Fantasy Ireland?

Owen Bowcott noted that results of the census had raised sectarian tensions (and headcounts) every year since 1971. But when the last results were finally announced in December 2002 the hope of Catholics attaining majority status by force of higher birth rates, drained away almost overnight. Yet all of Northern Ireland’s Nationalist parties hold out for a possible future re-unification. Boston based writer Ron de Pasquale reckons it relies on pitching it coherently to the Protestant middle class.


  • Pete Baker

    So which is it, Mick? Is Owen right?.. I’ve had questions about his interpretations of events before now.. or is it just the fault of the Guardian sub-editors?

    In any event.. does the reality of the figures simply indicate more of the same..?


    Seems bizzare to suggest the solution lies in pitching a united Ireland to the middle class.
    Surely the people you need to convince the most are those who might reasonably expect to become militant if pushed into a united Ireland against their wishes, and this would be the protestant working classes.
    Though, in realty, a viable united Ireland scenario would be one that was pitched equally at all sections of society.
    If we’ve learned anything, then surely it’s that everybody wins or nobody wins?

  • Brian Boru

    I think it’s important to understand after reading Ron’s article that while yes, we voted to relinquish our claim, this was not unconditional. It came with the understanding that this was part of a package i.e. the GFA. If we have known it would probably collapse I doubt we would have voted for it. I personally voted for it and still believe I did the right thing, but in the final analysis I will question if I did the right thing if the agreement eventually collapses and especially if violence returns. Note that the altered Articles 2 and 3 still contain an aspiration for a United Ireland, even if Article 3 requires a majority in “both jurisdictions”, “democratically expressed by a majority of the people”, and as such that brings in my next correction of the article. It says that a majority in the North alone would mean reunification. The reality is that a majority in both jurisdictions currently is a constitutional pre-requisite for reunification. I wonder how many Northern Unionists and Nationalists know that? Evidently Brian Feeney (based on his recent performance on Hearts and Minds) was not aware of it at the time.

    I hope that a majority North and South eventually vote for reunification, and in a context where it is economically feasible. If the Northern economy was as private-sector based as the South, then the economic barrier to reunification would disappear. But the dependence on the state subsidy currently is a major problem and would probably be used by the No side in a referendum on reunification down here. Polls in the South show that while 55% want a UI, 45% don’t, and many of these cite the perceived costs of it. If you reduce the cost to a Southern government, then you will probably reduce this opposition, especially if a majority in the North have already voted for it. Personally, I intend voting for unification in any case, out of a sense of patriotism and a desire to complete the task of breaking the political link with Britain which Wolfe Tone described in the 1790’s as the “never failing source of our political ills”.

    We should try to persuade at least a minority of Northern Protestants that their rights will be protected in a United Ireland. If that means drawing up a plan offering autonomy (as Redmond offered in the Irish Convention discussing Home Rule in 1917), then I could live with that.

  • Niall

    I think people should have a closer look at the results of the 2002 census. While there still is a significant Protestant majority, the Catholic population is much younger. The difference in a few years may not be that much between the two populations. I also know that a lot of families from around home including myself did not complete the census which could also bring the numbers closer. Add to the mix that a large percentage did not state what religion they were and the figures may not be that accurate.

  • DK

    Yes Niall – if you took a closer look at the census you would see that the fastest growing group is the “neither catholic nor protestant” group. That is the future & that group will vote on the merit of an arguement rather than accident of birth.

  • slug

    The fastest growing group are those coming into NI.

    Each year since the last census the internal UK migration data show that there are more people moving to NI from GB than vice versa.

    These people will have broader perspectives.

    There are lots of people from outside the UK moving to NI too.

    Also there is secularisation in both sides of the community.

    The Census will tell us a lot, but will raise more questions too about whether we really are a binary society any more.

  • Stephen Copeland

    Aha, the old ‘sectarian headcount’ thread. We seem to have one of these every 6 months or so on Slugger!

    A few points of correction for some of those posters who have not read this a few times already:

    (1) The Protestant majority will end. Protestants are a laarge majority of the old, and a minority of the young. As we say, “trust in rust”.

    (2) the famous ‘none of the aboves’ are a myth. They are skewed towards the very young, and I mean babies and children. Their parents (roughly the 30-45 year olds) are not so ‘none of the above’. Hence, it is likely that the kids will grow up to share their parents ‘tribal’ identity. Why these parents failed to declare a religion for their kids, even though they declared one for themselves, is a small mystery.

    (3) Catholic birthrates are still higher than Protestant, so the day of reckoning will come. A lot of Protestants believed myths about a reversal of the birthrates, but they are wrong.

    I think Mick’s intro about nationalist hopes ‘draining away’ is a bit exaggerated. There may have been some over-optimism, but the reality is not really that negative for the ‘head counters’. They simply have to wait a realistic length of time. It won’t happen in 2016, but it will happen in the 2020’s.

  • Mick Fealty

    Just to clarify Stephen,

    Those hopes being touted before the census were based on bringing about a United Ireland through a higher birthrate amongst ‘Nationalist’ voters. It is not unfair to say that the colour drained from that particular argument almost immediately the census results were announced.

    That Nationalists are clearly still focused on a united Ireland is evidenced by the intellectual energy being put into the idea (and in SF’s case the practice) of a united Ireland.

    It is just unlikely to come from the relatively simple device of maintaining a higher Catholic birth rate.

  • Stephen Copeland


    It is just unlikely to come from the relatively simple device of maintaining a higher Catholic birth rate.

    Why not? It is not ‘unlikely’, if Catholics (aka ‘nationalists’) continue to increase their share of the population, and thus electorate. At present, Catholic births are more than 50% of the total (allowing for some argument over the not stated), and Catholic marriages are now more numerous (for the first time ever) than Protestant marriages. Overall, I would say that the head-count is still a viable game. As Gerry Adams said (approximately), it is also more fun than war!

    I would add another small point too. The over-exaggerated claims (46-47% !) being touted before the census were actually being quietly encouraged by some elements of unionism, knowing that the result could never be so high and that the effect would be exactly what we now see – a rush of unionist triumphalism and nationalist pessimism. But both aae mis-placed.

  • Mick Fealty


    As recall from the discussion on Slugger at the time, there is certainly a slight majority of Catholics in the school population, but even that is leveling off. Even at the most optimistic 50/50 won’t be enough to seal the deal, even if the terms are 50% + 1.

    According to the Life and Times survey, Protestant resistance to a United Ireland is much harder than Catholic acquiescence to remaining within the UK.

