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Another psychological blow to unionism – The Irish Times FindSexyJobs

FSJ News Updates,

Northern Ireland has changed.

In 1926, when the first census was taken in this brand new creation, its population was roughly two-thirds Protestant to one-third Catholic. Now a census held to mark its 100th anniversary has confirmed that those old certainties are gone.

Figures released on Thursday showed that Catholics have overtaken Protestants for the first time as the largest religious group in the north. In a state whose borders were deliberately drawn to ensure a Protestant majority and, as the theory went, the place of Northern Ireland in the UK, this is highly symbolic.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback program on Thursday afternoon, writer and commentator Malachi O’Doherty explained how it was a “radical, fundamental change for the Northern Ireland I grew up in”.

Across the North, Catholics who had experienced discrimination, sectarianism or gerrymandering under what had once been, to quote its first Prime Minister James Craig, “a Protestant government for a Protestant people” reasoned similarly.

Despite the fact that in many ways the results of the census were merely a reflection of wider social and political changes already being felt in the North, not least the loss of Unionism’s overall majority and the DUP being overtaken by Sinn Féin to secure the position of largest party i the first minister.

Viewed in this context, for those in favor of Irish unity, the census results are another incremental step on the road to reunification and simply add to the momentum they claim is already building in that direction. For unionism, this is another psychological blow, another reminder of the existential crisis it faces and which it has so far been unable to effectively address.

Add to this the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol and even the recent death of Queen Elizabeth, and it’s no wonder Unionism feels its security – as it was based on that solid, two-thirds Protestant majority – is being eroded; as if the very foundations on which unionism stands are crumbling at his feet. Still, it remains to say that nothing is written in stone. If the census results revealed anything, it’s that Northern Ireland is turning into a more secular, diverse society in which identity is more fluid than ever before.

In terms of religious affiliation, 17 percent consider themselves irreligious, while 9 percent have no religion and were not raised in any religion, a trend that – assuming Northern Ireland follows the pattern elsewhere on the islands – is only likely to grow over time . This means that even if more and more people have no religion, this does not mean that they are shedding their British, Irish or Northern Irish identity.

Similarly, although there is still a marked lack of ethnic diversity in the north, the census also showed a change; the percentage of people from ethnic minorities has doubled since the last census in 2011 (although only to 3.4 per cent) and the number of people living in the north who were born outside the UK and Ireland is now at its highest level ever.

A third of people in the north now hold Irish passports – as a result of Brexit – and national identity is fluid; 20 percent consider themselves Northern Irish only, and around another 20 percent have multiple identities.

The results of the census will inflame those pushing for such a plebiscite and discourage an already uncertain unionist population. The battleground between competing identities will be for the 20 per cent who are neither distinctly British nor Irish, as is already clear from recent election results that broadly reflect this census.

It is on this middle ground that the union with Britain – or indeed a united Ireland – will be won or lost. For unionism, the lesson of the census is that it must broaden its appeal beyond traditional and religious boundaries – although the narrow ground it currently stands on outside the Assembly would seem an unlikely starting point for such a rebirth.

However, Northern Ireland has changed and unionism in particular has to deal with these new realities.

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