The political parties should not deceive themselves that the lessons from demographic change are simple and obvious

“ The morning after the Brexit vote, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party said that “the constitutional question has been reopened, and we now have people who were content in Northern Ireland thinking again about a united Ireland

Has  this development become  the new driver of politics or is it  still in the background? At this moment the answer cannot be known. Yet it has set the climate for the interparty talks which resume on Monday. The words come from the distinguished researcher Paul Nolan at the end of his commentary   in the Irish Times on a data mapping exercise of Northern Ireland by The Detail. This lays out the demographic and spatial shifts which have only strengthened communal separation nearly twenty years after the GFA.

But wasn’t formal power sharing designed to chart the way through these changes by a process of continuous negotiation and compromise? Nolan comes near to arguing that the  form of power sharing makes  failure inevitable.

There has been a lack of governmental commitment to either integrated schools or integrated housing. For the two main political blocs, there is an obvious benefit in having their respective electorates corralled in manageable geographical areas where their voting choices are securely anchored. The peace agreement negotiated in 1998 took the two communal identities as fixed and immutable entities and built the political architecture on these two pillars..

Significantly, the 2011 census also showed that, for the first time, Protestants no longer made up the majority of the population, the new total having fallen to 48 per cent.

An equal balance of populations on the demographic seesaw requires a power-sharing government, but that on its own is not sufficient to guarantee stability. For that, there must also be stability in the surrounding arrangements.

While officially only   internal arrangements are the subject of Monday’s resumption of the interparty talks, the “surrounding arrangements “like the future of the border will crucially affect  the outcome.  Even more so will be assumptions about the demographic changes described in the Detail’s report. And here speculation is helium-filled, taking it into the stratosphere.

The two main parties are like boxers at the weigh-in playing mind games.  For Sinn Fein the southpaw, another election would be a fair punt on winning the small margin needed to claim the First Minister position and create the impression of unstoppable momentum. The DUP are shuffling backwards and forwards with fists up, nervously shouting “bring it on”.

None of the posturing has anything to do with stability. But politics is first about competition and negotiations involve secrecy.  We onlookers have no choice but to put up with it.

Meanwhile, Monday looms.  The secretary of state has rejected an outside mediator.,   He seems to accept Sinn Fein’s veto on  an active chairing role for himself, making the doubtful assumption that yesterday’s failure must mean tomorrow’s success. Unless we hear of a new format, the absence of an active chair remains a basic problem, so the talks may fall at the next hurdle.

By their nature , negotiations are different from the noises off which naturally dominate comment in  the absence of progress. They should properly start with agendas and relate them to the formal state of the government before the breakdown. A good chair would prevent recriminations and look for limited points of agreement to build on and reserve the most difficult to later .

Sinn Fein’s agenda is well known. It may stretch its content to the limit but there are real points that should be taken seriously and put to the test. They know that the demographics will not produce the overall nationalist majority in the Assembly that would compel a fundamental rethink. To quote an already  well-worn phrase: “ this is not the time” and any rethink would  involve much more than Sinn Fein. But for now they are having a high old time filling the vacuum.

The DUP’s position seems mainly reactive to Sinn Fein’s confident militancy which makes  any concessions seem like weakness. This would be mitigated if the governments took an active role in presenting principles for progress and active propositions. The British government in particular cannot pretend they are mere  moderators after 36 years of direct rule followed by  elusive stability which has required frequent  interventions of  the last 20.

Dublin has so far resisted Gerry Adams’ repeated calls to play a more active role. If they did, it might not be in Sinn Fein’s favour. Chairmanship, Brokenshire has reminded Dublin in little asides, is the British prerogative anyway for talks that are supposed to be about internal governance whatever the state of the storm outside.