    However hard a hill it is to climb, the harsh reality is that ithe middle classes (Catholic as well as Protestant) will be crucial to any future decision as they are the ones most likely to change allegiances either way. A consistent focus on middle class voter concerns:

    – requires a major shift away from the previous rather atavistic strategy;

    – something more than the street politics that have pertained since October 2002;

    – demonstration of real political competence in parliamentary issues;

    – and ultimately a practical demonstration of the benefits of either option.

    In short, if there is a shift in the constitutional status it will likely take place because enough citizens of Northern Ireland think its were their economic well being lies.

  • Niall


    I am not just talking about school population, although I don’t quite see how it is leveling off. The most striking figures to me are the pension age and over group. The Protestant population in this group are over double that of the Catholic population.

  • Mick Fealty

    Re levelling off: from memory its only in the youngest cohorts.

  • BogExile

    ‘…Ron de Pasquale reckons it relies on pitching it coherently to the Protestant middle class.’

    And does so with an article which once again manages to alienate those people he clearly wants to see enticed into his ‘comely maidens using Blackberrys at the crossroads’ scenario.

    This guy believes that as long as we adopt, ‘Irelands Call’ as the National Anthem and remind silly Prods that the flag is 33% theirs the scales will fall from their eyes.

    It’s a recipie for lazy, wishful republicanism. Sorry, there is no easy prescription for Irish Unity. Terrorism failed, demographics won’t work and may even in time start increasing the pro-union majority with in-migration from the accession EU countries not exactly ennamoured with national socialism lite.

    Genuine persuaders need to acknowledge how alienating some of the culture in the south – political, social, ideological – is to northern Protestants and begin a rational and radical debate on what a new Ireland would look like. One which retains the ruthless, exclusive, triumphalist ideological machine politics of Sinn Fein is a complete no starter. You might argue the same of the DUP but then they don’t want to entice Dublin back into the Union.

  • IJP

    Mick is entirely right.

    It remains extremely troubling that people think a ‘United Ireland’ attained by 50% + 1 is either possible or desirable.

    The task is to unify our people, not just our jurisdictions.

  • George

    50%+1 for it and the Union remains, 50% + 1 for unification won’t seal the deal is an extremely dangerous situation.

    Although in an ideal world unification would come about when an overwhelming majority want it, I fear that is wishful thinking.

    My worry is what happens when 50% + 1 is for unification. You can’t ignore that democratic imperative. Or if you do, you do so at your peril.

    Does the NIO refuse to allow a referendum if pro-unification parties are in the majority?

    Do the ruling class south of the border refuse to hold a referendum?

    That is as much a recipe for disaster as any other scenario.

  • elfinto

    So what does 50% plus one against do for the union?

  • Hi BogExile,

    ‘Genuine persuaders need to acknowledge how alienating some of the culture in the south – political, social, ideological – is to northern Protestants and begin a rational and radical debate on what a new Ireland would look like’

    Tbf the very mention of UI makes most northern Protestants close up at this point in history but i totally agree that this is the way forward. It does mean movement from both sides, northern Protestants have to be open to this debate. It means that when those who propose a UI and talk of the present diversity of the RoI and its maturing are not made to repeatedly fend off criticism for the past failures of the state with the over-bearing influence of the catholic church etc
    The RoI had dodgy politicans but so does the UK and pretty much every other nation on earth.
    The Protestants of Ireland are intrinsic to the fabric of this country, they have their part to play in the development of it. Republicans can make a UI sound like a bed of roses ( and i don’t doubt that it would be a step in the right direction) but only when Protestant Ulster steps up to the plate and helps build this Republic will it be a true Irish Republic.
    There are many contentious issues let alone the constitutional one but maybe trust is what is needed. A gripe for some Protestants is that republicans promise things in a UI that they feel they can’t exercise now, were we to sit down and right it out now in a constitution, you’d see that the sentiments are real and intended to be defended, but all the talk in the world matters little unless you step up to the plate.

  • smcgiff

    To my mind a Catholic Majority is a fait accompli. The current demographics are such that a sustained Catholic majority for the past several years will lead to a time in the future when NI is majority catholic. A significant change in birth rates would be required to effect a change in this outcome.

    I disagree with Bogexile in that I think immigrants would be more likely to want to join up with the immigrants of the same originating nationality on the rest of the Island. There’s also the perception that immigrants are MORE (though not exclusively) likely to be targeted by loyalists, which is unlikely to endear them to NI.

    However, I agree with Mick in the sense that such a majority by no means guarantees a majority vote for a NI.

    If all unionists are happy to live in a NI where they are no longer in the majority, then NI will remain in the UK for a long time to come. Although such a majority might lead to a ‘flight’ of Protestants that may lead to sufficient numbers leaving to tip the balance in favour of a UI. THEN AGAIN, the then majority Catholics might think, “hang on, we’re now the masters of our patch of the UK – I think we’ll hang around”.

    If a time does come where there’s a 50%+1 vote for unification, you’ll be sure to see Down & Armagh press to remain within the UK. Would the get their way? No one can say whether or not they would.

  • smcgiff

    Should read…

    ‘However, I agree with Mick in the sense that such a majority by no means guarantees a majority vote for a UNITED IRELAND.’

  • Stephen Copeland


    … you’ll be sure to see Down & Armagh press to remain within the UK.

    I presume you mean Down and Antrim? Armagh is already majority Catholic. In any case, counties no longer have a voice as such, so it would probably come down to Hain’s new super-councils. Of these, only three (out of 7) would be likely to “press to remain within the UK”. The new Pale around Belfast would replace the old Pale around Dublin.

  • smcgiff

    Yip, I meant Antrim! 😮

    Yeah – The new pale.

  • idunnomeself

    re immigrants there are many different types and it is hard to draw assumptions. One Scottish immigrant is a SF MP, but I would suspect more Scottish immigrants affiliate with Unionism

    Most are from the EU, indeed most are from the rest of the UK/ Ireland, and are middle class. They are going to move to middle class areas and use the local schools which means they will tend toward soft unionism- the Unionists are also less left wing.

    As for the ethnic immigrants, well a lot of them aren’t staying but the fact that they tend to end up in loyalist areas means that if they do stay around they will be incorporated into the local ethos, I don’t know that local hoods will put them off voting for the only politicians who they ever see round about. But really i suspect most of them will just not bother voting.

    Which in its own way is a problem, as they are isolated from decision making and will continue to rely on middle class white people to speak on their behalf


  • smcgiff

    Hi IDM,

    I was thinking more of the Polish Plumber. In the Republic Poles make up a stagaring amount of the new immigrants. There’s now 250k non-nationals living in the republic or approx or 6.25%. In the cities I’d imagine the percentage is even higher. By far the largest subset are Polish and other Eastern Europeans. I’d imagine these will fit seamlessly into our country.

