Aaron & Brian’s Sunday View: the Census


The Irish Times led with, ‘There are just 54,000 more people from a Protestant background than from a Catholic one in Northern Ireland’. The headline figure, that most papers and the media noticed, was that the gap between Protestants and Catholics had narrowed to 3 per cent in the recent statistics released from the 2011 census. Bringing together the information on Religion and Religion Brought up in, 45 per cent of the population were either Catholic or brought up as Catholic, while 48 per cent belonged to or were brought up as Protestant, Other Christian or Christian- related denominations. A further 0.9 per cent belonged to or had been brought up in Other Religions and Philosophies, while 5.6 per cent neither belonged to, nor had been brought up in, a religion.

However, the headline figure does not represent the complex state and fluid nature of identity in Northern Ireland in the 21st century. At the last assembly election in 2011, the turnout was 54%. This means that 46% of people, who are registered to vote, did not bother or feel attracted by what was on offer. This poses serious questions for the political parties here in recent times. Alex Kane has been promoting the need for new political parties to take on the challenges of a post agreement Northern Ireland. He may be right when looking at the growth of Northern Irish identity and the number of people voting in 2011 compared to 1998.

The more interesting information gathered from the census stats. was that Two-fifths (40 per cent) of usual residents had a British Only national identity, a quarter (25 per cent) had Irish Only and just over a fifth (21 per cent) had Northern Irish Almost half (48 per cent) of people usually resident in Northern Ireland in 2011 included British as a national identity, while 29 per cent included Northern Irish and 28 per cent included Irish. Almost three-fifths (59 per cent) of people usually residing in Northern Ireland held a UK passport, just over a fifth (21 per cent) held an Ireland passport, while 19 per cent held no passport. Therefore, the head count of protestant versus catholic looks like it no longer applies to the political status of Northern Ireland. It appears that more than ever the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is in good shape. This correlates with the recent polls, which showed the lowest ever support for a United Ireland in the Life and times Surveys. This has prompted some to say that unionists have won, but were too stupid to realise it, and that republicans had lost, but were too smart to admit it. In recent weeks, the flag row in Belfast highlighted the need to bring everyone along on the journey of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Leaving the national identity and religious outlook aside, there were more pressing concerns for the Northern Ireland Assembly. One of the most shocking statistics was that 29 per cent of the population had no qualifications. If we are serious about becoming a world class economy, who wants to build and attract jobs, then this statistic needs to be challenged. Another worrying figure I took from the census report was that just over one in five of the usually resident population (21 per cent) had a long- term health problem or disability which limited their day-to-day activities. Again, this highlights the real difficulties Northern Ireland faces in the years and decades ahead, whether our political parties and politicians are up to the task is another matter.

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  • latcheeco

    “It appears that more than ever the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is in good shape. This correlates with the recent polls, which showed the lowest ever support for a United Ireland in the Life and times Surveys.”

    Arrant Canutery!

  • David Crookes

    The passport statistic is interesting, since it relates to an area of life which involves free choice.

    Holders of British passports outnumber holders of Irish passports by three to one.

    Is that ratio relevant in a discussion of how people might vote in a referendum?

    And if so, is it fair to assume that people who don’t hold passports are represented more or less equally on both sides of the political fence?

    Getting a passport is something which many people feel obliged to do, whether or not they bother to vote in elections. Is it likely that many people who never bother to vote in elections will see voting in a referendum as something which they are obliged to do?

    Some people don’t vote in elections because they dislike the available parties: but votes in a referendum are not cast for parties.

    I recall Gerry Fitt saying on the radio in 1972 that in his opinion many Protestants would prefer to be in a united Ireland. Not long afterwards, when he was given the chance to have his opinion tested by a referendum, Gerry Fitt was the chief proponent of the ‘chicken out’ option. Don’t think it impossible for the ‘chicken out’ card to be played for a second time. If a resounding vote in favour of the status quo seems to be on the cards, the roaring lions of the politburo may decide to squawk.