Despite all the noises off we know little of substance about the talks, mainly because there has been none.  They will have to move up a gear if they’re to achieve  progress or any clarity about the way ahead without an early restoration of the Assembly.  The lessons of the demographics are neither simple nor entirely obvious.  However analysed, they are massive. It will require integrity and courage to meet them. At least the challenges are well known and  Brexit has raised the stakes. The priority for today and tomorrow is to prevent years of political uncertainty from degenerating into chaos.

 

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  • AntrimGael

    Talks chaired by Brokenshire are going nowhere. He’s merely May’s errand boy and in the pockets of the DUP. Sinn Fein have total contempt for him and the SDLP and Alliance have no confidence in him. They may as well have Willie Wonka chairing the talks as Brokenshire.

  • ted hagan

    Excellent piece. The plain fact is that we are not yet mature enough to sort these things out ourselves. The marching season and the summer are looking ever more threatening.

  • eamoncorbett

    Brokenshire could go to Dublin , put his hands up and admit Nationalists have no faith in him , we need your help , the internal strand of the GFA isn’t working , can you get involved, or push the problem down the road , hope for a miracle and threaten all kinds of doom if talks are not successful .
    If indeed there is a return to Stormont, it can only last until Brexit kicks in , if things go against SF expect more suspension.

  • JohnTheOptimist

    Now that the two communities are almost equal in size, there is no longer any need for nationalists to insist on the complicated power-sharing arrangements incorporated in the GFA. They are a recipe for paralysis. They are stifling progress. They are enabling the pro-Brexit minority in N. Ireland to prevent the anti-Brexit majority forming an administration. The Executive should be formed simply on the basis of which coalition can command a majority of Assembly members. That is, exactly the same as at Westminster, the Dail, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh assembly. Obviously, such an arrangement would be suicidal for nationalists if the unionists still had a majority. But, that majority is gone. Times and demographics have changed. There will probably be a nationalist majority within a decade. The current arrangement is simply putting a lock on that imminent nationalist majority carrying out a program of economic integration with the rest of the island.

    Which coalition formed the Executive would vary depending on which issues were paramount at the time (i.e. like any normal democracy). Its quite conceivable that at times a DUP/SF coalition would be best. That would have been the case for most of the years since 1998. But, Brexit has changed everything. We urgently need an anti-Brexit administration in Belfast. With Brexit looming, an SF/SDLP/Alliance coalition could be formed (and, if the UUP want to be part of it, so much the better). Currently, SF/SDLP/Alliance combined have 47 out of 90 seats in the Assembly (and the anti-Brexit Greens have 2 more). An anti-Brexit coalition administration formed from these parties could ally with the Irish Government and Scottish Government in a vigorous campaign against Brexit (or at least Brexit being applied to their territories).

    I agree that there is a slight risk with ditching the D’Hondt rules. It would be bad if the coalition formed came exclusively from either community on a permanent basis (i.e. Stormont 1921-1972). But, I don’t think an exclusively unionist coalition or an exclusively nationalist coalition would have the votes any longer. The D’Hondt rules served a purpose, but their time is up.

  • Df M

    Some good points there. Nesbitt showed leadership in his anti-Brexit stance and unlike the DUP was aware of the dangers for unionism in the event of a yes vote. It was a pity the UUP meekly changed their position on Brexit in the wake of the UK-wide vote. There is an argument that the governance model produced under the GFA is not fit-for-purpose and Brexit, as a new intervening act, has changed everything. People are tired of the dysfunctional politics in Stormont. With Brexit, demographic trends, some kind of All-Ireland settlement looks increasingly likely and sensible for both parts of Ireland.

  • Roger

    Two communities? The Northern Irish now make up a quarter of the population.

  • andrewjohn

    Actually that’s one fifth. 20%
    Irish/Northern Irish combine to form a majority suggesting thsoe people prefer to identify with Ireland as opposed to Britain.

  • Katyusha

    Meanwhile, Monday looms. The secretary of state has rejected an outside mediator,

    I found the BBC’s phrasing of their headline quite interesting. Brokenshire does not see role for independent mediator

    So it seems to be taken as read that Brokenshire is not independent, nor does he see any reason why he, as the chair of the talks, should be. Wonderful.

