Is polarisation over national identity just levelling out after Troubles?

Okay so as Aaron has pointed out, one of the most talked about findings in the census was the nation identity question. This is question has a rather volatile history in past surveys (though I think this is the first time it was included as a census question)…

Edward Moxon-Browne had this chart in ‘National Identity in Northern Ireland’ as part of the first report of the Social Attitudes in Northern Ireland survey:

It was for this reason I did not include this aspect in my initial analysis of the Census figures. But I would be interested in your thoughts?

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  • Not a levelling out but rather an ebb and flow………although quite a lot of good stuff has been “banked” in the Troubles Years.
    Before the Troubles, unionists held a good hand, NHS, Education and Welfare but undermined their own case by Jobs, Housing (now “banked”) and petty identity issues (Flags for example) and the bigger issue of downright Hatred which have not been dealt with.
    But I fear any respite is just that………a respite. With luck we will have a generation living in relative peace but the Troubles are not simply 1969-1998 but a series of events which manifest itself every so often.
    The Troubles are not over. And possibly never will be.

  • Scáth Shéamais

    Were there other options for this report because 1968 Catholics are the only group on the table who seem to add up to 100% (101 actually, but I presume that’s due to rounding up).

  • David Crookes

    Some people who call themselves Northern Irish may be acknowledging a present reality without feeling any affection for it.

    A referendum will confront everyone with a black-or-white choice. In the meantime people will describe themselves variously, using forty shades of green, orange, and Prussian blue. (The weemen tend to be more subtle in these matters. Men are content to say red, green, blue, and yellow, but weemen talk about champagne, taupe, petrol, and burgundy.)

    By the way, I hear that one Monday night meeting on the University Road in Belfast has been cancelled, and the traffic on the Malone Road has been wild for the last while.

  • ayeYerMa

    Yes indeed, FJH, Unionists certainly undermined themselves when it came to housing, for decades allowing a greater % of houses to go allocated to Catholics than their relative share of households. A trend which continues to today, tut tut.

  • ThomasMourne

    Those keen to display their Britishness might want to ponder the fact that, in Britain, anyone from this part of the world is usually regarded as Irish.

    And the same applies worldwide – assuming that those foreigners are even aware that Northern Ireland exists.

  • simtrib

    I would question whether the proportion of Catholics identifying as Northern Irish or for that matter as British has changed very much. From the last NILT in 2010 the Catholic population described themselves as,

    Northern Irish—-25%

    These are comparable to Edward Moxon-Browne’s figures. I presume that the high numbers of Catholics describing themselves as British in 1968 and 1978 was due to the Northern Irish option not being available.

    I do however think that the census indicates an important real change however. The real change is more hidden. For decades, indeed probably since 1921, we have lived in a Northern Ireland where the Catholic proportion of the population has always increased. I believe that in any important sense that has now come to an end. Accession injected into Northern Ireland 1.97% of it’s present census filling population from 8 new EU countries, the majority of whom are Polish, and the vast majority of whom are either Catholic or brought up as Catholic. Yet more Catholic immigrants from outside these islands came in since 2001, such as from Portugal. All of this will be visible when more details are released. Yet the Catholic or brought up Catholic proportion of the population increased by 1.4% between the 2001 and 2011 censuses. When we look into the details in the coming months I’ll make this prediction:

    The proportion of Northern Ireland’s population who were Catholic or brought up Catholic and are indigenous to these islands was less in 2011 than it was in 2001.

    Well that is interesting, but the counter would be that as the Protestant population has secularised leaving lots of people saying they have no religion but still voting for unionist parties so it will be for the secularisation of Catholics and so nothing much has changed. The Catholic or brought up Catholic proportion may start to shrink, but the nationalist vote will rise.


    1997 Westminster election – Republican/Nationalists 40.2%
    1998 Assembly election – Republicans/Nationalists 39.7%
    1999 European election – Republicans/Nationalists 45.4%
    2001 Westminster election – Republican/Nationalists 42.7%
    2003 Assembly election – Republicans/Nationalists 40.5%
    2004 European election – Republicans/Nationalists 42.2%
    2005 Westminster election – Republican/Nationalists 41.8%
    2007 Assembly election – Republicans/Nationalists 42.0%
    2009 European Election – Republicans/Nationalists 42.2%
    2010 Westminster election – Republicans/Nationalists 42.0%
    2011 Assembly election – Republicans/Nationalists 41.5%

    I find it more plausible to say that when the Protestant proportion of the population falls the unionist proportion of the vote also falls and that when the Catholic proportion of the population falls the nationalist proportion of the vote will also fall.

    Unless something changes for nationalists to attract the centre, the nationalist proportion of the vote will fall from here on in. The slow greening of Northern Ireland, starting in 1921, has now ended and a slow yellowing of Northern Ireland has begun. This is something that reverses the trend of decades. This will be a bombshell to many nationalists and I think that even some unionists will have serious trouble digesting it, but where is the hole in my logic?

    When this sinks in will it lead to a rise in support for dissidents?

  • simtrib

    Another way to look at it is that in the census of 2001 40.3% of the population said they were Catholic. In the census of 2011 40.7% said they were Catholic, an increase of 0.4%. Who in their right mind would say that that increase cannot be accounted for by the 1.97% of the population who filled in the census and were born in an A8 accession country?

    Native self described Catholics are most definitely now shrinking as a proportion of the total population. Given that, one would naturally expect that native self described Catholic or brought up Catholics, if they are not shrinking already, which they most probably are, are certainly going to trend downwards going forward. There is no evidence that the nationalist vote percentage can rise when the native self declared Catholic population does not rise, when one was static so was the other, during 2001-2011, as the historical evidence shows. Therefore the nationalist percentage of the vote is going to fall, and is roughly at it’s peak right now.

    In my opinion it’s not Catholic unicorns who are going to be important so much as the mush of people in the middle, probably a fair proportion of whom by now have both recent Protestant and recent Catholic ancestry, and are therefore more likely to be recruitable by either side in the constitutional debate, as well of course as being recruitable to support Alliance. Just as Protestants have been on a slow process of disappearing so now Catholics are on a long journey to go the way of the dodo as well, whether they be unicorns or not. The former shrinking as they do in Great Britain. The latter shrinking as they do in the Republic of Ireland.

    It certainly seems that the nationalist vote is never going to exceed 50%, and if that is the case a united Ireland is certainly not going to pass, even without any unicorn cavalry having to enter the fray.

    If the nationalist vote ever exceeds the unionist vote it will be because it will have shrunk at a lower rate than the unionist vote, not caught it, but if it does, but it is 42% or less, then what importance would such an occurrence have? How likely is it now anyway?