Sunday 13 September 2009

Catholic Unionists?

Faced with clear evidence of the religious demographics of Northern Ireland moving inexorably towards a Catholic majority in a generation or less, some unionist commentators reply that such evidence takes no account of ‘Catholic unionists’.

Is there such a thing? Of course there are, to some extent – but is the number significant enough to actually influence the outcome of Northern Ireland’s ‘cradle wars’?

An examination of the elected representatives of the unionist parties reveals precisely none who can be identified as Catholic (by name, by background, by schooling, or by personal acknowledgement) – and Northern Ireland is a small place so such details about people would be quickly known. True, the UUP used to have an MLA, John Gorman, who is Catholic, but he is now an old man and out of politics. Another Catholic, Patricia Campbell, stood for election in North Antrim in 1998 for the UUP, but failed to get elected and has apparently left politics too.

At council level also it appears that no unionist councillor is a Catholic either by ‘community background’ or personal conviction.

So perhaps the mythical ‘Catholic unionists’ don’t stand for election, but merely vote? In this case, then, we should expect to see a unionist vote that is proportionately higher than the Protestant population. But, again, this cannot be found.

In the 2001 Census the Protestant proportion (by community background) was 53.1% (table s306). In the elections that followed that Census; the 2003 Assembly election, the 2004 European Parliament election, and the two elections in 2005 (Westminster and local councils), the unionist proportions of the vote were respectively: 52.6%, 48.6%, 51.9% and 50.5%. There is no evidence there of a ‘Catholic unionist’ vote – or if there is, it is counterbalanced by a ‘Protestant nationalist’ vote. In local elections where there is a direct contest between unionism and nationalism, the proportions going to the two blocks are almost identical to the proportions of the two religious groups.

Most reasonable observers accept that the unionist parties are largely (almost entirely) Protestant in their composition. The recent near-merger between the English Conservative Party and the UUP was partially motivated by the wish to “reach out to a wider audience of pro Union voters who have been disengaged from politics here for some time”. – this being UUP code for the mythical ‘pro-union Catholics’. One very clear test of this outreach to ‘Catholic unionists’ will come very quickly, when the joint UCUNF candidates for the 2010 Westminster election are selected. If there are no obvious Catholics it will be clear that the new ‘non-sectarian’ unionist project is simply the old project repackaged. Yet there are, so far, no known indigenous Catholic Conservatives or unionists. The recent defections from other parties to the Tories – Deirdre Nelson from the DUP and Ian Parsley from Alliance – are both Protestant. If they are to have a future in electoral politics this would leave less room for any Catholic unionists that the Tories may discover.

On the other side of the divide the same question can be asked – are there any Protestant nationalists? The evidence certainly points to a number: Harvey Bicker (Fianna Fail), Billy Leonard (Sinn Féin MLA), John Robb (New Ireland Group) and Eddie Espie (SDLP). During the past generation there have been others: Ivan Cooper (a founder of the SDLP), Ronnie Bunting (a member of the INLA, murdered by loyalists), and John Turnley (Irish Independence Party, also murdered by loyalists). The fate of Turnley, a purely political actor, was designed to discourage Protestants from openly supporting nationalism, and in this it probably succeeded. Nonetheless, despite the risks to their person safety from loyalists, more Protestants seem to be prepared to identify with nationalism than Catholics who identify with unionism.

50 comments:

Anonymous said...

But obviously the Catholics in the PSNI would be Unionist? Cause you know if Ireland was united there would be no police needed in Northern Ireland.

Watcher said...

Not as many mate, not as many. Redundancies all round I'm afraid. Unless, of course, Loyalists try and set up their own state, in which case you'll need to conscript half of Ireland.

Watcher said...

The blog author is still not getting the point. Theoretically every vote in an assembly election could go to SF, but this does not mean a border poll would be won by Nationalists. You see, in Ulster voting is tribal, I'm a Prod so I'll vote for a Prod, I'm a taig so I'll vote for a taig, etc. In a border poll there would be massive repercussions if said poll led to a United Ireland and people might vote differently in such a poll. Especially those who don't vote in the pointless Orange/Green ballots to a double veto assembly or to remote houses in Westminster and Europe.

Every opinion poll shows the existence of far more 'unionist' Catholics than 'nationalist' Protestants and if these people turn out at a border poll then Irish Unity will fail. I suspect enough of them will.

Political Unionism does not need to recruit these soft Catholic unionists to save The Union, though, of course, it would be nice if they did.

Anonymous said...

I have just discovered your blog and I must say that it is fascinating stuff indeed.

Have you ever done any research into people from the South moving to live in the North? In this time of peace and relative prosperity, surely this will become an increasingly important factor in ending Partition.