  • Df M

    One thing that strikes me is the lack of any meaningful debate within unionism about the trends you correctly identify. Mike Nesbitt offered occasionally glimpses of new thinking but did not anchor his views within the UUP party. Perhaps his appointment as editor of the Newsletter will be positive. The editorial line of the Newsletter in recent years has been very disappointing, with lots of Dublin-bashing.

  • johnny lately

    How do you know that Roger, where are you getting your figures from ?

  • johnny lately

    He is following the line set down by Threasa May that the present British government are not impartial observers in regards to Northern Ireland but promoters of keeping the Union as it is.

  • Fear Éireannach

    One wonders about the “news” about Nesbitt on the day that is in it. The bit about Sam McBride taking over the gardening page was informative.

  • Fear Éireannach

    And of course the British government line is not based on any real interest in NI, but rather on Scotland and just making life convenient for the Tory government,

  • mac tire

    From The Detail link:

    “The 2011 census found 21% of people selected a new national identity option of ‘Northern Irish’, which was subsequently characterised in the media as a new centre ground.

    However, analysis shows the ‘Northern Irish’ include many who see the label as a variation of traditional Irish or British nationalities and who vote predominantly for unionist or nationalist parties, rather than centrist parties.”

  • Roger

    Yip, that all sounds about right…they are a variation that didn’t exist in 1921…They define by themselves by reference to the 1921 jurisdiction…Seems like they’re pretty comfy.

  • Roger

    See Mac Tire’s post above re 2011 census.

  • Jollyraj

    Actually those identifying as Northern Irish should be characterised as pro status quo ie Northern Ireland remaining in the UK. Since Northern Ireland would cease to exist with immediate effect in a UI, there is no way you can credibly pretend that those people in that ‘Northern Irish’ box (whatever blend of Catholic, Protestant, other they may be) are pro uniting Ireland. One suspects most of the more recent immigrants are also pro-UK incidentally. If they had wanted to live in Ireland, presumably they would have immigrated there instead. Those people should also be entitled to their say.

  • andrewjohn

    Censorship on here is something shocking.

  • andrewjohn

    Not at all. Those who identify as Northern Irish do not give any indication if their identity is linked in any way to a broader Irish or British identity. They choose to reject ‘British’ and ‘Irish’ but they also choose to identify with the Island of Ireland and not the Island of Britain. Their legal status is formally British but refuse to accept that tag.

    Why do you think Northern Ireland cannot exist in a UI? Why can’t it be a constituent nation within a United Ireland context as it is within the UK?

    The immigrants you allude to are by and large European. Who prefer to stay in the EU and live in Ireland at the same time, which is exactly what they are doing. Yes indeed, they should have their say.

  • Fear Éireannach

    Northern Irish people are those who have an interest of the welfare of the northern part of Ireland, they will decide on what political arrangements benefit them. Most of these probably were in favour of the status quo at the time of the census, but Brexit has exposed the limitations of the UK, as discussion here has shown.

    I’m sure the recent immigrants from Eastern Europe will be really impressed by being characterised as a problem by pro-Brexit elements in the UK generally and the local unionists.
    You could just as easily say that if recent immigrants favoured things British then they would live in Britain. Oddly enough, many of these people may take out British citizenship, but vote for nationalist parties, when many unionists will be taking out Irish passports.

  • Jollyraj

    “Northern Irish people are those who have an interest of the welfare of the northern part of Ireland, they will decide on what political arrangements benefit them.”

    Yes, I’m one of them

    “Most of these probably were in favour of the status quo at the time of the census, but Brexit has exposed the limitations of the UK, as discussion here has shown.”

    Remains to be seen how Brexit plays out.

    “You could just as easily say that if recent immigrants favoured things British then they would live in Britain. ”

    Yes, that is what I said. They opted to live in the UK.

