There’s more to life than the Census returns on nationality

Photo Liz Truss UK Prime Minister. Gov.UK 


The one topic that will completely overshadow all others, like the latest on the Protocol and even the energy crisis, is of course the invitation to another bout of identity wrangling over the Census returns. You could write it in your sleep. The figures on religion are yesterday’s story and the day before that.  So I’ll deal with the Protocol first.

Good news from New York according to the FT after Liz Truss met Joe Biden  The  political climate over the Protocol has changed!   The Special Relationship lives, dominated of course by America..Why do the Yanks care so much about what is for them a comparatively trivial issue? But they do, they do.  it’s a spiritual thing, Irish Anerica, no longer the force it once was, but deep in the Democratic party’s soul ; and something to protect too, a rare enough American diplomatic achievement in recent decades. Tory super Patriots who have their own household gods,  have to bite their tongue and take it.

British diplomats hope that if the dispute with the EU over the protocol is settled amicably and the NI executive is restored before next Easter, it could pave the way for a state visit by Biden to London in 2023

And he might even come to Belfast!

. Truss, who met Biden on the fringes of the UN General Assembly in New York, insisted this week that time was of the essence. “I will not let this drift,” she told reporters. British officials said that both sides saw the 25th anniversary of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended years of conflict, as a pivotal moment.

A joint statement saying precisely nothing other than the fact it occurred was issued after Truss had a smiley meeting with Ursula van de Leyen the Commission president

So the optics is great. But where’s the beef? Newton Emerson thinks Truss’s   swift abandonment of hopes for a UK/ US trade deal clears the decks for hardball with the EU on the Protocol. But the Biden meeting would appear to   contradict that. Truss cannot now draw back from a meaningful negotiation which for the EU will not be a re-negotiation. Whatever. If two sides cannot reach agreement, widen the tent. Dublin and NI parties may come  together in structured talks over the next few months.   Failure in these terms would mean the Commission looking unreasonable which would take some doing compared with the Protocol Bill.

Back in real life, anger has surfaced at the prospect of the 62% in NI who rely on oil for home heating receiving only the paltry one-off sum of £100.

This will be delivered as a top-up to the £400 Energy Bills Support payment which is going to all UK households./ Some politicians have criticised the £100 heating oil payment, with SDLP leader Colum Eastwood describing it as an “insult”.

The DUPs Sammy Wilson got a mauling on Talkback yesterday for claiming the existence of a fully functioning Executive would make no difference. That splendid anorak Alliance MP Stephen Farry strongly disagrees. He reckons NI will receive only £54 million for oil users compared to £2.7 billion NI would receive in payments to a functioning Executive. This he believes is NI’s full share of the £100bn costs of the UK wide energy relief package over two years. I suspect there’s something wrong with his Barnett consequentials argument but the gist of it has legs.

On the Census returns I’m only surprised that support for Irish unity isn’t greater in the light of events since 2016.   The idea of Ireland as a buzzy place,  no longer priest  ridden and now quite prosperous disposes of the old unionist  objections. To the open mind if one can be found, the Republic is a far more appealing society than Unionists disappearing into their own black hole and the post Brexit politics of GB. Thank goodness that identity is about more  than politics with which is it so often confused. Much of real life in NI is  dynamic and optimistic, flourishing in spite of politics  or ignoring it altogether.

The figures on nationality are more important than the old chestnut of religion. Support for Irish unity continues to creep up. The British only majority is wafer thin, 32%, Irish only 29 % , NI 20%: But when another choice is added  (i.e. not ONLY) British, 43%, (down from 2011); Irish 33% (up); NI 31% (up).  A more complex picture is revealed in which a clear binary choice is still occluded. Nothing in the totality of results to compel triggering a border poll.

What cannot register in census returns is the degree of unease people may feel at the actual prospect of making constitutional change rather than living with it already accomplished. Far better to seems to me  to abandon or at least suspend making  the binary  choice .and go for “both and” rather than “either, or” and exploit the benefits of both identities and  the still attainable best of both worlds with a reformed Protocol.  Let Northern Ireland be different, but in a good way.  So much is up to unionists whose  leadership is letting them down so badly.  You all know all the arguments but that won’t stop you rehearsing them again and again.

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