Tuesday 3 July 2007

A twenty year countdown?

Readers of this blog will be aware that the unionist majority in Northern Ireland is dwindling, and that within a generation Protestants will be a minority of the population. Evidence of these trends is visible in a number of different areas:

  • the unionist majority that has, on several occasions, fallen below 50% of the overall vote,
  • the clear downward trend in the unionist proportion of the vote, and the clear upward trend of the nationalist proportion,
  • the fact that Protestants make up much fewer than half of schoolchildren,
  • the fact that Protestants make up two-thirds of the elderly (and thus two-thirds of all deaths)
  • the fact that fertility rates in Catholic areas are still higher than those in Protestant areas,
  • the fact that more than half of all religious weddings now take place in Catholic churches,
  • the concern of unionist politicians about the 'Protestant brain drain' amongst university students

… and so on.

This blog has pointed out (and here and here and here and here) that these trends will not have an overnight effect. Each year only a tiny proportion of the Northern Irish population is born, or dies, or goes to university in England. The best estimate that can be made, taking all of the visible trends into account, is that Northern Ireland will have a Catholic majority by around 2020, but will have to wait a few more years until there is a Catholic majority of the electorate (as the majority Catholic children of 2020 will still not have a vote).

It seems that this blog is not alone in its analysis.

On 29 June 2007 The Newsletter quoted a "senior Irish government source" as saying that "they did not expect the constitutional position of Northern Ireland to be raised again for 20 to 25 years". And "one senior Irish source told the News Letter: There is no appetite or plans in Dublin to get into an Irish unity debate in five years' time or anything like that." This, the Newsletter misinterpreted as a complete lack of interest in Irish unity by the south - indeed it titled its article 'United Ireland 'off the agenda'.

The Dublin government was quick to refute this. In the Irish Times of 3 July 2007, a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said that "the Government's position on Irish unity remains unchanged". The spokesman said that the Government's position had been clearly outlined by the Taoiseach in his Westminster speech last May when he had said that "As an Irish republican, it is my passionate hope that we will see the island of Ireland united in peace."

The Dublin government is far from stupid. It knows, as does this blog, that there will not be either a Catholic or a nationalist majority in five years time (or even in 2016), and so has no intention of pushing for a border poll that would be lost. However, the demographic changes that are already underway will deliver both a Catholic majority, and a nationalist majority, in about "20 to 25 years", exactly the time period foreseen by the Dublin government for 'raising the constitutional position of Northern Ireland again'.

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