  • Jollyraj

    “Those who identify as Northern Irish do not give any indication if their identity is linked in any way to a broader Irish or British identity”

    I identify as Northern Irish. I wish to remain in the UK.

    “Why do you think Northern Ireland cannot exist in a UI? Why can’t it be a constituent nation within a United Ireland context as it is within the UK”

    Your UI vision includes an independent client state of NI?

  • Tarlas

    “The priority for today and tomorrow is to prevent years of political uncertainty from degenerating into chaos.”

    Only now; It’s a priority !

    I was beginning to think that we would need to topple Carson’s statue and beat it with our slippers, to get attention !

    Micheal Martin was accurate in stating that “Enough time has been wasted. Not days or weeks – but years have been wasted.”

    It is time for Unionism to decide; Do they want to continue divisionism to the end; or if that Trojan horse called Equality, could be the mare that pulls them and this society out of a hole to a better place.

  • Obelisk

    Yet if they vote Nationalist they will be open to convincing on Nationalism’s ultimate objective. Nationalism I believe can already make a good case in these troubled times and more are willing to listen to it than maybe you suspect.

  • the keep

    SF don’t want equality they want victory anything else is a lie.

  • Obelisk

    Nobody knows what these people want. They are a blank slate everyone is trying to project a monolithic opinion on. Maybe voting patterns need to be combined with census results to get a better idea of their intentions?

  • andrewjohn

    But you are not representative of the whole.

    Indeed, why cant you answer the question?

  • Paul Culloty

    Why was Andrewjohn’s first post deemed to require moderation – couldn’t see anything particularly controversial written there?

  • Jollyraj

    As I’ve said, I myself identified, and identify, as Northern Irish – so I am one of many people who make up that percentage. Personally I wish to remaim in the UK.

  • Jollyraj

    No, I represent myself. I’m part of that demographic and wish to remain in the UK.

    What question?

  • Roger

    Who knows. My points the same though. If we talk of demographic change but ignore the Northern Irish, we’re not being very honest. The third community.

  • andrewjohn

    Why do you think Northern Ireland cannot exist in a UI? Why can’t it be a constituent nation within a United Ireland context as it is within the UK?

  • Obelisk

    Because as Newton Emmerson pointed out last week, there is no point in preserving Northern Ireland once a vote for unity passed.

    For Unionists it would be pointless, they’d already be in a minority and they’d be out of the United Kingdom.

    For Nationalists it would be infuriating. A hundred years or so trying to erase the border only for it to be maintained and a pretend Northern Ireland perpetuated.

    The only reason for Northern Ireland to exist in a United Ireland context is for some southern politicians to preserve a barrier between them and us and all our problems. The border perpetuates our problems and removing the border is the first step to truly dealing with them, but they don’t want to deal with it if they don’t have to.

    Thankfully they won’t have a choice. Each time they talk about a UI too many of them talk about simply having Dublin replacing London in the GFA and using that as a basis. Under that system, all Sinn Fein and Nationalism has to do is boycott the completely irrelevant at that point Stormont and the entire edifice, along with any lingering remnant of the very idea of Northern Ireland, will tumble.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    “wasn’t formal power sharing designed to chart the way through these changes by a process of continuous negotiation and compromise?”

    Not according to the DUP.

  • Jimmyz

    Sinn Fein’s latest mantra about respect, equality and integrity are just hollow words that fall at a cursory examination.

    1) Respect – no sooner were the words out of Martina’s mouth, chastising Jeffery Donaldson and DEMANDING republicans be offered respect she was telling the UK prime minister to stick certain things in questionable areas, followed by Gerry with his TUBE comment. – Republicans still have not learned respect has to be earned.

    2) Equality – naming a Tax Payers Playpark which also sits beside Newry Leisure Centre and the Southern Regional College, which all should be neutral areas. To my knowledge this is still up in the air, despite having broken Equality guidelines. – Again one could be fooled into thinking a Republican distorted Equality agenda was a weapon to break children whose parents were not married.