As an all-Island economy is created, invariably there will be more people moving across the border. In the event of a Border Poll, it is inconceiveable that these people would not vote for a UI.

Do you have any statistics on this issue? Do you believe that this will be a crucial factor in Re-Uniting our country?

Meath Man.

Anonymous said...

WatcherMcCann, I posted that as a joke after reading one of your comments on another post.

Why would a Catholic in the PSNI not vote for a United Ireland? The PSNI would get integrated into an all island service and the Garda pay better.

Initial Pay

PSNI - £22,104 (€25,254)
Garda - £23,714 (€27,098)

10 Years

PSNI - £34,707 (€39,658)
Garda - £39,152 (€44,744)

Pedro said...

Is there/was there an SDLP guy called Donovan McClelland ?

Pedro said...

A famous quote from Conor Cruise O'Brien on Gerry Fitt's and Enoch Powell's simultaneous, respective claims of Protestant and Catholic support:
Both groups of deviants could hold a joint meeting in a telephone kiosk

hoboroad said...

Major Ronald Bunting supported Gerry Fitt in a Belfast election. But that was before he met Ian Paisley. Jonathan Stephenson of the SDLP I think he was party Chairman in the 1990's.

Horseman said...

Pedro,

Yes indeed - Donovan McClelland was also Protestant, as it happens. I hadn't known that!

It seems the SDLP attracted quite a few Protestants.

Horseman said...

hoboroad,

Major Ronald Bunting did act as Fitt's election agent (but there are many who might not consider this inconsistent with unionism!), but it was his son, also Ronald but known as Ronnie, who joined the INLA.

Bunting senior was, of course, a close associate of Paisley, and was one of the thugs responsible for Burntollet. As a child I think I once met him.

picador said...

I'm not sure that Billy Leonard is an MLA. Or that Eddie Espie is still a member of the SDLP.

hoboroad said...

A lot of Protestants seem to be attracted to a left-wing form of Republican politics. Like Peter Graham who was a member of Saor Eire a tiny left-wing group. Ronnie Bunting started of in People's Democracy the people his father loved to attack joined the Official IRA fell out with them and joined the INLA.

Horseman said...

Meath Man,

There is some data on migration from south to north in the recent NISRA reports on migration (which I blogged a week or so ago). In addition, the Census (in 2001, so getting old now) provided figures for southern-born residents in the north. In some areas it is quite high (Fermanagh around 1 in 7, IIRC, but not all are necessarily of a 'nationalist' hue - I personally know some southern-born Protestants in Fermanagh who moved north when quite young, and have been totally absorbed into the Protestant-unionist 'community').

Horseman said...

picador,

You're right about Billy Leonard, of course. I was jumping the gun ;-)

Eddie Espie has left the SDLP but I mentioned the party as it was his most recent affiliation, and showed that he was on the nationalist side of the fence. What (if anything) is he doing now?

Nordie Northsider said...

There are also Northern Protestants who are nationalist with a small 'n': Stephen Rea, Brian Keenan and some others involved in the arts, music etc.

Pedro said...

Fitt was a Republican Socialist in those days. To be fair to Fitt I don't think he ever repudiated the objective of a UI.

hoboroad said...

Fitt was considered dangerous enough to Unionism that he had a RUC Special Branch file opened on him.

Anonymous said...

I hear The UDA has Catholic members in Larne.

Antrim said...

yes - the UDa has quite a few Catholic members in Larne - they are the dreghs of the society there and use it as a cover for their criminality.

I agree with Horseman. If you look at the figures you will see that the voting patterns ar4e a virtual mirror for the religious headcount.

This obviously means that the number of protestants voting nationalist are proportionally matched as catholics voting unionist.

The myth of massive catholic unionists is a comfort blanket for unionists who seek to ignore the demographic trends.

hoboroad said...

Seamus O'Brien was a West Belfast Catholic shot dead by the IRA for bombing public houses and spying for loyalists.

Horseman said...

There have been a small number of cases where Catholics have joined or cooperated with loyalists in order to get back at republicans after, eg a punishment beating. But whether they could be termed ideological unionists I doubt.

The stories of Catholic UDA members keep coming around, yet never have I seen an arrested UDA member with a 'Catholic' name.

There was one case, though, about 10 years ago when an SDLP councillor in Craigavon resigned (IIRC) after her son was arrested over some loyalist activities.

But loyalism is more closely conected with drug-dealing and criminality than ideology these days, so it is hard to know if the contitutonal question comes into it.

Anonymous said...

It seems the voting patters in the North of Ireland are quite settled, but a border poll could have some small deviations. Here in Wales some 10% of Plaid voters (in a poll conducted a few years ago) didn't want a Welsh Assembly! They voted maybe because they identified with the Welsh language or maybe didn't want Labour/Tories to win locally.

