Ben Lowry had an article in yesterday’s Guardian, titled ‘The politics of neither’, in which he explains to British readers how people in the north of Ireland are polarized but at the same time turning away from ‘tribal’ loyalties. He also draws attention to the number of people who now consider themselves ‘Northern Irish’ – “people such as golfer Rory McIlroy (born in 1989) , whose background is Catholic but who attended a non-Catholic school and said he felt more of a connection to the UK than Ireland”. Ben concludes that one-third of the population here are strongly unionist, one third strongly nationalist, and one-third with no strong feelings either way.
And the demographic shift that the 2021 census will confirm? Pshaw. .
“The old assumption that demographic change (a long-term rise in the Catholic population) would lead to Irish unity is not borne out by the trends in voting and identity. The future could be neither.”
At the end of this hope for an end to them and us, the game is somewhat given away by the Guardian’s statement at the foot of the article: “Ben Lowry is deputy editor of the News Letter”.
I find myself commending Ben’s honesty in acknowledging that there are deep divisions between unionists and nationalists. I’m less impressed with his embrace of the dreary piece of mental gymnastics that concludes describing yourself as “Northern Irish” must mean you’re content with the status quo.
Ben’s right, however, about the present rise in the Alliance vote, which if you take that party at its word, means there is a distinct majority of people here who are non-unionist. But Ben fails to mention the rise in nationalist sentiment as seen in the 2,000 people who attended the Waterfront meeting of civic nationalism. As for citing Rory McIlroy as the model for how Catholics can become unionist, I would urge readers to stop shouting and throwing things from the back.
The fact is, unionism is rattled as unionism has never been rattled before, and men like Ben have been sent out to plug the increasing number of holes in the dam. Alas, the demographic shift is upon us, and no amount of ‘Northern Irish’ talk will change the fact that a majority of nationalists, except all previous indicators suddenly become invalid, will very soon exist. Add to that the joint open letters to the Taoiseach by well-known names in nationalism and the unconvincing objections to a border poll on the grounds that it might “deepen divisions” here, and only the very dim would miss which way the wind is blowing.
Ben is not dim. But as he fumbles wildly for something, anything to stave off the appalling vista, he is desperate.