  • latcheeco

    Passports don’t tell us much. Lots of nationalist people used to get British Passports because they were cheaper, easier to get, and producing one meant you caught less crap from the chaps at customs

  • “Holders of British passports outnumber holders of Irish passports by three to one.

    Is that ratio relevant in a discussion of how people might vote in a referendum?”


    No, the national identity statistics are much more meaningful. I come from a *mixed* family in which combined Irish and UK passports abound as much for convenience as for political reasons.

    My father visited Israel as a tourist a couple of years ago and (stupidly) didn’t ask for a separate sheet for his visa- which considering he spends a lot of his working life in Saudi, Kuwait etc wasn’t the most clever thing to do.

    Dublin very kindly issued him an irish passport even though he was very unlikely to vote for their *ahem* 3q county dream ticket. Which was very kind of them.

  • PaddyReilly

    This means that 46% of people, who are registered to vote, did not bother or feel attracted by what was on offer.

    No it doesn’t.
    They could be dead, in a coma, double registered (students, people with multiple homes), put on the register in accordance with the law but not old enough to vote yet, on a business trip, in the grips of a family tragedy, etc etc.

    In Westminster elections turnout is lowest when the result is a foregone conclusion but highest when a significant change is taking place (as when M. McGuinness took Mid Ulster)

  • Roncol

    At the last census held. prior to the break up of Yugoslavia around 20-25% of the country’s population described themselves as “Yugoslavs” not “Croats”, “Serbs”, “Slovenes” etc., when asked their nationality, yet a short time later Civil Wars broke out. How people describe themselves can change and will if/when hostilities break out again.

    Voter participation is declining throughout Europe and NI figures are generally well ahead of GB figures. 54% turnout for local/regional elections is far better than you will see in other places.

    I remain surprised how many people bother to turn out in Westminister elections when all bar a handful of seats are forgone conclusions.

    However mass emigration from NI will follow the cuts in subventions and the end of sweetheart deals from Dublin. If you look at the GAA transfers there are already substantial movements of players from counties like Tyrone gone to Australia. ( I am sure on UK passports rather than the Irish ones they use for everywhere else!)

    It shocks me that the Dublin Government has not slashed VAT and some duties to wipe the NI economy out. Allowing towns north of the Border to prosper is economic madness. Why not support Letterkenny instead of Derry, Dundalk instead of Newry, and all the other towns who lose trade to the UK. Cutting the standard VAT rate to 15% would certainly put the the cat among the Provo pigeons. All those Border Provo TDs would be in a bit of a bind. Support their constituents or their UK brothers and sisters!

  • simtrib

    A lot of commentators particularly southern newspapers are concentrating on the narrowing of the religion or religion brought up in gap to 3%, however this is a meaningless metric that corresponds neither to elections nor even to directly asking people what their community background is such as in the Labour Force Survey.

    All that is really happening is that religious identification amongst the “mainly Protestant community” is following the trend in the census in Great Britain while religious identification amongst the “mainly Catholic community” is following the trend in the census in the Republic of Ireland.

    What is notable and different in this census is that for the first time the “indigenous” Catholic or brought up Catholic proportion of the population was the same or very likely even less than in the last census. This is masked by a historically relatively huge influx of Poles and other Catholic immigrants, but we’ll be able to see this clearly when more detailed statistics are released such as religion by country of birth or religion by ethnic group. This corresponds to the census in the Republic of Ireland, just as the big drop in Protestants corresponds to the census in Great Britain with it’s big drop from CofE to no religion. The evidence is that that big drop has minimal, if any, effect on whether someone considers themselves British or votes for a unionist political party. Between 2001 and 2011, on a line of best fit, the unionist % of the vote dropped by about 1.5% and the nationalist % of the vote was static. That could probably be explained by deaths and people coming of voting age alone without using secularisation as an explanation.

    The Catholic or brought up Catholic % figure in 2021 may well be higher than that for Protestant or brought up Protestant, but BOTH of those figures are going to be lower in 2021 than they were in 2011. Perhaps like,

    2011 48% P, 45% C
    2021 43% P, 44% C

    but the unionist % of the vote will still be higher than the nationalist % of the vote in 2021, and the Labour Force Survey will still have more people saying that they are from a “mainly Protestant community background” than saying that they are from a “mainly Catholic community background” in 2021.