    3) Integrity – Northern Bank and Stormontgate spring to mind.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    It will end up that they will have no choice at all. Theresa has already shown them how much she cares about NI – slightly more than Gibraltar, but only because of the existence of Ireland, and not enough to actually visit.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Don’t worry, I’m sure you can depend on Theresa to fend off SF.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Hey Jolly – you might (May) not have noticed, but, the UK is very soon to be a dead letter, a defunct parrot, an ended empire, six feet under, gone for a Burton, pushing up the daisies, away for rolls, gone to meet it’s maker, pining for the fiords, etc.

    Time for you to find a new hobby-horse. But before that, can you explain, in logical terms, why you are so attached to the UK. What has it ever done for you? (As opposed to what it is not going to do for you in the near future).

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Well, one of the pertinent questions is: what do you do when there is no “UK” to remain in?

    Maybe you should consider emigration?

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Tories don’t do ‘admitting mistakes’.

  • grumpy oul man

    I used to describe myself as nortern irish then i discovered that you thought it meant that I’m not a irish nationlist so im back to being Irish.
    I know a lot of nationlists who use northern irish to define themselves who would be very amused at ypur attempts to claim them as somehow nuetral or even pro union.

  • grumpy oul man

    Actally no they shouldnt. See my reply to rogers post.
    But feel free to clutch at whatever straw floats past.

  • Tarlas

    Not all shinners or duper’s share this piece of land. It is
    so easy to climb onto a whataboutery roundabout. I could cite a comment like;

    DUP don’t want equality they want victory anything else is a lie.

    JimmyZ’s post below, about tax payer money on naming play parks ; curried yogurt etc etc etc.

    We can go around and around, citing almost infinite examples of blame and counter comments on each other; wasting more time and years. Or we can face reality. Do you want a shared space with respect for each tradition? Or is it the case that what you really want; is a winner takes all red white and blue society.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Why do you wish to cling to an almost defunct and rapidly declining empire? I mean, what’s the point? Are you just a nostalgist?

  • Jimmyz

    “Do you want a shared space with respect for each tradition?”

    If we are judging by actions then it is clear Sinn Fein Don’t

    “JimmyZ’s rants below, about tax payer money on naming play parks”

    I must commend you for addressing my point so eloquently.

  • Jimmyz

    That is just your opinion, which thankfully counts for very little.

  • mac tire

    The Detail report states:

    “However, analysis shows the ‘Northern Irish’ include many who see the label as a variation of traditional Irish or British nationalities and who vote predominantly for unionist or nationalist parties, rather than centrist parties.”

    So, you are correct – they are all not neutral nor pro-Union.

  • Jollyraj

    So Irish Republicans would disenfranchise immigrants hmm?

    What happened to one man, one vote?

  • grumpy oul man

    Good god do you ever understand anything! Show me were i mentioned anything about disenfranchising anyone.
    Really you have to try harder.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Yep. Just my opinion. But anyone who wants to look can see the writing on the wall.

  • Tarlas

    Now edited, not out to offend . With relation to DUP actions and words I could say SNAP; but that’s what crocodiles do !

  • mickfealty

    Yep. And they should not sell themselves cheaply…

  • Fear Éireannach

    The UK is not Britain, they opted for the Northern Ireland bit.

  • andrewjohn

    Lol. Sometimes you really do come across as completely nuts !! But its kinda cute in some ways 😉

  • Jollyraj

    Sure thing. I wrote:

    “One suspects most of the more recent immigrants are also pro-UK incidentally. If they had wanted to live in Ireland, presumably they would have immigrated there instead. Those people should also be entitled to their say.”

    And you wrote:

    “Actally no they shouldnt.”

    You’re welcome 🙂

  • Jollyraj

    I believe the Shinnerdrone approved term is “mentally ill”.

    Please see my response to Grammatically Challenged Old Man below.

  • Mark Petticrew

    I think the Northern Irish identity is better understood as one that overlaps with the two tribes as opposed to it representing a distinct community of northerners in its own right.