    I’ve no idea what the figures or make up is in NI, but I had thought they were significant.

    If the Republic’s experience is replicated in NI it could very well make things interesting. Nie?

  • Stephen Copeland


    As for the ethnic immigrants, well a lot of them aren’t staying but the fact that they tend to end up in loyalist areas means that if they do stay around they will be incorporated into the local ethos

    Fascinating prospect. Catholic Polish, Portuguese and Lithuanian loyalists!

    If they are ‘incorporated’ into the local ethos, including through marriage, then you are you envisaging a Catholic loyalist class emerging? One that is barred from being in the Orange Order?

    I suspect the truth is more prosaic. They are moving into loyalist areas because that is where the population is declining, and therefore there is available low-cost housing. The effect will be to turn these areas into ‘neutral’ areas, and any heavy attempts by the remaining loyalists (see even yesterday in the Donegall Road) to enforce their control may end up being very counter-productive. If the immigrants start to get organised, they will organise in opposition to loyalism … and guess who that puts them firmly into bed with?

  • Young Fogey

    These are the numbers you pathetic little sectarian headcounters are looking for.

    All persons

    0 to 4

    5 to 15

    16 to 24

    25 to 44

    45 to pensionable age







    3250231274401918601248Pensionable age and over26151186261173209508

    Hope you enjoy reading the runes. Please don’t pretend your arguments are about anything more than bi-got-ry.

    PS – anyway you can allow HTML formatting for that table?

  • Young Fogey

    Or to put it another way:

    0-4 Taigs v Prods: 49.1% to 43.1%
    5-15: 50.1% to 45.1%
    16-24: 50.4% to 46.1%
    25-44: 44.7% to 52.2%
    45-pensionable: 39.2% to 59.0%
    Pensioners: 33.0% to 66.2%

  • DK

    Catholic Loyalists!

    Well I remember the funeral of one loylist allegedly killed by his own blast bomb at a riot which was decked out in Glasgow Celtic colours as that was the team he, a loyalist, supported. Don’t know if he was a Catholic though I suspect not.

    I can also name famous loyalists who are from immigrant stock (Shoukri anyone?)

    Smcgiff – by far the largest number of immigrants in ROI are from UK. But they are not in the service industry, so not as obviously visible. Check the census.

  • smcgiff

    ‘Check the census.’

    The last census is already WAY out of date (new one later this year), DK. Of the recent estimate of 250k non-nationals 120k were Polish. Then there’s the other Eastern Europeans. The UK citizens are also more than welcome. The more Polish and UK citizens the better. People from these countries should assimilate very easily. The same cannot be said of other countries with strong immigration.

  • Stephen Copeland


    Catholic loyalists are no less likely than Protestant republicans, and we know they eexist 🙂

    A few years ago a son of an SDLP councillor in Craigavon was arrested/questioned for loyalist crimes. I’d love to have heard the conversation around that dinner table!

  • Irish unification will involve getting the British to relocate their colonists back to Britain where they belong. Pandering to the British colonists has always proven a mistake for indigenous Irish nationalists.

  • Jim

    In essence the fact that the Union (of 6 counties) will not last either through the 7 council mandate or through the bedspring then it should not last. If I was a Unionist I would be negotiating their position in an UI now whilst they have teh numbers.

  • smcgiff


    Please troll somewhere else.

    Thank you.

  • idunnomeself

    I am genuinely interested in how immigrants will fit into our squalid little duality

    1. Will they stay? My experience of the ‘Polish plumber’ is that many won’t stay. They’ll work, earn and leave, and won’t bother with politics here at all

    2. Will they align themselves on the basis of some aspect of their identity? I don’t think so, Catholicism is a marker Nationalists use, it doesn’t make you a Nationalist, the reverse is also true

    3. Will they just fit in with the area around them (especially their kids, who will go to local schools). Plenty of Chinese at our bonfire last year. Lets face it if they need a councillor they’re going to go local, not to one who happens to hold similair views on the reformation. Also local community groups are actively acting to ‘welcome’ them (both in the West and East, that I know of), so they’ll begin to make community links that are effectively one way, rather than another. Then of course some may want to show that they belong, and joining in some whinging about the ones on the other side of the wall will help them do that.

    4. Will they just not engage? The Chinese seemed to manage this (tho most of the ones I met think of themselves as British Chinese), the Italians just joined in, some were in the IRA, some became Presbyterian..

    5. But bear in mind that immigrants who are staying are more likely to be educated and from countries close by. Like England or the ROI, and they will have opinions which won’t lure them to either hardcore loyalism or Republicanism. Will they end up in the middle class areas and vote like the soft unionists and alliance class?

    Incidentally Stephen there are lots of Polish in East and South Belfast and these areas are hardly full of vacant housing, unlike some Protestant areas in the North or West of the City. They are also more expensive- obviously price isn’t the only thing influencing their choice of neighbourhood!

  • Brian Boru

    “If a time does come where there’s a 50%+1 vote for unification, you’ll be sure to see Down & Armagh press to remain within the UK. Would the get their way? No one can say whether or not they would.”

    Antrim and Down you mean. Armagh is Nationalist. Antrim and Down are 73% and 67% Protestant.

    Can I just correct some confused statisticians here. The 250,000 figure is years out of date and based on the 2002 Census. The CSO will be carrying out a Census this year and we will have a gross figure for the numbers of people in the South. The findings regarding nationality, religion and ethnicity won’t be released until 2007 (perhaps late in the year). However, the current CSO estimate is that there are around 353,000 non Irish people in the State. The figure may well be an underestimate because of bogus Chinese students who come in on non-EU student visas and then – in violation of the rules – refuse to register and disappear into the underground economy. Bogus English language schools have been provided documentation to help these people get student visas at Irish embassies abroad. No-one is sure exactly how many of these ‘students’ live down here. Offically, there are 25,500 non-EEA (EU and Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein) students registered in the South, but there are believed to be up to 150,000 students in the Republic according to an ICTU source. Now I don’t know whether that latter number includes EU students or not. It may do, but the underlying point is that we don’t know how many non-EEA students are down here but around 90,000 for the size of the Chinese community is often mooted.

