Who will win over a critical percentage of Catholics, SF or unionism…?

THERE are some similar themes about the unlikelihood of Irish reunification in the near future running through Malachi O’Doherty’s article in the Tele yesterday (not online, but you never know…) and Henry McDonald in the Guardian. O’Doherty argues that Sinn Fein’s alternative route to a united Ireland must convince republicans that the party’s political project is making progress (ironically, a myth unionism is heavily reliant upon too). The SF case must remain plausible to republicans, yet, argues O’Doherty, the evidence is to the contrary. The old chestnut of Catholics out-breeding Prods is unlikely to happen any time soon, and there is a small but significant number of Catholic unionists that will keep 50%+1 on hold for even longer. McDonald picks up on this argument, arguing that as the demographics slowly shift towards a Catholic majority, unionists should aim to woo those who are sympathetic to the status quo. So instead of cultural triumphalism, unionists should consider embracing moves to make the UK and NI an even warmer house for those Catholics who are potential supporters of the union. Would any unionist consider supporting constitutional reform to remove the ban on a Catholic monarch because it is possibly in the best interests of the Union?

  • Biobomb

    “The old chestnut of Catholics out-breeding Prods is unlikely to happen any time soon”.

    It has already happened i.e. the DENI 2008-2009 Schools Census says that 50.9% are Catholic and 40.7% are Protestants.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    “The old chestnut of Catholics out-breeding Prods is unlikely to happen any time soon”

    Says who?

  • fair_deal

    BG

    You overlook the existence and growth in communities beyond the two traditional communities – this couple of percent could potentially hold the balance.
    Also non-voting may be easier to achieve than an active switiching of vote allegiance.

  • fin

    I wouldn’t bank on the cost of reunification been an obstacle. NI is a drain on British taxpayers and unlikely to ever pay its way, any poll conducted in GB shows that people aren’t bothered about NI.

    Any move to a UI will attracted major investment from the EU, USA and a payoff from the UK.

    In the current climate and for years to come maintaining the status quo will result in zero investment above the necessary from the British govt.

    Also demographics isn’t just about breeding, with the end of violence NI became more acceptable to southerners and as democracy takes hold even more so. Sterling has dropped 30% so its not just shopping in NI thats attractive to southerners its property is too.

    While times are bad people will move where they can get jobs, so expect unionists to chase jobs in the south and southerners to chase them in the north. Thats double bubble on demographics in favour of a UI

    If unionists are currently a majority, a straight formula says that the majority of people who leave the North for work abroad will be unionist.

    All of these articles are poorly written and only produce a snapshot of the current situation and only take a select number of obvious indicators into account.

    Finally the day to day obstacles are disappearing, north south bodies are creating a single infrastructure in energy, tourism, areas of healthcare, transport etc so in the event of a yes vote everything is in place.

  • veritas

    [play the ball – edited moderator]

  • “Would any unionist consider supporting constitutional reform to remove the ban on a Catholic monarch because it is possibly in the best interests of the Union?”

    Not Jeffrey Donaldson (who I have just blogged about on this issue). He’d rather that NI Catholics remain alienated from the British Constitution and its discriminatory provisions.

  • Mack

    Fair_deal –

    It’s been that way for around 30 years. The birth rates have not converged yet, and by my estimation aren’t likely too for at least ten years (permenant convergence is highly improbable in my opinion).

    Birth rates bottomed out around 2000. The raw birth has been rising faster in Catholic / Nationalist districts than Protestant districts since then. Conversely, Total Period Fertility, which adjusts for the child bearing cohort has been rising faster for mostly-Protestant areas. However, if you examine the breaking of proportions in that cohort, you’ll find that, for example in 2008 – 25 year olds were 53% Catholic(the upper bound in the least productive, 20-25 yr old cohort) compared with 45% Catholic for 35 year olds (the upper bound in the most productice cohort). As those younger woman enter the peak child bearing cohorts 25-35, and the older women leave, I’d expect the TPFR to diverge again significantly.

  • Gael gan Náire

    Throughout my years as a mediocre Gaelic language activist I have had many conversations with unionists on this general question.

    I.e. I put it too them that if their were to accept a pluralist northern Ireland and accepted say the option of styding Irish and Gaelic games in secondary schools, accepted the right to an education through Irish, accepted that signage in Irish could be tolerated in some areas etc. etc. that perhaps more ‘Catholics’ could be endeared to the union – I would always make the comparison to Gaelic Scotland.

    However, I realise now that aside from a few bloggers that I have come across that much of political unionism revels in nationalist alienation from the state, indeed that alienation is seen by many, especially in the DUP as a sign of success.