  • BluesJazz

    That Richard Dawkins boy has a lot to answer for.

  • David Crookes

    Latcheeco: Thanks, and yes, that was certainly true in the old days, but the UK and the RoI have both been in the EU for four decades now. I reckon that for at least the last ten years bearers of Irish passports have had less trouble of that species.

    Mind you, every liberal democracy must always beware to a certain degree of its police, its customs officials, and its tax inspectors. Certain forms of authority incline many of their possessors to believe that they are the whole point of everything. Often that belief encourages them to act in an anti-democratic manner.

    Maybe some day we’ll be able to go anywhere we like in the EU without having to show stupid passports over and over again. I have to take part in an academic conference somewhere in the world every year. Last year’s venue was London, so by way of avoiding all the rubbish that goes with air travel I took the overnight bus. Cheap and civilized enough, I must say, until it came time to get on the Cairnryan ferry, when someone wanted to see my passport! Next time I’ll make the journey really cheap by taking a flask and a few eatables with me.

    Oneill: Thanks for that information, but even if such cases bring the ratio from three-to-one down to two-to-one, there is still a lot of comfort in the statistic for believers in the status quo.

    Bluesjazz: Poor Richard Dawkins can’t help it — he is merely an entropic assembly of proteins, and we know that entropy always gets worse. Look at the UUP.

    I’m still wondering whether passportless persons are found in equal proportion on each side of the political fence, but that’s enough serious talk for one day. Time to watch a Father Dowling mystery.

  • Red Lion

    David Crookes, – just because you wanted to avoid airport controls you took the overnight ferry and bus from London to Belfast rather than a flight?? Bit extreme isn’t it?? – ive taken that overnight bus but only cos i was short of cash.

    Reminds me of a bloke whose toilet flush broke down. What did he do, call a plumber out?? Naw, he ripped the whole toilet out and put in a brand new one!

  • David Crookes

    Toilet, sez, you, Red Lion? Don’t talk tae me! When we moved into our newly built house twenty years ago everything seemed to be OK until a sort of conceptual-art brown stain appeared on the music-room wall. The wretched plumbers had arranged for the soil-pipe from an upstairs bathroom to discharge itself straight into the cavity of the wall.

    And you thought I was mean.

    By the way, once I stupidly drove down to Dublin airport and left my car there while I was in Europe. After that I wised up and took the bus.

  • Politico68


    Your numbers dont add up mate. If the Catholic population has increased by 80,000, and 1.7% of the entire population are from the A8 (31,000), if you subtract the two u get a native Catholic growth number of 49,000, no? Moreover, if the school census reads 51/43 in favour of Catholic background does this not indicate the potential for a slim Catholic majority. In the 1998 Ass election Unionists got 52% of the vote while Nats got 40.%. In 2011 it was U-47%, Nats – 42%. So what am I missing here? If that pattern continues in 2023 u will have U- 42% Nats – 44%. The stats are from Nicholas Whytes site.

  • USA

    Devils advocate: 46% described themseleves as either Irish or northern Irish. Only 40% described themselves as British.
    I would not read too much into passport types. I would view it as anectdotal at best, there is no absolute link between passport type and voting intentions in a referendum. Certainly in the past it was always harder to get an Irish passport. So the data is indicitive but by no means certain.

    The tightening of the community/religious designations is also misleading with regards to voting intentions in a referendum. As we all know there are probably about 10% of Catholics who would vote to maintain the union with Britain. It is for that reason the nationalists would most likely lose a referendum by 20% points. All this is old news.

    Hold a referendum and be done with it. I would expect the vote to favor the Union by 60% – 65% in favor of Union with Britain to 35% – 40% against. This is obviously a resounding victory for the Unionist voters. Anything over 40% in favor of breaking the Union would be a pleasant surprise for nationalists.

  • Politico68


    If u look at the EURO elections which are a much better barometer because they are a ‘straight Race’, in 1994 Unionists got 54% against Nats 39%. 15 years later (2009) it was 49% U. 42% N. If that pattern continues the EURO elections in 2024 would show U – 44%, N – 45%. Whatcha think? Basically level?

  • Politico68


    I think that continuing with the status quo or a UI is not a good idea. They should all settle for joint Authority then put the whole thing to bed forever.

  • Lionel Hutz

    My other half has a British passport. She’s keeping it because she doesn’t want to give in to my pressure. But she’ll vote for a UI. A vote for the UK would be a vote for divorce…

  • Mick Fealty

    Even old Paisley used the joint authority card in the end, but has anyone the remotest idea what it means (except a recipe for confusion)? One the central causes of the NI Water disaster was te conflict implicit in having two competing chains of command.

    It’s an idea without substance that people like allude to but never actually discuss…

  • Red Lion

    USA, it was ‘Northern Irish’ on the census form, not ‘northern irish’.

    its a figment of your imagination to think 46% of people ticked ‘Irish’ and or ‘northern Irish’.

  • Red Lion

    Mick, its the point where in any referendum a slight majority chooses UI. Dublin then shits itself at the prospect of the financial and security burden of sole responsibility for NI, and says to London, ‘we think there will be an ongoing role for you in NI, please hang on’.

    This scenario is a long way down the line and the detail hard to work out.

    As ive mentioned elsewhere we already have ‘two governments’ involved in NI and all island bodies, so the continuation of ‘two governments’ idea shouldn’t be too hard to work out if it came to that.

    I’d say if London keeps sticking money in, Dublin will be more than accomodating!

  • Mc Slaggart

    Mick Fealty (profile) 17 December 2012 at 8:43 am
    “Even old Paisley used the joint authority …..

    It’s an idea without substance that people like allude to but never actually discuss…”

    Have heard of the EU Mick? Its an interesting example of how “authority” being shared. In Ireland they have six all-Ireland North/South implementation bodies. Waterways Ireland for example is doing a grand job unlike ” NI Water “.

  • Politico68


    You dismiss the concept all too readily. McGarry and O’Leary cover the issue quite comprehsively in their book of 1993, the politics of Antagonism. They have another book on it too but I cant remember the name. They eventually agreed the consociationalism was the best way forward but I think there could be a swing back to the idea of JA in the coming years.It is very possible that Dublin and London could divide central powers between themselves Defence, Foreign affairs, Currency, et. While Stormont assumes Devo Max. As for the debate around the possibilities, I would relish the opportunity to get stuck in. I think the problem here is that Unionism is really only interested in a ‘British’ Northern Ireland whilst some Nationalist just want an ‘Irish’, time to think outside the box for both sides.

  • USA

    Red Lion,
    The cencus figures show only 40% identified as British. At the same time 25% identified as Irish, with a further 21% identifying as northern Irish. 25+21=46. So I don’t see how you think the results are a figment of my imagination.

    The rest of your comments about continued political co-operation between the two governments have some merit. But the governments would be in a difficult situation, and probably have no option but to comply, if a majority in both parts of the island vote in favor of unification. At that point both governments would probably have to focus on implementing the policy, with the least amount of trouble as possible (not an easy task).

    With progress made I could easily see the British contributing funds (perhaps US money too) to solidify peace and make the problem finally go away. But as I also mentioned previously, I would not personally envisage such a scenario for some time yet as I don’t think the nationalists have any chance of winning a referendum in the north. I must confess I would be shocked if the nationalists did not win in the south.

  • Red Lion

    Yes P68, and as the GFA was set out with the 2 tribes in mind, a new generation with its own paricular features, ie a middle ground, i think will show willing to meet even further in the middle for the sake of prosperity and stability in the future.

    JA allows unionists to maintain the union, nationalists to have their united ireland, albeit both with more flexibility in these concepts. Hopefully a time will come when the polarised groupings won’t get to define the terms any nore.

    Really, majority rule for NI doesn’t work. We already have a a joint authority to a certain modest degree. I see this JA dynamic opening up more if it looks like nationalism will get their 50+1.

