Well, it’s nice to have something to smile at for a change. All the people who go ‘Tut-tut!’, shake their heads and mutter about the neanderthal thinking of those who go in for sectarian head-counts are now...um, well, busy licking their little pencils and doing a sectarian head-count of the freshly-released census figures.
OK. What’s the core point that jumps out? Right - Protestant population down by 5% to 48%, Catholic population up by 1% to 45%. Replicate that trend next census in 2021 and you’ll have a 43% Protestant population and a 46% Catholic population. Eeeeeeek.
But hold. While 45% of population here are Catholics, only 25% describe themselves as Irish only. Double eeeeek. So Peter Robinson was right all along. Loads and loads of Catholics are really happy as they are and only need a friendly invitation to join the DUP.
Right. That’s the Democratic Unionist Party, which was the Protestant Unionist Party until 1971, when its leader Ian Paisley figured that ‘Democratic’ sounded nicer than ‘Protestant’ in the title. That’s the same Ian Paisley, of course, who believes that Catholics are on the high road to eternal damnation and are being led there by the Pope who is of course the Anti-Christ.
Mmm. Maybe better not to assume that all those union-loving Catholics will put their tick beside the DUP name in an election. You say they’ll vote for the UUP instead? Pu-lease. The UUP is busy fracturing itself at a rate of knots without tossing the taig-issue into their particular mess. Anyone giving me good odds on Basil McCrea and John McAllister being in the UUP in a year’s time? So that leaves Alliance. Mmm. No, I’m afraid the union-loving Catholics will all have to get together and invent their own union-loving party. ULP has a nice sound for a new party. Like swallowing something you can’t digest.
But of course not joining a unionist party doesn’t mean you wouldn’t vote to stay in the union with Britain, come a referendum. I imagine quite a few Catholics who see the southern economy sinking even faster than the one north of the border are not going to take any political step that might mean the drowning southern economy pulls them down with it. And then there are those northern Catholics who plain don’t like southerners. So yes, there are a fair number of Catholics who would probably vote to stay in the union with Britain.
The question is, how many? As the Catholic population continues to grow, and the Protestant population continues to sink, who knows? The south’s economy may revive. The north’s economy may accelerate its descent. Iris Robinson may re-run for Westminster. Events, dear boy, events. There’s no telling. Like, even as I write, I see William Hill has shortened its odds on Britain losing its triple-A rating by next June - was 5/4, now is 4/7. Talk about eeeeek.
In all this wild swirl of events and figures, one thing is clear: this is Peter Robinson’s moment. He must join with Gerry Adams and call a border referendum quickly, while the Catholic population, or a sizeable part of it, is committed to the Union.
And if he doesn’t? Well, then he’ll clearly believe a census form is one thing but a polling booth is another. And on that, if nothing else, I agree with Peter.