    The other source for immigration is the CSO’s National Quarterly Household Survey. They estimate that 65,000 Eastern EU citizens are now working down here, and perhaps 12,000 unemployed. The problem is the unquantifiable size of the Underground Economy. The President of DCU has suggested 500,000 Eastern Europeans here alone. While officially, 9-10% of the population is estimated to be immigrant in a population of 4.2 million, he believes the real figure to be far higher. Around 200,000 PPS no.s (needed to work legally) were issued to nationals of the new EU states since EU Enlargement, but this doesn’t tell us how many dependents have come in with these workers. A complicating factor is the fact that 33% of PPS applications are supposed to be fraudulent. PPS.nos could be abused where someone pretends to be an EU national in order to get them. They also allow people to claim social-welfare.

    I will say this. Living in Wexford town, I find it very hard to believe that immigrants are only 10% of the population and that Eastern EU citizens are only 2%. Every second voice I hear on the streets seems to be speaking a foreign language with an East European accent. The majority of the immigrants do seem to be white. I think people will be in for something of a surprise when Census 2006 is published. In my opinion, the key figure to look it will be the gross figure minus 3.8-9 million. That should give us a more reliable figure for the number of immigrants down here, even a year or so before more detailed figures are produced.

    On the question of the impact on the Constitutional question regarding immigration, I would make the following suppositions: Most of the East Europeans coming in are Catholic. The only Protestant countries in the new Accession states are Latvia and Estonia with 3 million and 1.5 million people respectively, and ethnic-Russians who are Orthodox are likely to form part of the Latvian community coming in but to what extent I do not know. Assuming the Catholic Poles, Slovaks etc. send their children to Catholic schools alongside Nationalist pupils, they will learn history from the nationalist point of view, and might be expected to be more sympathetic to a United Ireland. The questions on a Catholic majority in NI here do not seem to be factoring in East European migration. As of 2004, it is probable that they now constitute a large bulk – possibly a majority (?) – of immigration to NI. All of these countries have experience of Russian or Turkish domination, and some may see parallels with Irish nationalisms aim of breaking the constitutional link with Britain. But others will probably feel that they are just there to work and will probably not care much about these political questions. It is far too early to tell, but I think there is at least some possibility that the projections based on the last Census may have to be revised by commentators and statisticians because the new variable of East European Catholic immigration had entered the picture and could fast forward a Catholic majority – even if they may or may not see the constitutional question in the way Irish Catholics do.

  • George

    Brian Boru,
    “The other source for immigration is the CSO’s National Quarterly Household Survey. They estimate that 65,000 Eastern EU citizens are now working down here, and perhaps 12,000 unemployed”

    The NQHS does no such thing as it doesn’t ask nationality. It breaks down data by age, sex and region. I don’t know where you are getting that 12% figure. Are they taking our jobs or our dole?

  • Brian Boru

    George it was in the news and is on the CSO website. Here for your info:

    Note on the last page it states that the principle source for this figures is the NQHS.

  • Brian Boru
  • Dave

    This is a brilliant discussion.

    Let me give you an insight to my family.

    My family is Protestant, my sister married a Catholic she became a Catholic. My sister had five children one Boy and Four girls.

    The Boy married a Protestant and they have three children all Protestants
    The Girls are married Protestants they have they have seven children between them and two on the way they are all Protestants?

    Who knows what way they will vote? That will depend on what is on offer from the Irish people as opposed to what is on offer from Irish terrorists?

    Today’s Catholic is more like yesterdays Protestant than yesterdays Catholic.

  • dodrade

    Who says a Catholic majority is even necessary for a United Ireland? If middle class Protestants continue to desert the ballot box a united ireland could easily come about because some north down “unionists” decided to go to Homebase instead of the polling station.

  • PaddyReilly

    In the UK censuses are held decennially in the year ending 01. The reference to a “2002 census” perhaps means the year in which the results of the 2001 census were made public. In terms of religious affiliation, these showed that the number of Catholics continued to rise, and that of Protestants to decline.

    More to the point are election results, which show that the Unionist vote continues to fall, and the Nationalist to rise. In all these cases the decline/rise is a fairly consistent 1% every two years. Neither wishful thinking nor political intrigue can make this proceed any faster, or any slower. But obviously Unionism cannot go on losing votes indefinitely without eventually becoming a minority.

    That should happen in 20 months time, when the true-blue Unionist vote will experience eclipse, and the balance of power will pass to centrists, presumably the Alliance party. Thus all of NI will become as Belfast is now, evenly balanced with Alliance as umpires. How long this golden era will last remains to be seen: I would calculate 4 years, but it depends on the growth of the non-aligned population.

    Forget the squabbles of the 16th century. The Sectarianism of the future is Muslims versus all the rest. This is already emerging in England and presumably Ireland will eventually catch up.

    ||Paddy Reilly||

  • PaddyReilly

    I have now managed to read the Guardian articles which inform this thread, so I can see where the disinformation lies. The Guardian correctly stated that the (adjusted) Protestant population of NI was 53% in 2001. But it wasn’t 53% in 1971 was it? So it’s coming down, so it is. The rate, as already stated, is 5% per decade. So, sticking to religious background, we would expect it to continue:-

    2003 52%
    2005 51%
    2007 50%
    2009 49%
    2011 48%
    2013 47%
    2015 46%

    The 50 to a 100 years before parity story is thus quite hilarious. In 100 years we would expect the Protestant population to be approaching zero.

    As has been copiously pointed out, the equation Catholic = Nationalist and Protestant = Unionist is not totally reliable. A constituency thought to have a narrow Catholic majority may still return a Unionist. But the larger that majority becomes, the more inevitable Unionist defeat becomes. We are living in the last days. The end of the world is nigh.

    ||Paddy Reilly||

  • Mick Fealty


    The ’01 census results were released in two stages: the fairly neutral stuff came out in August ’02; and the politically charged demographic material was released in December ’02.

    Re the 1% drop in the Unionist vote. You’ve hit an interesting side subject of the last election. I think it was Sydney Elliot at Queens who noted on Radio Ulster at the time of the last Westminster election that the total Unionist vote had gone up by one per cent. Now it was one of those stats that just went past very quickly, so I can’t say for certain what specific metric that 1% referred to.

    But if that becomes a pattern (it will take another election cycle even to make an educated guess), then the DUP may in the longer term take credit for turning round what you rightly describe as a long term pattern of disengagement from politics amongst Unionists.

    The other significant pattern is the consolidation of the Unionist vote behind the DUP. Contrary to a modern myth of surprisingly wide currency a sizeable chunk of their increased vote comes from essentially moderate middle class voters. It is almost but not quite analogous with Sinn Fein’s appeal to young nationalists. The difference being that the DUP appears to have penetrated further than SF into the urban middle class.