    In the meantime, unionism should be redefining its vision for the union in softer and more cross community cross-border cooperation terms , which keep the middle ground on board in terms of the union, but a union with a bit more ‘joint authority’ aspect.

    Joint authority is here already.

  • David Crookes

    Joint authority is bunkum.

    In 1985 Margaret Thatcher tore up pledges which her predecessors had often made to the effect that there would be no change in the constitution of NI without the consent of its people.

    She changed the constitution of NI by giving a certain role in its governance to a state whose constitution still declared NI to be Hibernia Irredenta. On account of that single deed, many older unionists including myself continue to regard Margaret Thatcher with utter loathing.

    The Anglo-Irish Agreement was the nearest that we have ever come to joint authority. It was the ludicrous creature of a Cold War that was about to surprise many highly placed people in the West by coming to an end. What was the main point of the AIA? In return for being given some say in the affairs of NI, the RoI would review its policy of neutrality, and allow NATO missile-launchers to be set on Irish soil.

    That sentence will be found incredible only by those who are ignorant of what was really going on at the time. Two things happened on the day after the signing of the AIA.

    First thing: the Hibernophile minister Nicholas Scott was sent over to Washington in order to explain to our masters that the deed had been done.

    Second thing: the Irish Army began to practise anti-nuclear manoeuvres, although the USSR had given assurances that the island of Ireland would never be attacked so long as nuclear missile-launchers were never set on the soil of NI.

    Neither Margaret Thatcher nor her preternaturally obtuse Secretary of State Tom King believed that the AIA would bring the Troubles to an end. C J Haughey knew exactly what was going on, and to his great credit he wanted no truck with the AIA, but various pressures were brought to bear on him from across the Atlantic, and before long he undertook to work within the framework of something that he detested. While CJH is often represented nowadays as a selfish and unprincipled man, he genuinely beleved both in Irish neutrality and in the measure of independence which it afforded.

    The only real achievements of the AIA were to inflate the conceit of certain government ministers in the RoI, and to teach unionists in NI that Margaret Thatcher could tear up pledges as easily as Adolf Hitler. Ministers from the RoI were helicoptered in to Maryfield, and people from the RoI appeared on boards and panels in NI, but since the AIA was detested both by the great majority of unionists, and by many of the Grown-Up People in the British establishment, it was never anything more than an experiment in political bonsai gardening.

    Anyway! Things were on the move. In 1986 I happened to be present at a conference which related to what you might call Russian matters. There was a lot of talk about how the authorities had coped with Chernobyl. Then one very acute Sovietologist suggested that the permafrost of the Cold War might be about to melt. He picked on the Latin phrase DUBITO ERGO SUM ( = I doubt, therefore I am) which had appeared in a recent Russian art exhibition. Nobody was terribly impressed at the time, but subsequent events proved how right he was.

    The old nuclear doctrines began to go out of date.

    Then in 2001 the USA’s experience of terrorism led many Americans to stop supporting terrorists in Ireland.

    Where are we today in NI? In a cosmos that was born of the GFA and the SAA.

    The consent thing has been set in concrete.

    Any change is going to be ‘either-or’, not ‘both-and’.

    The system which presently obtains does not allow for deals done behind our backs or over our heads. For HMG to suggest a move towards joint authority would be to announce the beginning of a civil war. In such a circumstance unionists will fight, and they will be right.

    As one contributor said the other day, we have got a form of Home Rule in Ireland. Whatever the future holds, and whatever allegiance we profess, we should do our best to get on with each other. But let us forget about joint authority. It may work in the case of a small Pacific island. It will never work here.

  • Red Lion

    USA, I’m sure you’ve got your sums right, I was pointing that the census box people ticked was ‘Nortnern Irish’, not ‘northern Irish’. A simple capital letter can have quite a change in meaning round these parts..

    And nationalist commentators seeming to be warping the census form by pretending that the box to be ticked was ‘northern Irish’.

  • Politico68

    David Crookes,

    I have no doubt that the events of the eighties were a turning point in terms of Anglo Irish relations and in particular between Unionism and the British government but that was thirty years ago and the environment has changed for the better on almost every level. The AIA reflected a growing frustration within the British establishment at the refusal of Unionists to engage to reasonably on the issue if NI. In any event, it cannot be said that we would have managed to negotiate peace if there had not been a foundation to build which is pretty much what the AIA provided.

    In terms of JA, I would think it would be at best Naive and at worst negligent to believe that the growth in political Nationalism will not warrant substantial change in the political dynamic of the North over the next number of years. For any sort of JA to be acceptable it would have to have the consent of a majority of NI citizens. Catholics may not be overwhelmed at the prospect of a UI but refuse them JA with absolute, political, cultural equality and you might find a UI could become a lot more palatable.

  • Comrade Stalin


    For HMG to suggest a move towards joint authority would be to announce the beginning of a civil war. In such a circumstance unionists will fight, and they will be right.

    Indeed. Which is why joint authority will be called “direct rule” and Dublin will be consulted by the back door. The British will impose compromises much like the one we have just seen at city hall. The process known as the “chipping away of Britishness” as it is known will continue as the British recognizes that its mandate is extremely limited when governing a divided country of minorities.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Politico68. Yes: in the years coming up to 1985 unionists behaved in a manner which frustrated HMG, partly because James Molyneaux led his own troops to believe that they would always be able to do so with impunity, and partly because the DUP were boneheadedly negative as a matter of principle. And yes, of course unionists need to be very generous now. But for that to happen unionism will need to produce an urbane leader who can sell his generous policies to both sides, not merely to his own.

    I’ve been talking far too much on other threads about the need for unionists to keep the law. On this thread I was at pains to point out that HMG must not renege on solemn obligations. Sorry if that came across as intractable and right-wing!

    Although Ian Paisley led his troops into coalition government quite a while ago, many of those troops, including more than one minister in the present coalition, resent the fact that he did so, dislike working with republicans, and sympathize warmly with the thugs who are stopping the traffic. (I shan’t take time to say what is going on in the UUP: de mortuis nil nisi bonum.)

    Many members of the DUP have changed their tune, and bravo to them for doing so, without undergoing any real change of heart.

    At their worst unionists, or more precisely Ulster Protestants, are characterized by a shocking lack of urbane geniality. Ian Paisley was seen as even more of a traitor by some of his former adherents because he smiled. Here is a verse WHICH IS NOT IN THE BIBLE AT ALL.

    ‘Abraham scowled continually, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.’

    Alas! — many people on my side of the fence believe that it is, and act accordingly.

    At their worst unionists, or more precisely Ulster Protestants, despise education, dislike every form of genuine culture, and applaud politicians who say ‘I done’ for ‘I did’.

    At their very worst they approve of lawlessness and thuggery. There are unionists who would happily kick me to death for what I have said so far, and there are even unionist churchgoers who would tell each other without compunction that I deserved it.

    Where shall we all go in 2022? Will unionists and nationalists agree to live together in a modified union? Or will unionists decide to join in the creation of a completely new state? Such a state might take any one of several forms. A republic. A dominion of the British Commonweath. A republic in the British Commonwealth. Or a monarchy with its own royal head of state, freely chosen (as a Polish monarch would be chosen) by the national assembly. The Irish House of Commons might move back to the building that Grattan knew, and the Irish House of Lords might subsume both the Seanad and the old Northern Ireland Senate. The flag of the four provinces of Ireland might become the national flag, even if the Union Flag and the tricolour were allowed to fly anywhere in the new state.

    Treasonous thoughts for a unionist? No. Anyone who knows anything knows that the ‘deep’ policy of HMG is to unite Ireland. To talk about securing the union ‘for centuries to come’ is no less stupid than to talk about establishing a unionist colony on Pluto.

    Here is an even sadder fact. While many of my unionist fellow-countrymen believe that they are British, they profess to hate English people.

