Decoupling religion from political identity a necessary pre-requisite for any unification project

Sinn_Féin_logoIt’s always hard to get whether Gerry’s referring to the chicken or the egg when he talks about a united Ireland. In any case, his party has been campaigning for a referendum they almost certainly don’t want (at this stage), and which, thankfully, the Secretary of State will almost certainly not grant.

Happy days. With a conference on Irish unity coming up this weekend, he had the opportunity to welcome the new questions about nationality so that we might now dispense with the glib calculation:

…that Protestants are unionists and Catholics are nationalists or republicans. It was never that simple. Now, for the first time, statisticians have been able to ask a question about identity.

His way of stacking up those indices of identity was interesting:

Less than half the population (48 per cent) designated themselves as British and northern Irish or Irish, while 40 per cent stated that they had a British-only identity.

A quarter stated that they had an Irish-only identity and just over one-fifth (21 per cent) had a Northern Irish-only identity. That’s 46 per cent with some form of Irish-only identity.

What’s good is the apparent intent to decouple religion from political identity, but he’s hardening a whole class of what I’ve crudely termed ambivalenters as non British.

He may be right to hint at potential there, buut if we are no longer an Orange state nor can we, on these figures, be convincingly cast as politically Green either.

Game theory suggests that the kind of intercommunal trust needed to pull off Irish unity will only likely develop through actions rather than words.

Given where we’ve been (and how unionists have struggled to convince even the press of their own sincerity), and how slowly our progress towards anything approaching real politics has been thus far, I’d venture a guess that that that necessary trust may be some time yet in coming.

Still, I’d love to be a fly on the wall in Dublin this weekend.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty