“Time for the beginning of a calm debate” on Northern Ireland’s Demographics

Today’s Irish Times carries a detailed piece on demographic changes in Northern Ireland. Northern editor Gerry Moriarity writes:

THE BRITISH and Irish governments and the people of Northern Ireland are facing the prospect – and sooner than most people might think – of how to manage a transformed constitutional situation where the majority in the North are likely to be from a Catholic background.

It’s going to raise serious questions for southerners too, who must also address complex constitutional problems that if not managed properly and creatively could land Northern Ireland – and the rest of the island – back in the mire.

It’s time for the beginning of a calm debate.

The article contains a range of statistics about the numbers of Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland’s schools, ranging all the way up to third-level. Catholics outnumber Protestants at all these levels, demonstrating that Northern Ireland’s young population is clearly majority Catholic.

This of course is not news to most people in Northern Ireland, nor does Moriarity raise a new question when he asks:

So, will that probable majority population also be predominantly nationalist and of such critical mass as to vote Northern Ireland into a united Ireland?

Moriarity notes that DUP First Minister Peter Robinson has seemed, of late, to have made overtures to potentially pro-union Catholics, perhaps reading the demographic writing on the wall.

But, especially for a southern Irish audience, Moriarity’s crucial point is that most people – from politicians to ordinary punters – haven’t thought about this demographic shift and its possible consequences.

Whether people want to think about this is yet another question. But Moriarity’s suggestion that the time is now for ‘calm debate’ is a sensible one.

The article also features the perspectives of Peter Shirlow, senior lecturer in the Queen’s University school of law, commentator Fionnuala O’Connor, and historian and Irish News journalist Brian Feeney.