    Here is a truly pathetic fact. Many of my unionist fellow-countrymen feel an irrational emotional affinity with Scotland, and believe that their affection is reciprocated by the Scottish people. Bah! In 1971 I attended a loyalist rally in the Ulster Hall. Early in the proceedings a leading Scottish Orangement assured us all that when the swelling of Jordan came, he and his brethren would not be found wanting, they would not stand idly by, they would come over and help us in our warfare.

    Well, ha, ha, ha, He and his brethren never came.

    It’s coming up to midnight, and I want my supper, so let me conclude for now. For the last fortnight unionist leaders have given us a mixture of weakness and witlessness. We are going to need better leaders in the days to come. Someone will have to lead unionism away from what Poe calls ‘the grim phantasm, FEAR.’ Otherwise the Fall of the House of Unionism will soon be complete.

  • Greenflag

    David Crookes 17 December 2012 at 2:29 pm

    ‘ In return for being given some say in the affairs of NI, the RoI would review its policy of neutrality, and allow NATO missile-launchers to be set on Irish soil.’

    Reviewing ‘neutrality ‘ was and remains an option for the Republic but NATO missile launchers anywhere on the island of Ireland would have made zero difference to either the security or defence of Britain or Ireland in the 1980’s or for that matter today .

    ‘Second thing: the Irish Army began to practise anti-nuclear manoeuvres, ‘

    I have my civil defence booklet on how to survive a few days in the event of a nuclear war. I haven’t yet decided whether it would be worth it 🙁 As for the Irish Army practising ‘manoevures’ anti nuclear or otherwise -thats what armies do .

    ‘the USSR had given assurances that the island of Ireland would never be attacked so long as nuclear missile-launchers were never set on the soil of NI.’

    From what is known about then Soviet nuclear capabilities and the accuracy of it’s ICBM’s ,that assurance would have been worthless . Anyone of a 200 plus or more nuclear missiles launched at targets in Britain or France could have ended up in Ireland .Weather conditions -tiny errors in trajectories etc and some missiles aimed at Manchester or Liverpool or Glasgow ( all actual targets ) could have ended up on Belfast or Dublin . Somebody calculated that in the vent of an all out nuclear exchange between the USA/Allies and the Soviet union the probablilty that at least 2 missiles would land on Ireland was 99.5% . Given that Belfast would have been targeted directly anyway the entire island as well as all of Britain would become humanless and largely lifeless territory for generations.

    ‘The system (GFA) which presently obtains does not allow for deals done behind our backs or over our (all the people of Northern Ireland ) heads.’

    Thats how I understand it ,

    ‘Anyone who knows anything knows that the ‘deep’ policy of HMG is to unite Ireland.’

    That may be just Unionist paranoia or the truth but it doesn’t much matter in the larger picture . Britain CANNOT withdraw from NI without the consent of a majority in NI .

    ‘For the last fortnight unionist leaders have given us a mixture of weakness and witlessness. ‘

    Fortnight ? The understatement of the century possibly both centuries 20th and 21st , Forty years I’d have said bar a few short periods in which the witlessness was less overt 🙁

    ‘Someone will have to lead unionism away from what Poe calls ‘the grim phantasm, FEAR.’ Otherwise the Fall of the House of Unionism will soon be complete.’

    And the sooner the better for the Unionist people some would say .Others might say that the only thing unionists have to fear is fear itself -that and their self defeating paranoia .

    ‘To talk about securing the union ‘for centuries to come’ is no less stupid than to talk about establishing a unionist colony on Pluto.’

    True but just in case the latter option ever becomes a desirable possibility you should know that Pluto has undergone a eh ‘constitutional ‘ revision of it’s own in recent years . Pluto has been demoted from it’s formerly held status as a planet. A decison taken by those on a far off distant planet called Earth over the heads of plutonians .;)

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Greenflag, but you should know that contacts were established a long time ago. Poe’s raven is believed to have come from the dark Plutonian shore.

    Around 1978 one of my friends had a rather luxurious anti-nuclear shelter built at the bottom of his back garden in North Belfast. Such a shelter would be useful enough even today if you wanted to get a bit of peace from the weemen.