    As for the Alliance party. Well, if you look at the discussion on Slugger around the RPA proposals you’ll see that Belfast is in a very particular position. Alliance holds the balance because the balance in Belfast is so uncharacteristically tight. They have virtually no presence outside ‘Greater Belfast’ and won’t come anywhere near to plugging the gap in the Assembly.

    In short, partly it has to be said by dint of their superior professionalism, the DUP and Sinn Fein have blasted the ‘moderate middle’ to kingdom come.

    Three years ago the DUP faced a difficult question: how to travel from the periphery to the centre of politics and keep their, potentially unwieldly, internal alliance intact? They must have anticipated some very difficult scenarios ahead of them, particularly in the eventuality that Trimble had just got his nose in front in Nov ’03, or, more likely, his rebels had held the balance of power on the Unionist side of the house.

    In the event, whilst no one can credibly claim that journey is yet complete, the last few years were easier than it could ever have dreamed. Whilst the nationalist ‘champions’ have had a waking nightmare, they have simply coasted to relatively easy victories. And as Sinn Fein will know better than most, victories create confidence, both amongst activists and the wider support. The tone of their campaigns have been noteably conversational and low key.

    In the longer term there is an argument to be won or lost. It mostly relates to political, social and economic realities and (much as this may be hard to credit at the moment) very little to the tribal politics of the past. One of the largely untold stories of the last thirty years is that of a burgeoning middle class. And the harsh reality is that the middle classes vote with their wallets.

    If a united Ireland can guarantee them peace, stability and prosperity they will go that way, make no mistake. And they’ll stay with the UK if it is the more convincing option, no matter what name they have, what school they went to, which is their prefered first langauge of the home, and even which party they normally vote for!

    Taking refuge in the hope of some grand demographic shift may be comforting, but it’s deeply, deeply unrealistic, and not where the larger constitutional game is going to be won or lost.

  • Young Fogey

    Incidentally Stephen there are lots of Polish in East and South Belfast and these areas are hardly full of vacant housing,

    Oddly, most of the immigrants in Catholic areas of North Belfast seem to be Protestant Latvians and Orthodox Russo-Latvians. Couldn’t blame them if they didn’t pay much attention to their politics.


    In 100 years we would expect the Protestant population to be approaching zero.

    Aye, we know, and that’s exactly why you’ll never persuade us to vote for a united Ireland.


    Sometimes people really need to read what they write.

  • páid

    I hope that one of the ‘cohorts’ that are increasing over time is the one I and others who have commented here are in – people who are depressed about tribal headcounts. The terrible widow and orphan making has just about stopped. Now we’ve all got to shift a bit in the bed….Taigs seeing Ulster’s ancient Irishness and separateness; Prods accepting a little bit of geographical reality; Southerners acknowledging historical and cultural realities; Brits not acting completely in self-interest. Give it a few years of everyone opening up their minds and we might all live a little easier.

  • PaddyReilly

    < >

    < >

    < >

    A misunderstanding here: the census establishes that the Protestant population is declining and election returns that the Unionist vote is declining. The rate of decline averages 0.5% per annum. This cannot be the fault of a United Ireland, which has not yet been achieved. In the unlikely scenario of the 6 counties remaining in the Union for the next 100 years, this decline would continue at the same rate. The decline must be the fault of the Unionists themselves, and not the political circumstances they live in.

    In a United Ireland we would expect the Unionist vote to disappear altogether, and Protestantism, now merely a religion, to decline significantly faster than at present, being replaced by Atheism, Buddhism and Scientology or the like. In Totnes in Devonshire, I am told, the prevailing religions are Nichiren and Anthroposophy. Hopefully some day Ballymena will follow suit.

    Interesting point regarding the religion of Latvians. From what I can make out there is no religion in Latvia: it was replaced by Dialectical Materialism decades ago, and all religious removed to Siberia. My informant tells me his grandparents were Catholic, which is the prevailing religion in the southern part of Latvia. He himself has no knowledge of what distinguishes Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Lutheranism. And Latvians are not going make war on their fellow countrymen whom they like well enough to suit Belfast big-hearts. Those Chinese who turn up for your bonfire on the 12th are equally untrustworthy: when your back is turned they are actually fraternising with other Chinese who pretend to be Fenians.

    The Protestant Middle Classes are not going to betray their co-religionists. When a United Ireland becomes inevitable because of population change, and not before, they will assent to the status quo to protect their property. In advance of this demographic shift there is no point canvassing them. Equally Latvians, Chinese and Poles will welcome the new regime: with them there is the possibility of being attracted by the prosperity of the Republic, though in the main, I would have thought, they have no votes.

    The argument that the Unionist vote has gone up by 1% does not impress me. I think it comes from not comparing like with like: at each election different candidates stand, so the results will be different, even if the electorate is exactly the same. At Westminster elections it is not possible to vote Alliance if you live in the west of the province, so you would expect the Centrist vote to oscillate, improving in EU elections: which it does.

    It is perfectly true that the DUP and Sinn Fein have squeezed out the centre: the Alliance contingent in Belfast is tiny: but it is nevertheless sufficient to hold the balance of power.

    Grand demographic shift unrealistic? Do me a favour: it is stasis which is unrealistic. Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis.

  • Brian Boru

    I assume that in a United Ireland, FG and the former Unionists would form a Coalition, as they both love Britain so much.

  • DK

    Between 1991 and 2001 censuses, the number of “catholics” (extrapolated figure from community background) has increased from 652K to 737K and the number of non catholics has increased from 926K to 948K. So while the number of Catholics is increasing, so are the numbers of everone else. At these rates of interest, it would take 30 years for Catholics to become an overall majority (assuming no immigration, emmigration, secularisation)

  • Thanks Mick. I hadn’t seen the Slate article.

  • Mick Fealty


    I couldn’t agree more with your Latin quotation. It’s the pure definition of has already happened in NI and what will continue to happen on the island north and south regardless of constitutional status.

    Let’s go back to your projections though. You appear to be making a very basic mistake in demographics and presuming that all contributing factors are constant.

    In fact, it is very hard to tell what the exact figures for the proportion of the population that was Catholic in 1971 and ’81 as there was full scale boycott of the census amongst Nationalists in both of those years. Paul Compton in his monograph “Demographic Review Northern Ireland 1995” offers his own estimates:

    1971: 36.8% 1981 38.7% 1991 40.6%

    Now whilst I accept that these are only estimates, I don’t see anything like the five per cent a decade leap that you are refering to. They are also in line with the actual figures in 2001: 43.8%.

