a view from France.

  5. Dream on - your lads at the GFA didn't negotiate Unification when those of an RC background hit 51%

    And of course people are distancing themselves from Roman Catholicism .....

  6. Horseman was right then.


  7. Jude
    Turnout at the last elections was around 55%, I think. That is a huge number of people choosing not to vote, a lot of them I suspect, in the younger age bracket. Maybe in a referendum a lot of them would vote for the status quo?
    It makes speculation rather difficult.

  8. As a nationalist I find the stats very interesting however I would take them with a pinch of salt. For 15 years the Nationalist vote has remained at 42% - considering the older Protestant generation is dying at a ratio of 2-1 compared to their Catholic neighbours this should translate as an increased Nationalist vote year after year but it hasnt happened. Why? I think we are all going to have to wait a bit longer for the 50+1 scenario.