  • Greenflag

    It must have been the ‘fashion ‘ back then during the Cold War threat . Your friend had a similar minded spirit then resident in London circ 1981 a teacher in fact who hailed from Co Kilkenny of hurling fame . To escape the oncoming and inevitable nuclear holocaust which he firmly believed was imminent -this individual took up a headmaster’s teaching position at a school on the Falkland Islands . A few days after his arrival the Argentinians invaded the island . Timing is everything .

    I’m not of a poetic disposition although I’ve had a go at a few ‘humourous ‘ doggerels -so I can’t discuss Poe in any detail but the Raven symbol is one which finds favour in this neck of the woods not too far from my native ground.


    Louis MacNiece’s line’s from Bagpipe Music expresses I think the current fin de siecle in NI’s politics

    ‘The glass is falling hour by hour .
    ‘The glass will fall forever.
    ‘But if you break the bloody glass.
    ‘You won’t hold up the weather ‘

    Enough glass has been broken I’d say -so it’s past time to adapt to the ‘new weather ‘ for it won’t be held up – as Mac Niece says .

    Mac Niece was the antithesis of the anti cultural ‘unionist ‘stereotype although he himself came from a unionist background albeit a pro Home Rule one .

    Keep raging against the ‘darkness ‘ and eventually the light will shine again – But where and by whom and how will the switch be turned on ?

    The old USSR was eventually switched off not by Mr Reagan or the ‘triumph of capitalism ‘ but by Hungarian border guards who just refused to obey orders and could’nt /would’nt stop East German tourists from entering Austria via Hungary .That was the tipping point .

    TG for me means -Thank Gorbachev. We should also be thankful to Bush Sr, Thatcher , and Kohl . Another cast of leaders back then might have seen an alternative ‘ending ‘ which might have reassured your friend of his wisdom in deciding to spend his last days on a vaporised planet in ‘luxurious ‘comfort ?

  • latcheeco

    “Thanks, Greenflag, but you should know that contacts were established a long time ago. Poe’s raven is believed to have come from the dark Plutonian shore.” and
    ‘‘Someone will have to lead unionism away from what Poe calls ‘the grim phantasm, FEAR.’ Otherwise the Fall of the House of Unionism will soon be complete.’’

    Thanks for those Poe gems 🙂 Perhaps Paisley outiside the city hall in ’85 should have realised that it was not “Never” but “Nevermore”

  • Mike the First


    “Devils advocate: 46% described themseleves as either Irish or northern Irish. Only 40% described themselves as British.”

    You’re misreading the census figures.

    40% described themselves as British only; 25% as Irish only; 21% as Northern Irish only.

    But 6.2% called themselves British and Northern Irish only; 1.1% called themselves Irish and Northern Irish only; 1% called themselves British, Irish and Northern Irish; and 0.7% called themselves British and Irish only.

  • David Crookes

    Bless you, Latcheeco, the rioters of the last two weeks have brought another three words of Poe into my head.

    ‘They are ghouls.’

    Edgar Allan Poe’s great-great-grandfather was an Ulster Protestant! (And I mean Ulster — Co. Cavan.)

    Thanks, Greenflag. Educated people from a unionist background like C S Lewis and Louis MacNeice never lost their Irishness.

    A’ve tould a wheen o yiz thass afore tha noo, but here goes anyway. Ian Paisley was in cahoots with a Major Ronald Bunting around 1969 or 1979, as venerable Sluggerites will recall. I was in Michael Longley’s ‘A’ level English class one sunny Friday afternoon. In the spirit of the hour, ML played us a record of the bould Louis reading his own verse. When he came to the line

    ‘Ulster will not be saved by bunting’…..

    we all erupted in laughter.

    If tt was true then, it is certainly true now. Unionists need to grow up and sing ‘Bye, Baby Bunting’.

    I’m hopeful that many Ulster loyalists will undergo a spiritual and intellectual revival in years to come.

    Not long ago there were Irish classes going on in the Spectrum Centre on the Shankill Road.

    Quare goins-on A tell ye.