My guess is that a border poll could be very tight. If it were to be as tight as the referendum for an Assembly for Wales, where a mere 6,000 votes were between Yes and No, then every 'deviant' votes counts!

Cymro

Watcher said...

Anonymous said:

"WatcherMcCann, I posted that as a joke after reading one of your comments on another post.

Why would a Catholic in the PSNI not vote for a United Ireland? The PSNI would get integrated into an all island service and the Garda pay better.

Initial Pay

PSNI - £22,104 (€25,254)
Garda - £23,714 (€27,098)

10 Years

PSNI - £34,707 (€39,658)
Garda - £39,152 (€44,744)"

Yes, but what about the excess PSNI officers that will have to be made redundant? Probably the less experienced Catholic ones I'd have thought.

I wonder how all those ex-UDR Catholics will vote? Remember Catholics made up 18% of The UDR at the start and were still 3% at the end. Some very brave men - and not forgotten.

I wonder how those ex-RUC Catholics will vote? Remember Catholics made up 10% of The RUC throughout the troubles. Again, not forgotten.

Watcher said...

Antrim said:

" I agree with Horseman. If you look at the figures you will see that the voting patterns ar4e a virtual mirror for the religious headcount.

This obviously means that the number of protestants voting nationalist are proportionally matched as catholics voting unionist.

The myth of massive catholic unionists is a comfort blanket for unionists who seek to ignore the demographic trends."

You never read opinion polls do you Antrim? Too much like bad news?

As I say let's start a campaign for a border poll and put all this to the test. Ready when you are...

Watcher said...

Cymro said:

"It seems the voting patters in the North of Ireland are quite settled, but a border poll could have some small deviations. Here in Wales some 10% of Plaid voters (in a poll conducted a few years ago) didn't want a Welsh Assembly! They voted maybe because they identified with the Welsh language or maybe didn't want Labour/Tories to win locally.

My guess is that a border poll could be very tight. If it were to be as tight as the referendum for an Assembly for Wales, where a mere 6,000 votes were between Yes and No, then every 'deviant' votes counts!"

A border poll wouldn't be tight in Northern Ireland mate. Try calling a poll on Welsh independence and see how one sided it is - same in Northern Ireland. Try searching for some opinion polls on the issue mate and you'll get a much clearer picture than what is presented on here. Some polls show up to 50% of Catholics oppose a United Ireland, even in the long term.

Good luck.

Antrim said...

I can name you at least half a dozen in larne

picador said...

Horseman,

I seem to remember Eddie Espie writing a resignation letter to the Irish News in which he slagged off the SDLP leadership. that would have been a couple of years back. I'm not sure what he's up to now.

Do you reckon Billy Leonard will get in at the next Assembly election?

Horseman said...

Antrim,

I wouldn't like you to name names (felon-setting, and all that), but are they people who could be recognised as Catholic by name, place of residence, or schooling?

Or could you say that some Catholics in Larne are being assimilated into the loyalist community?

Horseman said...

picador,

To be honest, no. Billy Leonard will only get elected if the SDLP vote evaporates, or if there are wierd STV permutations involving non-transferrable votes (TUV anyone?). Or if Francis Brolly steps down.

picador said...

Horseman,

Dallat is a pretty solid performer for the Stoops in that constituency. Recent events in Coleraine may have hardened attitudes though. Did you do a constituency profile if East Derry?

Justin said...

Another Correction: D McClelland is a catholic. (I've known him a long time)

Anonymous said...

there seems to be evidence for cathic unionism in banbridge as the nationalist vote is below were u would expect

Antrim said...

Horseman

Yes - some of them would go to Mass. But as I say they are mostly criminals and they use the UDA for cover.

Most of them come from established Larne families and have all the connections that go with that. Larne is a place apart.

As for Banbridge not reflecting the numbers in expected voting pattern. Look at the east antrim area. I was looking at the new super council in order to guesstimate the numbers of nationalist seats in the new proposed Mid Antrim Counsil. There are no nationalist councillors in Carrick, two in larne and three in Ballymena if I recall correctly. Now the Catholic population of the area is roughly 20%. Why not more councillors. The people do not bother coming out to vote as they know it makes little difference in an overwhelmingly unionist area.

Ask any nationalist councillor about how hard it is to get nationalists out in these areas.

Horseman said...

Justin,

Thanks for the clarification regarding Donovan McClelland. I don't know the man so I'll take your word - however, his Wikipedia page describes him as a Protestant.

Horseman said...

Anonymous,

Banbridge also has some peculiarities. It was, apparently, the favourite place of residence of Catholic RUC (and now PSNI?) members, who presumably did not vote for nationalist parties.