    A pluralist Northern Ireland for these people would be a contradiction in terms.

    Strange, given at least the possiblity of demographic change.

    Not considering myself Catholic I care little for the religious thing, however I do wonder if I could marry the heir to the throne even if I was merely percieved as a Catholic?

  • mcoop

    Would any unionist consider supporting constitutional reform to remove the ban on a Catholic monarch ?

    Absolutely, in contrast to what many think we live in the 21st not the 17th century. As a unionist I would have no problem supporting this reform.

  • picador

    McDonald picks up on this argument, arguing that as the demographics slowly shift towards a Catholic majority, unionists should aim to woo those who are sympathetic to the status quo.

    They could start with an Irish Language Act.

  • BonarLaw

    “north south bodies are creating a single infrastructure in energy, tourism, areas of healthcare, transport etc so in the event of a yes vote everything is in place”

    Ah yes, Waterways Ireland will restore the fourth green field.

  • danielmoran

    to fin…. msg 4 above. the article by o’doherty is in line with his usual angle, as one of the isolated catholic contributors at the telegraph [they wouldn’t have enrolled him otherwise].the point is made above that the 50% line has been already passed for the nationalist side. this shows up better in elections than census form results.
    as you said, a UI option will attract uk investment from govt. there only too relieved to be rid of this colossus. also the foreign nationals seem to be mainly catholics from latin countries. your points are well supported for me.

  • BonarLaw

    “the foreign nationals seem to be mainly catholics from latin countries”

    But doesn’t republicanism view them as the wrong sort of catholics?

  • Mack

    There are a number of inaccuracies in Henry’s article – though I agree with the general thrust. I think demographic change means neither side is guaranteed anything and both sides need to work to persuade the centre ground.

    1. The UK is not the 4th largest economy in the world, it’s the 5th. You can see how meaningless that statistic is when you realise that the Chinese economy is 30% bigger than the UK’s economy. It is income per capita that matters, not the total size of the economy. Ireland (Republic) has a substantially higher GDP & GNP per capita than the UK. What you could argue is that only the Union would support a long-term continuence of the north’s soviet subvention economy, but surely no-one wants that for their children anyway?

    2. Birth rates aren’t falling, they bottomed out in 2000 and have been rising ever since.

  • Mack

    Correction to the above. As of 2008, the CIA world fact book ranks the UK as the world’s 6th biggest economy, behind France.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)

  • Sorry to disappoint you GGN, but under the Act of Settlement the consort of a monarch must be “in communion” with the Church of England. If you were to marry the hier then he/she would be impeded from acceding the throne.

  • Oilifear

    The old chestnut is just that: an *old* chestnut. Migration is the new brith rate. Migration is what will define the demographic mix of a future referendum.

    Migration has two sides: inward and outward, both of which will affect the future demography of any referendum.

    Migration into Northern Ireland can come from two sources in the main:

    – The 26 counties: where the overwhelming majority support a UI, thus adding the to the UI vote in a referendum.

    – Great Britain: where the population is in favour of a UI, don’t care, or pro NI in the Union – in that order, with the number pro-UI-voters outnumber those pro-in-NI-in-the-Union by a margin of two-to-one.

    – Continental Europe: Which is overwhelming Catholic, thus adding (in old chestnut terms) to the “nationalist” community?

    Migration out of Northern Ireland can go to two places:

    – The 26 counties: where, even if it was entire from the Unionist community, it is never going to make a demographic impact on the number that would vote for a UI.

    – Elsewhere in the word: where they disappear for the purpose of a referendum.

    Am I right in recalling that migrants away from NI are disproportionately Protestant? In which case, you can tick migration away from NI as adding the the pro-UI vote in a referendum.

  • Silly article from McDonald. As though great swathes are to be convinced to change to unionism just because the monarch could marry a Catholic. The only thing more ridiculous is Jeffrey wheeling out the old split allegiance thing again. McDonnell says O’Connell sorted this out. Done well before him.

  • Congal Claen

    As a Unionist I would welcome this move. However, it would have been better if this had been brought forward by a Unionist politician.

    As far as I’m aware I don’t think a Catholic is allowed to be PM either which is even more of a snub to Catholics. Which is why Blair waited until he had resigned before converting. He should’ve went ahead and had the issue confronted there and then.

  • Oilifear

    “As far as I’m aware I don’t think a Catholic is allowed to be PM either which is even more of a snub to Catholics.”

    Not actually illegal, AFAIK, but would leads to some constitutional problem knickers-in-a-twist. I can’t remember exactly why, but for the same reason a serving PM of Britain cannot be Jewish (Disrael was CoE).

  • Reader

    Oilifear: Migration from … Great Britain: where the population is in favour of a UI, don’t care, or pro NI in the Union – in that order, with the number pro-UI-voters outnumber those pro-in-NI-in-the-Union by a margin of two-to-one.
    However, the ones who choose to settle and vote in NI are hardly a random sample from the above!
    Oilifear: Not actually illegal, AFAIK, but would leads to some constitutional problem knickers-in-a-twist.
    The PM appoints the Archbishop of Canterbury. The prospect didn’t seem to terrify Portillo when he contended for the Conservative leadership, though.

  • Strictly speaking the PM advises the monarch on CofE appointments. The parts of the Catholic Relief Act of 1829 still in force ban Catholics from advising the monarch on this, but I’m not aware of any other religion being barred. However, if I remember correctly, non-CofE Prime Ministers have usually delegated this task to a senior minister who is CofE. I assume a Catholic PM would do similar. Certainly I don’t remember anyone raising this as a reason why Iain Duncan Smith couldn’t become Prime Minister.

    The 1829 Act also bar Catholics from being the Lord Chancellor/Lord Keeper of the Great Seal (one job, lots of names). Since this is now a subordinate title of the Justice Secretary, I guess a Catholic Justice Secretary wouldn’t have the Lord Chancellor’s title, which would be put in abeyance, and some other minister would have the task of keeping the seal.

  • Comrade Stalin

    fin:

    I wouldn’t bank on the cost of reunification been an obstacle. NI is a drain on British taxpayers and unlikely to ever pay its way, any poll conducted in GB shows that people aren’t bothered about NI.

    What makes you think that people in the RoI are volunteering to shoulder the burden ? The British government’s budget is about ten times the size of the Irish one; the NI subvention is a much smaller proportion of it.

    Are nationalists aware that they will have to accept things like dismantling of the Health Service and the segregated education system, or is it their expectation that Irish taxpayers will willingly subsidize these ?

    Any move to a UI will attracted major investment from the EU, USA and a payoff from the UK.

    I’m disappointed, but not surprised, to see that the nationalist argument is based not upon building a new, dynamic state which can stand on it’s own two feet; but instead about soaking the governments around the world for every penny they’ve got for no readily apparent reason other than we think we deserve it. Where on earth is it written that Irish reunification would lead to a big payoff from the Americans or the EU, or the British for that matter ? What precedent is there ?

    Also demographics isn’t just about breeding, with the end of violence NI became more acceptable to southerners and as democracy takes hold even more so. Sterling has dropped 30% so its not just shopping in NI thats attractive to southerners its property is too.

    Don’t you need to do something a little better than hitch your argument on short-term economic circumstances ?

  • Dave

    The migrants who have chosen to live in the UK have already de facto voted on the constitutional issue. There is no reason to assume they would vote themselves out of a sovereign jurisdiction that they have already chosen to reside in and into a different sovereign jurisdiction that they have already chosen not to reside in. Migrants to Northern Ireland are, therefore, default unionist voters.

    Improving the status quo does not increase dissatisfaction with it or promote an imperative to change it, but rather it has the exact opposite effect. So, as the quality of British rule improves for Catholics, their hostility to it decreases in direct correlation. You will see more Catholics become satisfied with British rule in the years ahead, and a show greater willingness to express that satisfaction in open support for the union.

  • Dave

    Incidentally, one other effect of the Downing Street Declaration (which formed the basis of the current political process) is that, as more Catholics are successfully integrated into the UK, those who continue to dream of a united Ireland will be forced to substitute a United Kingdom for a united Ireland, since that will be the only option remaining to them when they see removing the border as the end in itself rather than the means to the end that they have renounced in the GFA, i.e. a sovereign, independent Irish nation-state state where no other nation holds a veto over the right of the Irish nation to national self-determination.

  • Mack

    Comrade Stalin –

    You can rest assured that any real arguments put forward for a United Ireland, when a period arises when such arguments may be effective (i.e. with some liklihood of a majority in favour), will not be based on continuing the subvention economy, but rather creating a dynamic private sector economy in the north, if one does not already exist at that point. You’re right though – the southern electorate will call the shots on this one.

    There are religious schools funded by the tax payer in the south (both Catholic and Protestant), also the south has it’s own health service which I think delivers a comparable level of service – certainly there has been some catch up in recent years. Merging them both, could provide the excuse for ditching the worst and choosing the best from each to create something better.

    Major outside investment?

