The ‘Ambivalenters’: Who exactly are the Northern Irish people now?

Two main things to say after a great day of observations from Slugger readers and looking through some of the detail in the #Census2011. One is that the idea that Northern Ireland is a Protestant state, that can be held exclusively for a Protestant people now rests (in peace let’s hope) in the trash can of history.

To be fair to Peter Robinson, he saw this coming a long time ago. Take his speech about the sons and daughters of the planter and the gael. Even earlier than that, before the last Census results were announced, he was preaching the gospel of dual consent. Still, as Chris has noted, there is a grudgingness at the edge of the DUP’s politics that rarely matches Robinson’s liberal rhetoric from the podium.

The second thing is that the nationalist bloc, substantially Sinn Fein, has been working on the assumption that the closer the Catholic total got to the total Protestant figure, the nearer it would get to that magical 50% + 1 figure at which the gates of Hades (ie, Northern Ireland) would swing open and we’d all be free.

However the speed at which figures for those self declaring as Catholic grow is slowing substantially, making that gap harder becoming increasingly problematic to cover. The figures on national identity suggests this also translates to a growing ambiguity on the issue of the transfer of sovereignty.

In truth the Northern Irish population is enjoying its true peace dividend, which is the freedom to choose what you are without worrying about some lunatic breaking down your door and shooting your husband dead in front of the kids for doing, saying, or being the wrong thing.

In strange twist we now have Protestants and Catholics, both of whom may now have to bin any realistic expectation to take an overall majority share in Northern Ireland PLC. And they are joined by a new group. Not dissenters as such but, to coin an awkward word, Ambivalenters.

– They are the opposite of the Convenanters, or any number of fundamentalist nationalist secret societies over the years. They are ambivalent, rather than certain and ready to go to war.

– Giving creationism equal billing with geological science will alienate some; a blanket bar on doing anything on abortion (as per SF’s concordat with Paisley) will alienate others.

– So we can’t be certain they are liberals, that some aren’t fully committed Republicans, or that others are secularists perfectly happy within the United Kingdom.

– But the uncertainty they flag up about themselves and their identity signal the likelihood that Orange and Green donkeys (of which there are far too many) should be a harder sell in future.

– Lastly, I suspect they’ve always existed, but feared the opprobrium of their own tribe for stepping out of line. Also the numbers who have thrown out religion have doubled overall in the UK, so like social liberalism generally, this is part of a much wider development.

Tonight RTE’s SixOne News chose Rory McIlroy as the poster boy (you can catch it in the left sidebar) for this ‘new’ class of Northern Irish citizen. That they have blunted, if not killed off any likely exclusive claim to ownership by any religious affiliation is probably the most abiding political outcome of this Census.

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