Friday 22 June 2007

2005 Labour Force Survey Religion Report

The 2005 Labour Force Survey (LFS) Religion Report has just been published by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM). It can be downloaded from:

It is full of tables and graphs showing every permutation possible of age, gender, economic activity, and of course religion. As such it is a fascinating source of information on how many workers, unemployed people, and so on, are either Catholic, Protestant or 'other'.

The statistics revealing that Catholics are, for example, more likely to be unemployed than Protestants, or more likely to be students, are interesting, but for the purposes of this blog the key statistic is the breakdown of the overall working-age population by religion. The LFS doesn't cover school kids, so its figures for the Catholic proportion of the overall population 16+ are probably lower than the whole cradle-to-grave population. A further point to note is that the LFS is based on a sample, and so the figures vary quite a lot from one year to the next. Nonetheless, the overall trends revealed by the LFS are quite clear:
  • The Protestant proportion of the population aged 16+ is dropping, and the Catholic proportion is rising,
  • Between the ages of 16-24 there are more Catholics than Protestants (and this has probably been the case since around the year 2000),
  • The population aged 60+ is still around two-thirds Protestant,
  • The number of Catholics who are full-time students is considerably higher than the number of Protestants (providing fuel, of course, for the 'Protestant brain drain' worries of the unionists),
  • A considerably higher proportion of Catholic households have dependent children, than Protestant households, and they have more of them.

All of which adds up to the inescapable conclusion that there is already a Catholic majority under the age of 24, and it is going to continue (look at the dependent children). As these young Catholics grow up, they will increasingly replace the older Protestants who are dying at double the rate of Catholics. The Catholic students will, as has been shown in other blogs here, tend to stay in Northern Ireland, thereby ensuring that the professions and the top echelons of business and administration will become majority Catholic.

The geographic split (also shown in the LFS) shows clearly that the areas of Protestant majority are shrinking back to the old areas of north Down and south Antrim colonised by Hamilton and Montgomery before the official Plantation, but with the added factor of a soon-to-be-majority-Catholic Belfast in the middle.

Thursday 21 June 2007

They must be getting REALLY worried ... !

On top of all of the other references to the (Protestant) 'brain drain' that are blogged below, the concerned unionist Tom Elliott MLA was reported in the Newsletter on 20 June 2007 as being "shocked to discover just how many more Roman Catholics are staying in the Province to study - suggesting a Protestant brain drain".

Poor Mr Elliott has inadvertently let the cat out of the bag. It is not the 'brain drain' per se that unionists are concerned about, but only the protestant brain drain. As the media-unsavvy Mr Elliott went on to say, "This is an important issue as many of these students who travel to mainland universities do not return to work in the Province". Of course, as previously pointed out, what really vexes him is that they do not return to vote in Northern Ireland.

If Mr Elliott was commenting on a report by an employers' organisation complaining of skills shortages in a booming economy, then his concern for the 'non-returners' might be reasonable. But he isn't, he is making a petty, sectarian point that illustrates the level of worry that is starting to permeate the unionist establishment.

It seems that their years of denying the inevitability of demographic change are starting to give way to anger; if they continue to follow the classic model of sequential stages of grief (for their dead Project Ulster), then we can look forward to bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Some may argue that the Good Friday Agreement, and the St Andrews diktat, were a form of bargaining, but there is little evidence that the DUP has really accepted the need to bargain. Maybe the next few years might see the beginnings of some real bargaining in the Assembly and Executive - however since the demographic changes cannot be 'bargained' away, the next stage - depression - is almost an inevitability for poor unionism. Acceptance will probably come sometime during the 2020's, when unionism is a political minority with an age-profile that will ensure that it has no future.

Monday 4 June 2007

Getting to grips with the [Protestant] brain drain

Ian Paisley has returned to the issue of Northern Ireland's supposed 'brain drain'. He is reported to have told the Business in the Community Awards in Belfast City Hall that it was essential the brain-drain is stopped if Northern Ireland is to develop hi-tech and knowledge-based industries.

Why is it only the unionist parties that seem to consider this an important issue?

In January the UUP's Ken Robinson said:

"In 2004, of 32.5% of Northern-Ireland based students who study on the mainland, two thirds will not return to Northern Ireland. At this rate we are losing 20% of our university educated young people on an annual basis. "

Then in February Kenny Donaldson, also of the UUP, repeated much the same thing:

"Two-thirds of our young people who go elsewhere for higher education will never return. Far too many of our talented young people are being lost to Northern Ireland. Our economy is losing 20% of our university-educated young people on an annual basis. This exodus greatly undermines our aim of creating a competitive, knowledge-based economy fit for the challenges of the new century."

Jeffrey Donaldson thinks that the non-return rate is 75%! Leslie Cree, Thomas Burns, and many other unionist politicos are singing from a similar hymnsheet.

And now in June we have Paisley joining in, parroted by party colleague Robin Newton in the Newsletter on 30 May (and on the DUP website) who added "The Executive must kick off a programme of attracting back those who have gained valuable international experience and who can make a positive contribution."

Does he mean "who can make a positive contribution … to the unionist vote?"

Could it be that what is really concerning them is that the 'brain drain' is actually a Protestant drain? This has been known about for quite some time, and was commented on by the (London) Independent in 2004:

An exodus of some of the brightest young Protestants is contributing to an extraordinary process of social change in Northern Ireland, according to an academic study. [ … ]

The brain drain, which has been going on for decades, refers to the trend for many Protestant teenagers to go to universities in England and Scotland and find jobs there instead of returning home. The pattern has even generated its own facetious acronym - NIPPLES - which stands for Northern Ireland Protestant Professionals Living in England and Scotland.

Partly due to this exodus, Catholics now make up around 60 per cent of undergraduates at Northern Ireland's two universities, with the proportion of Catholic graduates and those taking more of the desirable jobs steadily rising.

You can see why the unionists are getting worried. Now that everyone has agreed that the constitutional future of Northern Ireland will be decided by a head count, the continued loss of so many unionist heads must be giving them cause for concern.

Amongst other things, the unionist identification with intolerant religious fundamentalism is a major contributor to their own problems. As Linda Gilby put it in the Sunday Life on 3 June, in a reference to Paisley (junior)'s recent anti-gay remarks:

[Paisley (senior)] pointed out that we need to stop the Northern Ireland brain drain, that it's essential to hold on to our brightest people if our economy is to prosper.

No argument there, but he could make a start by putting his own house in order.

Having a quiet word with his son and namesake should start the ball rolling.

Then, all those local, bright, shiny graduates who have received their university education across the water won't feel as if they are setting their watches back 50 years when they return here again.