    It’s possible, but only if there are profitable opportunities – as based on the current economies there would be – Ireland’s low tax environment coupled with NI’s low wages.

    Whether Britain would pay to get rid of a financial liability is another matter. I think a deal could probably done on NI’s share of the UK national debt on the basis that Ireland takes over the ongoing liability that is the NI economy.

  • Mack

    Dave

    The migrants who have chosen to live in the UK have already de facto voted on the constitutional issue

    Pure fantasy.

    The most you can say about external immigrants is that they won’t aspire to the same identity politics as the locals, at least not at first. If they attend the schools, play the sports, and integrate into whatever communities they settle in – they may acquire them.

    It’s unrealistic to expect they won’t form opinions on any proposed constituitional changes, and I would expect economic issues would be important. In the event of a United Ireland, it’s incredibly unlikely nurses, for example, would be sacked. Is it unreasonable to expect immigrant nurses (and even local nurses) to check out the wage differential between their two prospective employers? Currently the HSE (Ireland) pays a good bit more. There are similar differentials for many safe public sector jobs, in the tax burden for low income workers (as most in the north are), superior pensions and dole in the south.

    Furthermore it is not outside the realm of possibility that sectarianism, as experienced by the immigrants could also end up being an issue. Which in itself could pose problems for the local parties and some local organisations.

    Finally, the elephant in the room is that most of the new immigrants over the last couple of years are Eastern European. Poland is on track to join the Euro very soon. Is it possible that European immigrants may prefer to be in the Eurozone at the heart of Europe?

  • Will immigrants – as opposed to their children born in NI – even get a vote on the constitutional question? I think that other EU nationals in the UK get votes for council but not parliamentary elections (presumably there is a residence qualification that changes that). Regardless, I doubt the numbers are big enough to matter, and given the number who have returned home in recent times, added to the shift of FDI towards the accession countries, this might be even more the case in the future.

    Mack,

    Hasn’t the last budget affected funding for Protestant schools in a negative way down below? More importantly, on the notion that the southern electorate will call the shots on this one. It’s simply inconceivable that the southern electorate would reject unification if voted for by the people of NI. In fact, it’s possible that the GFA doesn’t even allow for that possibility, but I may be wrong on that. What the southern electorate will determine, however, is the extent to which unionists find the prospect of a united Ireland frightening. New constitutional arrangements and guarantees, a commitment to secularism etc would have a big impact on that.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mack:

    You can rest assured that any real arguments put forward for a United Ireland, when a period arises when such arguments may be effective (i.e. with some liklihood of a majority in favour), will not be based on continuing the subvention economy, but rather creating a dynamic private sector economy in the north, if one does not already exist at that point.

    Very little on this matter is going to be clear until the dust settles on the current economic situation and we see what way the cards have fallen on the other side of the recession.

    In terms of my own work in the private sector, I’m seeing aggressive cost-cutting being pursued by clients who are using the economic situation to argue the case on price and dangling the threat of outsourcing to cheaper economies over our heads. Nobody should be surprised that this is happening, of course; everyone is doing it, from large businesses and public sector organizations, down to the average consumer who is delaying purchases, spending more time looking for bargains, and being more choosy about where the weekly shop gets done.

    How do we counter this ? We can’t all go and live in tin huts, so the only way is to provide better value, and to do that significant investment in training and education is required. Frankly I don’t see the governments on either side of the border taking this as seriously as it needs to be taken, especially not in the south where the government is now taxing education directly. On either side of the border there is still an attitude that recruiting FDI is the priority, and as long as that goes on we’ll never be able to develop any indigenous knowledge-based industries.

    You’re right though – the southern electorate will call the shots on this one.

    That’s sort of what I meant. I think it’s very hard to say what the southern electorate will do if there is a referendum. What I was targeting more was this arrogant attitude coming from northern nationalism which makes sweeping assumptions about issues like the assent of the Northern Catholic contingent, the assent of the population of the RoI and the willingness of the governments to bankroll the whole damn thing. I’m not aware of reparations being paid by Britain to any of it’s former imperial charges.

    I have no problems with Irish reunification but I refuse to be part of anything that requires us to disparage our dignity by holding our begging bowl out. The argument will need to be put plainly to people, and that includes the costs as well as the expected benefits.