    Underlying all this is a slowing of the Catholic birth rate, though that may be moderated by a slowing down of previously high levels of Catholic out migration. My own working estimate is that we may end up with a very slight Catholic majority, or rough numerical equivalence.

    The increased prosperity associated with a sudden drop in the birth rates means that the arguments I’ve laid out above should come into greater play.

    BTW, re the rise in Unionist per centage, you may be right to be sceptical. I wasn’t offering it as a trend, just an interesting detail from the last election that we should keep an eye on next time out.

  • Stephen Copeland

    … Underlying all this is a slowing of the Catholic birth rate.

    It is certainly slowing, but still higher than the Protestant birthrate. Sectarian birthrate stats are surprisingly hard to find, by the way, so I’d be interested to hear where you got yours.

    A proxy is to look at the birthrates in council areas that are largely of one religion – for example Carrickfergus for Protestants, and Newry and Mourne for Catholics. The differences are quite striking: Carrickfergus (around 90% Protestant, or at least ‘non-Catholic’) has a birthrate per 100 of 11.3, whereas Newry and Mourne (75% Catholic) has one of 15.6. You can pick other examples if you wish, but the pattern is much the same.

    … re the rise in Unionist per centage

    Don’t forget to factor in two things: firstly the continued decline in the vote going to the Alliance party and ‘others’. In the local elections the unionist parties may have simply been recovering some of their ‘natural’ voters from wherever they had strayed. The unionist percentage, in any caase, dropped by one percent between the 2001 Westminster elections (52.9%) and the 2005 Westminster elections (51.9%). Secondly, the slightly skewed effect of the new Electoral Register, which most people recognise affected the nationalist parties more than the unionists. This system has now been relaxed a bit, so expect to see some nationalist bounce-back next time.

  • Stephen Copeland

    … a birthrate per 100 … should, of course, read ‘a birthrate per 1000 …’. Sorry for the typos.

  • Mick Fealty

    Like hen’s teeth Stephen.

    I’m drawing primarily from two sources. Compton has figures he has compiled from Baptismal records that run from 1971 until 1987. It shows a drop in both Catholic and Protestant birth rates, but the former is way more pronounced than the latter.

    Also David Coleman’s essay, Demography and Migration in Ireland North and South, which concludes:

    The distinctive Irish fertility regimes is nearly over, and will join those of Quebec, Spain, Portugal and other Catholic countries as questions of recent history rather than of the contemporary world. Will Irish fertility become indistinguishable in pattern from that of the rest of Europe. Not necessarily.

    Some distinctive patterns such as the particularly low fertility of Germany and its neighbours have persisted for two decades. While Catholic fertility has disappeared in the industrial world, other differences concerned with sexual behaviour have not.

    This author expects that fertility in Ireland will stablise in most parts of Irish society at a level more typical of north west rather than southern Europe (that is with a TFR of about 1.7-1.8) and with correspondingly high rates of illegitmacy.

  • George

    Brian Boru,
    “George it was in the news and is on the CSO website. Here for your info:”

    Firstly, this is not the NQHS, as you stated, this is a population and migration estimate. They are totally different things. The NQHS doesn’t address nationality. Here is its output:

    Secondly, nowhere in your links is it stated that 12,000 Eastern EU migrants are unemployed. I don’t have an issue with your 65,000 Eastern EU migrants estimate but I do with the one that 12,000 of them are “probably” unemployed.

    I still don’t know where you are getting that 12% figure.

  • BogExile

    Sectarian Headcount fetishists:

    This is what we all love and this is also the tragedy of our situation.

    Did you know it is possible to go through the NI census website and work out ward by ward, village by village, pisshole in the snow by pisshole in the snow and find out who is on the up? The psychology of it all is great, warped, crack. If I look at bits of west Tyrone, for example I lump in every other religion and none to maximise the Prod headcount. Latvians, venusians, satanists, tree huggers, scientologits – they’ll all do to makee me feel that my wee hole in the hedge hasn’t gone completely green yet.

    You’re all at it, go on, be honest, drooling over statistics and fighting over the nuances, giving your wishful thinking the force of fact with any available, twistable, spinable piece of data. Because at heart, though we dress it up intellectually, it still that ‘oul whore underneath: Two tribes playing the numbers game.

    In the words of the master, Derek Mahon:

    God, you could do it, God
    help you, stand on a corner stiff
    with rhetoric, promising nothing under the sun.

    But sure I’m as bad 🙂

  • Stephen Copeland


    You’re all at it, go on, be honest, drooling over statistics …

    I’ve never denied it. I love the stats.

  • Bogexile… got a link?

  • Mick Fealty

    Here, I think.

  • abucs

    The more brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles, the more community you have, and the more contacts with community. It doesn’t matter if you’re name is Paisley or Durkin. A closer community would solve a lot of the problems in the western world that have developed over the last 40 years. (Not that i’m 40 but i thought i’d use a big round number).

    China with it’s one child policy for Urban areas is in danger too. Just think, one child means no aunts and uncles, no cousins and of course no brothers and sisters. (At least you don’t have to share the inheritance). I think we should stop expecting and complaining about the state not helping, and start to look after ourselves through family and the extended community through larger families.

    OK, i’ll get off the soapbox now.

  • BogExile

    Go, on, fill your boots!

    Kinawley 3% more Catholic, Newry 128% more spied… etc etc.

  • Thanks lads… nice use of SVG, first time I think I’ve seen it used in anger since I learned it in college years ago

  • George

    If you really want to fill your boots, you have to go to the NISRA interactive site where you can go past key statistics and get it broken down even further.

    I don’t know how old that essay is but the CSO did a fertility rate survey in 2003 where the high variant rate was put at 2.0 for the forseeable future, the medium one for 1.85 and the low for 1.71.

    In 2004 and 2005, the birth rate has been following the high variant path.

    Prof Tony Fahey, a sociologist with the ESRI said Ireland’s economic success appeared to be the driving factor behind our high birth rate.

    This is backed up by the fact that the TFR fell consistently from 3.76 in 1960 to 1.85 in 1995 but that it has been rising with the economic boom.

    Quote from Fahey:
    “It’s striking that, despite what people say about the cost of childcare, we still have the highest fertility rates in the EU. The real driving factor would appear to be the economy and jobs,” he said.

    “Ireland shares something in common with the US in that State support for childcare is pretty meagre . . . The lesson in the modern world is what encourages families to have children is not affordable childcare or tax breaks, but simply the abundance of jobs.”

    NCB Stockbrokers said in a report today that Ireland’s favourable demographic profile will benefit the country’s economy over the next 15 years.

