No-one likes to think about death. It is a sad, but inevitable, reality that will come to us all sooner or later. On a personal level it is a tragedy to the deceased and to his or her friends and family.
In Northern Ireland, of course, even death is political. Older people are far more likely to be Protestant than younger people: for example, the 2001 Census showed that while 67% of those aged over 90 are Protestant, only 39% of those aged between 10 and 20 are Protestant. And of course, most deaths occur amongst the old. The effect of this is that most deaths are of Protestants. By comparing the latest available age-specific figures for deaths (from the 2005 Annual Report of the Registrar-General) with table s306 'Age By Community Background (Religion Or Religion Brought Up In' from the 2001 Census, it can be easily shown that 66.7% of the 14,224 deaths in 2005 were Protestants, and less than half that figure (32.3%) were Catholics.
A disproportionate death rate would not matter, of course, if there was a matching disproportion at the younger ages. But there is not: Catholics outnumber Protestants in the younger age groups by around 5%. In crude terms, around the same number of Protestants are dying and being born, while the Catholic population is increasing by around 6,000 every year. The effect is simple: the Protestant-majority older age-groups are dying, and being replaced by new Catholic-majority age-groups. The see-saw is tilting.
For unionism, each Protestant funeral is doubly poignant, because it signifies not only the death of a loved one, but also the slow and inevitable death of their whole Project Ulster.