    To think of them as a “third community” presents an image of the Northern Irish as a uniform bloc, but as was stated in a 2015 QUB study entitled Understanding the Northern Irish identity:

    .. there does appear to be a difference in the perception of what Northern Irishness means to Catholics and Protestants.

    Indeed, whilst the Northern Irish identity ultimately references a jurisdiction borne out of partition, that doesn’t necessarily mean that those who identify as Northern Irish want to maintain partition. For example, 66% of NI-identifying Catholics and 28% of NI-identifying Protestants in a 2015 B&A poll wanted to see a united Ireland within their lifetime.

  • grumpy oul man

    Oh dear , it difycult to decide if your deliberately misunderstanding these thing or just havnt got the wit to understand them.
    Now go back and read my reply to your post.
    You wildly claimed that we should regard all immigrants as pro status quo and i pointed out that was nonsense. Nobody anywhere suggested disenfranchising anybody. Although i am starting to wonder if your old enough to vote.
    NOW READ THINGS PROPERLY BEFORE YOU REPLY TO THEM.

  • grumpy oul man

    This is indeed progress, and i take a little pride in that i may have changed your mind a bit.
    Only a few days ago we had a exchange in which you would not use the word Irish in any way to indentify yourself (it on both your Disqus profile and my own) claiming you were British only and now your Irish.
    Good job there is maybe hope for you yet.

  • Reader

    Katyusha: …nor does he see any reason why he, as the chair of the talks, should be [independent].
    If that’s what he is implying, then I agree with him. These are talks between DUP and SF. They can either succeed or fail to make a deal with each other. The chair is not a referee, and won’t decide the outcome.

  • grumpy oul man

    Cpuld you show us this shinnerdrone responce please. I think you made it up .And my dyslexia should not effect my argument but even mild dyslexia does not explain your abilty to see what isnt there.
    Incidentally are there any other disabilities you show comtempt for!

  • Reader

    ted hagan: The marching season and the summer are looking ever more threatening.
    Every spring, on Slugger, nationalist posters predict that the marching season will be worse than before.
    Every summer, in the real world, the marching season is less contentious and disruptive than ever before. So I see why you are reduced to getting your complaints in early.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Surely there’s a Lib Dem they could send into the void … Paddy Ashdown would be fine.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Never really liked the designations in the system anyway, but if they’re only a requirement for power-sharing that may be necessary for a while to ensure unionists continue to trust in Stormont now.

  • andrewjohn

    There is an element within Unionism that is impatient of those who do not fulfill their narrow ‘ability’ requirements so do not be surprised by his response.

  • grumpy oul man

    Unfortunately, jolly rarely surprises.

  • Skibo

    Jolly, we from the Nationalist community have just as much right as you to look at the figures and declare that the majority of the population declare themselves as Irish of some sort.
    The only fact that you can state as a fact is those who declare themselves as of some sort of British. That would be 48%. Everyone else did not have a belief that they were British.

  • Skibo

    I suppose you ticked the box notifying you as N/Irish and British then?

  • Skibo

    Tell me in a community where equality would be at the top, where would you place the Republican story?

  • Ray Lawlor

    I would agree with this… I would always identify as Irish… although my wife, who grew up on the same street as me and has a much more republican family than I do, calls herself Northern Irish… mostly because she insists we’re different from those “southerners”…

    Some years ago, I attended a (quite well known) Christian Brothers grammar school in West Belfast… I have recently reconnected with a few classmates on Facebook.

    A lot of them are quite mouthy politically (on Facebook at least) and are quite Republican/Nationalist… yet happily sport their Northern Ireland football tops during the Euros.

    These are guys who grew up in Ballymurphy etc.

    No-one should be under any illusions about their votes in a Border Poll.

  • Reader

    Once you nationalists have finally decided amongst yourselves whether the Brits actually want to keep the union you will be sure to let the rest of us know, won’t you?