Are you Northern Irish?

Are you Northern Irish? Well if you come from the north of Ireland, it seems a reasonable claim to make. But the way the demographists have been going on since the latest release of census figures, you’d be pardoned for assuming it meant someone who votes unionist. 
Why all the excitement over what people call themselves? Because it might be the log onto which unionism can attach itself, as the waters whirl and tumble around it, threatening drowning. 
The demographic trend is unmistakeable: the gap between Protestant and Catholic numbers in our little statelet is shrinking at pace. If what happened over the past ten years were to happen again in the next ten years, Catholics here would constitute 46% of the population, Protestants 43%. And were a border poll then called, as it almost certainly would be, the state of Northern Ireland would cease to exist – assuming Catholics voted for a re-united Ireland. Yes, Virginia, I said “assuming”.
The argument that says they would is that they consistently vote for the SDLP and Sinn Féin – both united-Ireland parties. And that’s where the Northern Irish thing comes in. Demographists, Peter Robinson and others claim that Catholics in the north no longer want a united Ireland – that with their fellow-countrymen in the north, they’re forging a new identity which is neither British nor Irish. So growth in Catholic numbers represents no threat.
On the other hand, why call yourself ‘Northern Irish’  if you don’t think you’re Irish as well? Search me. People say funny things when they’re questioned on nationality. I remember in my former life scrutinising applications for a diploma course at the University of Ulster and being struck by the consistency with which some applicants from Catholic schools described themselves as ‘British’. At first I was quite excited, assuming this would mark a surge in the number of Catholics voting unionist. But the years past and the opposite happened – the number of Catholics voting republican increased. I would guess that the applicants assumed the person scrutinising their application would be unionist-inclined, and by declaring yourself British you gave yourself a slight edge, or at least no handicap. In short, they used a British label because in these circumstances they thought it might be to their advantage. In the privacy and anonymity of the polling booth, things were different. 
There’s also the fact that people often define themselves in terms of what they’re not as much as what they are. It may be that the Northern Irish in the census returns were declaring their difference from the brown-envelope culture of the south of Ireland. Which again would be different from voting pro-union, either in elections or in referendums. 
The truth is, we’ll never know – except, that is, a border poll is called. Then we could all give our views and get on with things, the constitutional question either answered or set aside for another seven years. Odd that there isn’t more clamour for that. But that’s Northern Irish/Irish from the north for you. 

10 Responses to Are you Northern Irish?

  1. Otto December 13, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    Agree with almost every word Jude.

    And I take the point I think you're making that some of us may choose “Northern Irish” as bit of a concession to our neighbours and in the hope of a more settled region – especially now that it's less of a “unionist” label.

    I'm for a poll for exactly the reasons you state. It may inform a more constructive conversation about a united Ireland and it really can't hurt even if it just helps us have a sensible conversation about effective interim/alternative arrangements.

    Not sure of your choice of flag though! Looks a bit busy. If we need one for NI (in the interim if you like) why not just mix the St Patrick's cross and the proper Ulster flag like this:

    That way when you win a united Ireland and we move to just using the Ulster flag up here we'll not miss our old NI colour scheme.

  2. Harry_Heinz December 13, 2012 at 6:46 pm #

    Interesting post Jude, this is a topic (northern irish) that has got a bit more interesting, and in a way, a bit more complicated.

    You do have a point when it comes to application forms, as when i was filling my form out to apply for college a few years ago, i got it vetted by a teacher, who was catholic, and by no means republican/nationalist, if anything, and he told me to put down “british” as my nationality, in case, as he said, someone put it in the bin.

    That is one reason to not take all these figures from the census as fact, as there are some people, maybe of the older generation, who are a bit more fearful, who can remember back to the days when you DID'NT state your nationality or religion, in case something happened to them.

    However, I think what you have seen is a sizeable proportion of catholics who arent going to be swayed into a united ireland, just because “its right”, they want social and economic reeasons for unification. SDLP/Sinn Fein have to go back to the drawing board, and come up with valid reasons and points for doing it.