    The report – called 2020 Vision – says the population of the Republic will grow by 30% to over 5.3 million by 2020.

    So it seems if the Northern economy really does take off there is no saying where the demographics will go.

    If it doesn’t, the region’s influence on the island will continue to diminish.

    CSO Report: Pop & Labour force for web.pdf

  • Mick Fealty

    ’99 George, though I’d guess the data could be from a few years earlier. The differences between high and low rates are minimal when you compare them with the historic rate. And when you consider that 2.1 is considered to be the replacement rate, its clear that Irish fertility rates have profoundly changed since its historic highs.

    However you look at it, the projected increase in the Republic’s population is more likely to be based on the fact that it is attracting new people towards a successful economy than from indigenous growth patterns.

    I’m not here trying to argue anything other than following previous lines of growth in the Northern Irish Catholic population is not taking account of new trends, and political stratagems based on such extrapolations are likely to end in failure.

    Rather than banking on a huge increase in the Catholic population, it might be more productive for nationalists to begin selling the benefits of a UI to their Protestant neighbours.

  • Stephen Copeland


    … it might be more productive for nationalists to begin selling the benefits of a UI to their Protestant neighbours.

    They’re not mutually exclusive, you know.

    Plus, there is the fact that if a community is more numerous, it is more visible. If it is larger and more visible, it starts to become the mainstream. The mainstream has a magnetic effect on many people, drawing them into its way of thinking. In this way, as ‘nationalist’ values become the norm, and not the exception, over wider areas of the north, they will start to become more accepted even by those people who may, in earlier years, have dismissed them. Little by little, one small step at a time, perhaps sub-consciously, the minority (unionist) population will start to take things like the Irish language, the GAA, and other aspects of ‘Irishness’ for granted.

    Numbers help the process of osmosis, and are a handy complement to persuasion.

  • Young Fogey

    Go, on, fill your boots!

    Kinawley 3% more Catholic, Newry 128% more spied… etc etc.

    Even more remarkably, according to the Neighbourhood Statistics website, 112.1% of briths registered in the New Lodge in 2004 were to unmarried mothers. And no, I am not making that up!

  • Brian Boru

    Stephen while I would like that to be true, if what you were saying was true, then surely we wouldn’t have had partition in the first place?

    George, while I agree our economy is doing well, I dispute the notions – pushed by the neo-liberal movement and the internationalist Left – that someone immigration is of life-and-death importance to our economy. Even if it is true that this is needed for 6% growth, I am sure the Irish people would be content with 3 or 4%. We risk storing up troubles here if we continue with the same rates of immigration. Immigrants need somewhere to live, and this extra demand pushes up house prices further. I believe that we need to optimise growth rather than aim for maximum growth – the latter being the govt’s policy it seems. This policy is very short-termist, and may ultimately be the cause of a housing crash as eventually the house-prices would go even further out of the affordability of Irish people. In that context, hundreds of thousands of jobs could go. It is better to aim for a level of growth that is sustainable, rather than a boom and bust cycle which I fear we are now risking. I heard in the radio today about a house in Clare going for 1 million euro, and one in Dublin going for 3.7 million. House prices are beginning to get out of control now, and this is not a trend we should be encouraging. It is all the more ironic the govt is ignoring this problem – and actually worsening it by its policies on immigration – when you consider the hullabaloo from them years ago about the Bacon report and looking for ways to moderate house-prices that were already a serious source of public-concern since the late 90’s.

    Economic think-thanks tend to have a neoliberal bias, with their rants about “flexible labour markets” by which they mean us turning a blind eye to exploitation, displacement, and the flouting of labour law. I have to say that I would regard their advice on bringing unlimited numbers of cheap labour immigrants in with the deepest of suspicion – as do many, many Irish people. This ignores the non-economic complications of immigration – implications ignored by the political elite obsessed with placating their property-developer benefactors. It’s like the debate on the Act of Union 1800 all over again – every man has his price it seems…:(

  • PaddyReilly


    I don’t like working with figures of religious allegiance and still less with Paul Compton’s revised amended estimate of religious allegiance in the context of a boycott. These are more likely to tell you who is going to communion than what the province thinks. The best source for what is really happening are the elections to the European Parliament, which have been held regularly every five years over 25 years. With only one constituency, and a small number of candidates, it is possible to get an idea of what the electorate really thinks.

    The results are at:-

    Adding these together I calculate that the Unionist 1st preference vote in these elections was:-

    1979: 60.8
    1984: 58.0
    1989: 57.8
    1994: 55.4
    1999: 52.3
    2004: 48.6

    Thus in two and a half decades the Unionist vote has come down by 12.2%, which is consistent with my assertion that it comes down by 5% a decade, or 0.5% per annum.

    < >

    I believe some people may have had this idea before. I can’t see much evidence that it works. But if you could sell what no-one else has managed to sell, I’m sure we could pay you a commission.

  • loyalist

    Stephen is getting a little hysterial with this catholic birthrate thing, the nationalist vote is falling and the nationalist proportion of children is falling. As Paisley used to say, Prods have children too you know. I think nationalists should sit back and wait for their majority, it certainly worked for them when they talked about it in the 1930s.

  • Brian Boru

    Loyalist, you conveniently forget that for every Catholic death in the 6 counties, there are 2 Protestant ones due to the far older age-cohort in the latter community. So it’s not just about births. It’s about deaths too that will help determine events. Learn something new every day don’t you?

  • Mick Fealty

    You know where the tip jar is Paddy!!

  • briso

    Using Paddy’s reference, the combined European Election votes of SDLP and SF are as follows:

    79: 30.5
    84: 35.4
    89: 34.6
    94: 38.8
    99: 45.4
    04: 42.2

    These are the only people who can be expected to vote for a United Ireland as these are the only anti-partition parties. There may well be some Humeites who didn’t vote for SF or Morgan perhaps, but there is at least some support for the contention that the growth in votes for re-unification is slowing.

    In total, 12% in 25 years, 0.5% per year.

  • DK

    A lot of the problem with these statistics is the fundamental problem that “past behaviour is no indication of future performance”.

    I can only see us following the European trend, with more children out of wedlock, lower church attendance, and less baptisms. The increase of mixed marriages is also key. Take my wife’s family as an example – the mother has had 5 children – all Catholics. 1 is unmarried, 2 have married Catholics and have had 4 Catholic children, and 2 have married a Protestant and an Immigrant (me) respectively and have had 4 children, all un-baptised.

    In the past, pressure was to baptise Children immediately and only marry your own kind. Now the pressures can be resisted and will become easier to resist as time goes on.