Nordie Northsider said...

Re Billy Leonard's election chances, I'm afraid to say, as someone who knows Coleraine well, that some Catholics won't vote for him precisely because he's a Protestant. But who knows what might happen in the next Assembly election? Billy impressed many people with the calmness and dignity of his reaction to the McDaid lynching. And Coleraine and its hinterlands are indeed changing. That is in no small part the cause of the violence there.

pagasp said...

i live in derry where its seen as having a relatively moderate yet overwhelmingly catholic majority, sdlp voters and so on, yet iv never met a single person there who would even dream of not voting 4 a united ireland, theres probably the odd catholic or protestant who'd vote 4 the otherside, but i reckon this would be irrelevant in the overall outcome. as 4 ppl pointing to opinion polls, these wud be out the window with a catholic majority border poll on the horizon ps. lets see the links to these polls. HEAR THAT MR UNIONIST THAT IS THE SOUND OF INEVITABILITY THAT IS THE SOUND OF UR DEATH

Watcher said...

pagasp said:

"i live in derry where its seen as having a relatively moderate yet overwhelmingly catholic majority, sdlp voters and so on, yet iv never met a single person there who would even dream of not voting 4 a united ireland, "

Perhaps they don't tell YOU the truth retard. Perhaps they're worried about what some Republican animals will do to them if it's found out they're a unionist (even with a small 'u')...

Antrim said...

Firstly that is a disgusting abuse and you should be ashamed, but I doubt it.

Have you not considered that perhaps, just perhaps, you are being told what you want to hear and the person who is being fed rubbish is you rather than others?

As for polls I would suppose that the one being referred to is the Life and Times polls which are noorious in the inaccuracy, there was one were they had SF way down the polls and in the election that year they romped home.

Only one poll that matters. It is held with regularity, that is the one to pay heed to.

Watcher said...

Dream on sucker. What's it like to live your life in a state you owe no loyalty to? Always hoping and praying that one day your ship will come in? But the problem is, it never does. Days turn into years and then into decades. Pretty soon British Ulster will be celebrating it's 100th anniversary and fools like you will still be believing the shit thrown your way by people like Gerry Adams. Gerry Adams who hardly served a day in prison (at least not as a convicted prisoner), who claims to never have been in The IRA (why? Was he a coward?), who sent six hunger strikers to their deaths needlessly in order to boost SF at the polls (and by default his position) and who now lives the life of an international celebrity author, complete with cottage in Donegal. One in three senior Republicans were touts or British Agents. PIRA were got of the ground to help FF in The Republic, who feared a socialist revolution and needed a diversion elsewhere for Republicans. I could go on and on, but I suspect I'll be wasting my breath.

Enjoy your day dreams, but British Ulster is going nowhere, not today, not tomorrow, not ever. We British are no better than anyone else, but the one thing we do know how to do is to resist evil, as Hitler, Stalin, Al Queada and Irish Nationalism have all found out one way or the other.

Anonymous said...

British Ulster? Never heard of it!

pagasp said...

resist evil you can't be serious man

pagasp said...

britain by an act of parliament, irish by an act of god, BY THE WAY PRINCESS YOU WOULDN'T CALL ME A RETARD TO MY FACE AND U NO IT U NO IT U NO IT U NO IT U NO IT U NO IT U NO IT

Anonymous said...

there defintly seems to be catholic unionists in banbridge as the nationalist vote is far below what would be expected even with a low nationalist turn out. more indepth anylises on banbridge would be much aprecheated

Horseman said...

On the 'Catholic unionists' in Banbridge, Anonymous, the only explanation I have seen suggested is the "large Catholic police vote in Banbridge", referred to by Sammy Morse here (see the comments at the end): http://sammymorse.livejournal.com/20497.html

Pedro said...

Please remember that the voting age population of Catholics tends to lag behind the total population.

picador said...

Give children the franchise!!

MaleStripper said...

Or at least keep them away from all Irish Priests...

Anonymous said...

You problem is you equate unionist with United Kingdom.

There are plenty of Catholics who want the United kingdom to remain but will not vote for a unionist party because of the conotations of the word unionist.

They will vote in a UK/UI referendum however.

Kevin Breslin said...

Here was me thinking that the real "deviants" in Northern Irish/6 county politics were the Alliance Party, which historically defected from the Ulster Unionist Party. Most parties including the Tories have their constitutional hands played.

Is this the real party of Catholic unionists with a small u, and Protestant nationalists with a small n?

Would that mean that UNCUF tackling the "sectarian and constitutional divide" by going after the votes of arguably the anti-sectarian party, rather than the rightwing of previous SDLP voters and Catholic non-voters?

Admitidly this is all fairly reductionist.