After Haass, the numbers game threatens. How can we avoid it?

 Ed Curran was right to tweak his old bête noire  BBC N Ireland for allowing Nolan the day off on Boxing Day instead of going live on Haass. Or was he?  Were you all better off without Nolan’s bear baiting over the cold turkey even if you were home alone on the day?  Even though desperate for content over the silly holiday season, the national UK media virtually ignored the Haass talks breakdown. What coverage there was – and still is – perfunctory. Do they know something that we don’t who are buried in this stuff? That it’s all political shadow boxing? On balance I think not. Beneath all the comforting cynicism, the Hass agenda matters, not so much because of the old bonds of myth and memory but because of the hidden agenda of the future. Steven McCaffrey in the Detail put his finger on an even better example of a neglected story.

But arguably the more far-reaching story was the Northern Ireland census results released in December 2012, the same month that the row erupted over restricting the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall.

The census marked an historic shift, unprecedented in Northern Ireland’s history – but it has barely registered in the public mind. It revealed that the Protestant population, which once held a comfortable majority over Catholics, has fallen below 50% for the first time.Protestant numbers in Northern Ireland have dropped to 48% and Catholic numbers have risen to 45%. The gap is predicted to narrow. Anyone who winces at such sectarian headcounts might take comfort in the fact that the political message contained in the figures is that the future will inevitably be a shared one.The census figures contain hard numbers that weigh down on the ambitions of both unionists and republicans. As the Protestant and Catholic populations even-out in the years ahead, and particularly if the prospect of a Catholic majority emerges, new constitutional questions will come to the fore.

The politicians know this.

Spot on Steven. But in public, not a word to Betsy. It’s still to hell with the future and long live the past. A new numbers game is almost  upon us. How will it play out will become  an increasingly bigger part of our obsessive wee agenda

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London