    So all I can see for the future is the Catholic numbers to join the protestant numbers in decline. Whether they reach a magical 50% before this happens is uncertain – but I doubt it.

  • PaddyReilly

    We have here an example of the confusion wrought by using religious figures in a political context. Statistics regarding the uptake of sacraments such as baptism and marriage are being brought into an argument over voting habits. This at last explains to me the surprising number of non-aligned among the under 4s. People are putting themselves down on the census as Catholic or Protestant, but their children as of no religion, because they were not baptised.

    < >

    This misses the point. We are primarily interested in whether Ireland will be united, and not whether a majority of its inhabitants are in receipt of the sacraments of the Catholic Church.

    With respect to the posting above regarding the Nationalist vote in the EU elections, it should be born in mind that these are 1st preference votes. Fully fledged Unionists won only 48.6% of the 1st prefs in 2004, but they were able to pick up another 3% in transfers from Centrists, and therefore get two seats. Oscillations in the growth curve of the Nationalist vote and decline curve of the Unionist vote can be shown to be caused by expansion and contraction of the Centrist (usually Alliance vote).

    It seems there are 1st pref Alliance, 2nd SDLP; 1st pref Alliance, 2nd UUP; and 1st pref Alliance, no 2nd pref. Some years only the last of these vote Alliance.

    An interesting question which everyone could supply information on is, how do the children of mixed marriages vote? I always assumed that they tended to the Nationalist side because of the exclusivism of Orangemen, but there are plenty of counter examples. It seems to depend largely on what estate you were brought up in. Michael Stone mentions that some of his fellow UDA members had catholic mothers. The Loyalist criminal son of SDLP parents mentioned above would probably have come about because his parents moved to a middle class, mixed area, where their son mixed mainly with well-heeled but not entirely well-behaved young Protestants.

  • Stephen Copeland


    An interesting question which everyone could supply information on is, how do the children of mixed marriages vote?

    Some work was done on the issue of ‘tribal’ identification amongst the kids of mixed marriages a number of years ago. The results were approximately 50% saw themselves as ‘cultural Catholic’, 33% ‘cultural Protestant’, and 17% ‘a plague on both your houses’.

    I would imagine that such kids would tend to gravitate towards the largest group in their environment, so if they are being brought up in a Catholic area they will tend towards nationalism, and the reverse if in a Protestant area. Hence the important osmotic effect of larger Catholic numbers and greater visibility for the nationalist viewpoint.

  • declan

    “Statistics regarding the uptake of sacraments such as baptism and marriage are being brought into an argument over voting habits. This at last explains to me the surprising number of non-aligned among the under 4s. People are putting themselves down on the census as Catholic or Protestant, but their children as of no religion, because they were not baptised.”

    I would understand this argument if it was about the “religion” breakdown in the census. But the census figures we are discussing is “community background” breakdown in which the census people allocate nonaligned to one of the two background religions depending on other data such as the religion of the postcode, the religion brought up in, or the religion or community background of the child’s parents.

    I am a bit worried that the number of catholics by community background now less than 50% of those under 10. Hopefully osmosis can come to the rescue – as Stephen Copeland says a lot of people at the margins will become nationalist by osmosis so hopefully the figure of 50% will not be too long in coming.

  • DK

    “Hopefully osmosis can come to the rescue – as Stephen Copeland says a lot of people at the margins will become nationalist by osmosis so hopefully the figure of 50% will not be too long in coming”

    Osmosis: The movement of water through a membrane from a less concentrated to a more concentrated solution. And this is given as the reason why mixed-marriage kids will become nationalists (Stephen – do you have a source for your mixed marriage data)????

    One things for sure, they won’t go for the extremes of Sinn Fein or DUP, if they vote at all. Anyone know how the non protestant/catholic vote now?

  • Stephen Copeland


    (Stephen – do you have a source for your mixed marriage data)????

    ‘Cross-Community Marriage in Northern Ireland’ by Gillian Robinson (1992). In section 1.3:

    There is a popular view that a majority of the children born to cross-community marriages are brought up as Roman Catholic. Rose (1971, p.507) found that 4% of those he interviewed claimed to have been the product of a mixed marriage. Of these two-thirds declared themselves to be Roman Catholic. More recent evidence from the latest Social Attitudes survey in Northern Ireland (Stringer and Robinson, in preparation) shows that 2% of those interviewed said that their parents marriage was mixed (with 9% of respondents themselves being in a mixed marriage). Of those who said they were the result of a mixed marriage over half identified themselves as Roman Catholic while just under a third identified themselves as Protestant.

    The research is at least 14 years old, and things have moved on, but I do not know of any reliable later research.

  • PaddyReilly

    < >

    This is demonstrably not the case. I already quoted the UDA members with Catholic mothers mentioned by Michael Stone in his book. This probably included MS himself: his mother, a Miss O’Sullivan I think, abandoned him at an early age.

    Paul Hill came from a mixed, but broken marriage, and though his own Republican activities were imagined by the Surrey Police Force, he had a brother who was not so innocent.

    Children generally conform to the speech patterns, and sectarian outlook of their peers, not their family. If they themselves are of suspect origin, they often have to go to extremes to prove themselves.

    So if there is any ground to be made, it will be made by welcoming immigrants into your fold, and not by trying to work on the self-interest of the middle classes. Sinn Féin, quoted above as ‘extremist’, have not been lacking in this field, if the Rev Ian is to be believed.

    “Community background” is at best an educated guess at sectarian status. I wouldn’t worry about the religious figures: concentrate on the electoral returns.

    “Tiocfaidh ár lá” would do best as the motto of the Alliance Party in the short term (a couple of years) and the SDLP in the long term (half a dozen).

  • Stephen Copeland


    “Tiocfaidh ár lá” would do best as the motto of the Alliance Party in the short term (a couple of years)

    We read the same tea leaves! Though I reckon they’ve got a good half-generation of ‘power’ coming their way.

    … and the SDLP in the long term (half a dozen).

    Huh? Where do you get that from?

  • Young Fogey

    I am a bit worried that the number of catholics by community background now less than 50% of those under 10.

    Declan, you are one warped dude.

  • PaddyReilly

    < >

    My tea-leaves say that sometime after January 2008 the Nationalist vote will have increased to the point where it equals the decreasing Unionist vote, say 48% each, and that consequently the Alliance Party will hold the balance of power.

    Or maybe Unionists 49.5%, Alliance 2%, Nationalists 48.5%, same effect.

    But the Nationalist vote will continue to increase, and consequently, after four years or so, the SDLP will hold the balance of power.