Census 2001: Some preliminary thoughts

There’s only weeks to go before the results of the 2001 census are announced, we’ve not heard much in recent times about the demographic timebomb that awaits the Northern Ireland electorate. Though the proportion of the electorate voting Nationalist has risen exponentially in the last 30 years, the implications are not as clear-cut as it may seem on first sight.

One Unionist politician I spoke to recently was at pains to point out that everyone is behaving as though the future constitution of Northern Ireland would be decided on a 50% +1 basis, whereas in practice this is, he believed, unlikely to happen.

It may be unlikely for a number of reasons:

  1. The Catholic birth rate is slowing in NI as it is everywhere in Europe, and is likely stablise at more or less 50%.
  2. Such proportions are too tight to guarantee the full agreement of 100% of the Catholic population. Indeed, it is likely that a significant minority within nationalism will not be sufficiently motivated to cut ALL links to Britain in a single move.
  3. The working political model at the moment is cross-community consent; and is particularly favoured by nationalist politicians. It may prove difficult to convince public opinion that a shift towards simple majority voting is anything other than mere political expediency.

But of course this is all speculation in advance of the real head count in August [Afternote: It was December before the religious figures were announced].