    There are religious schools funded by the tax payer in the south (both Catholic and Protestant),

    But they don’t have what we have which is lots of duplication. Economic realities are likely to clean a lot of this up in the near future though, in advance of any UI.

    also the south has it’s own health service which I think delivers a comparable level of service

    I definitely don’t agree with that. We get a high standard of care here without having to pay not-insignificant insurance premiums to VHI. Anecdotally speaking, the stories I hear from my VHI-insured friends about the standards of care in Irish hospitals suggest a standard below what would be found in NI. Additionally you have to remember that the RoI has a relatively young population which suggests that healthcare costs are below where they would otherwise be. I don’t think you’ll find it easy to win the argument that the Irish healthcare system matches the NHS.

    – certainly there has been some catch up in recent years. Merging them both, could provide the excuse for ditching the worst and choosing the best from each to create something better.

    The unionists will start off by saying that Irish reunification means abolishing the Health Service in NI, and technically, they’ll be right. You’ve seen the damage that Labour were able to do to the Tories by suggesting that they wanted to privatize it. That’ll cause at least some nationalist-minded people to hesitate.

    Incidentally, I know we’ve argued about tax in the recent past, and I still don’t agree with your position, but that aside I wonder where the figures are coming out now when both sides of the border are compared. Worse, I wonder how they will look after the Irish budget in a few weeks’ time, where it is widely expected that we will see significant hikes in income taxes. They’re even talking about property taxes now.

  • garibaldy: There’s technically at least three different registered electorates – the Westminster parliamentary voters, the local government voters and the European Parliamentary voters. (I think the Assembly is the same as Westminster, though don’t members of the Lords get the vote for it as well?) The main differences are largely about which elections EU citizens, expatriates and soldiers stationed abroad can and can’t vote in.

    Back in 1997 there was a minor row over which franchise was used for the Scottish and Welsh devolution referendums – I think they ended up going with the local government one. I’m not sure if anyone’s tried to bring legislation to settle this question in advance.

    A minor issue that is raised from time to time about a referendum on Scottish independence is that expatriates outside the UK would be eligible to vote in it but Scots who’ve moved to the rest of the UK won’t. A similar situation for a Northern Irish referendum where those who’ve moved to Great Britain don’ get a vote but those who’ve moved to the south do (with the knee-jerk assumptions about how they would/will naturally vote) isn’t going to be helpful.

  • Mack

    Comrade Stalin –

    Property taxes are a good idea, I think Ireland is unique in the Western world by not taxing property (regularly) to pay for the services provided to it. Better to scrap the one-off penal stamp duty and introduce rates a la NI.

    The tax situation in the UK and Ireland will continue to evolve. A united Ireland isn’t imminent so we’ve plenty of time to revisit the debate.

    On the health system – it’s definetly open to debate. And perceptions of the southern system are definetely lower, I was in St. James’ Hospital (inner city Dublin) late at night a couple of years ago and it wasn’t a pretty sight. That said, during her pregnancy, and after my wife and sister compared maternity facilities, there was no contest, my wife was panicking in case the baby came in the north! League tables show the UK slightly ahead. It’s easy to miss that Ireland has come on in huge leaps and bounds from a very low base, so I’d expect this situation to also continue to evolve.

  • Mack

    Garibaldy –

    It was, I’m not sure if they rolled back on it, some funding was cut to fee paying schools. Many Protestant schools in rural areas are fee paying in order to be able to properly service huge catchment areas. I’m not sure if those changes were rolled back, certainly there was a media campaign against it.

    A plan for unity would have to be put to the electorate, I would expect a rigourous debate on the nature of that plan. Even if subvention was tolerated for a transitional period, I imagine people would also want to see in the plan steps to wean NI off subvention. I suspect many up north would like to see that too..

    On immigrants – in 2007 2% of NI’s population came from the A8 countries (with a 30% increase in numbers in 2008), in 2001 around 5% came from other parts of the UK and 2-3% of the Ireland (Republic). There are a similar number of external immigrants from non-A8 countries. 18% of births to NI residents were to non-NI native mothers. There are certainly enough people from outside NI to make a big difference there.

  • Thanks for the info Tim. I would imagine the electorate for any border poll would be the same one as Westminster but who knows?

    Mack, thanks for that info too. There is certainly a potential impact going by those figures, but I would say there are questions over how many immigrants will vote. AFAIK, immigrants tend not to be registered to the same extent. As for those born here, we’ll see whether they slip into the two blocs as has been the case mainly in the past.

  • danielmoran

    to dave…. i agree with you on the point that catholics in n.i. wouldn’t necessarily be hostile to the british connection. this was apparent even in ’69 where many of the bogsiders actually welcomed the arrival of troops there at least at first. i find this is where unionist pols miss the point in claiming catholics as against britain being in control, it was the way unionists exercised that control, that the CR uprising was about.
    not so sure about your assumption about foreign migrants though.