    From a personal point of view, i know people my age (late 20's/early 30's) who would view themselves as northern irish wholly, not irish, they have to be convinced, one person loves his irish things (music/gaa) and i know of another who doesnt want anything to do with the south, as they haven't been through the troubles, and thinks thinks that if you dont have an irish passport and an irish national insurance number, then you have no right to call yourself irish, but those are just examples that i know of.

    There is also another problem; people here have differing views of what it is to be northern irish. Could your say that someone from andytown, someone from mount vernon and someone from, lets say stranmillis agree on what it is to be northern irish?

  3. Kilsally December 13, 2012 at 9:53 pm #

    Erm 46 and 43 leaves 11% unaccounted for, seems likely majority no religion come from unionist background

  4. footballcliches December 14, 2012 at 2:39 am #

    Interesting read Jude.

    Personally, I have a UK passport and fill in forms with the nationality of 'UK' abroad and here when using my passport as id; why? Well, I needed a passport when I worked in LDN and real quick, a UK passport was the quickest and easiest one to get. Now, I keep using it as I have it and having worked abroad so most work visas I am given are on this passport so I cannot really change midway through my living somewhere as it would mean facing a bureaucratic nightmare and trying to explain Irish history and politics to any number of disinterested foreign civil servants.

    I am Irish, maybe even Northern Irish, but still Irish. I was reminded of being very different when I worked in Dublin very recently and I like being different and am different to Southerners, too much has happened for us to be so very the same and to think otherwise is foolish.

    I do want the North reunited with the South, I always have, however, I do believe that Nat parties really need to sit down and start thinking this out rather than the usual platitudes, they need to start putting meat on bones, show they are thinking about it seriously rather than aspiring to it.

  5. boondock December 14, 2012 at 8:18 am #

    Not so sure Kilsally. If we look at the current census for a moment 48% protestant community background and 45% catholic community background that leaves 7% other. Now the whole point of the community background question is to mop up all those who claim to be agnostic or atheist but they still have a historical background from one of the 2 tribes. The remamining 7% will be made up of a mix of ethnic minorities ie chinese,Indian etc (about 2%) and then a large chunk will be in the younger age groups who are from mixed marriages and then the rest will be those remaining lapsed catholics and protestants who didnt even want to note themselves into the community designation.

  6. Anonymous December 14, 2012 at 11:55 pm #

    I agree with football… apart from the 1st part, but I get where you're coming from. I'm as staunch a Republican as you'll find (so I'd like to think anyway), and yet after working in Dublin off and on for a couple of years, I feels the same, I'm Irish !00%, and yet ulster people are different, and I'm glad we are, in many ways I have much more in common and feel much happier in the company of ulster unionists if that makes any sense – a shared communal experience, a shared dark humour, I don't know, but it is real.

  7. Anonymous December 16, 2012 at 7:12 pm #

    North Down is a strange place 75% Protestant 13% Catholic 12% No Religion/ Never Had a Religion.

  8. footballcliches December 18, 2012 at 2:25 am #

    Thanks anonymous. TBF, I want to get my Irish passport sorted however I am in Australia on the UK one at the moment out of sheer convenience. That and when I studied law, specifically Administrative Law, it was noted that a passport is no signifier of nationality, merely an administrative document or so I keep telling myself! 🙂

    We are different up North, and that's great, I love that. I celebrate our difference and yet it does not in anyway diminish who I am or that I am Irish. If people want to see what this shared dark humour is like they need only go to the Duke of York in Belfast during the day. Religion is never asked, people are all very different, yet there is this 'thread' that unites us all and it is the humour and shared experiences. We are all very different but the same as well

  9. Anonymous December 20, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    I think a lot of notherners find people in the 26 counties a bit annoying, feel betrayed by them and resent the presumption made that when they say “Irish” they actually only mean the 26 counties. and while they regard themselves as Irish in most circumstances, they also feel kinship with their unionist neighbours. In more normal circumstances this would just be the sort of regional feeling the way Cork people are Cork first and foremost. One things that needs to be clear in terms of reunification is that it won't be a take over by the 26 – the two jurisdictions will be reuniting and the free staters will have to learn to live with the reality of northern nationalists and a significant unionist/British minority.

  10. New NI Flag December 24, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    Only one design out of many, Otto! Plenty on our facebook page.