Wednesday 17 February 2010

Reducing impetus towards Catholic emigration

One of the principal components of demographic change in any society is migration. Unlike the other components, though, it rarely follows long-term trends. Numbers of births and deaths tend not to change very much from one year to the next, and a graph of them over a period tends to be a fairly smooth curve. Migration, though, is often only seen after it happens, and is difficult to predict.

Nonetheless, in a stable society certain drivers of migration can give rise to fairly continuous in- or out-flows of people. Unemployment often leads to outflows, and job opportunities often lead to inflows.

For many years Northern Ireland's unionist ruling elite (political, economic, and cultural) relied on emigration as a way of negating the higher Catholic birth rate. So for decades after the foundation of Northern Ireland as a state, despite higher Catholic birth rates than Protestant birth rates, the proportion of Catholics in the population did not change significantly. The 'excess' Catholics were simply 'encouraged' to emigrate in order to find work – and emigrate they did, in large numbers.

The lack of job opportunities for Catholics in Northern Ireland – due to blatant discrimination against them by Protestant employers – led to a considerably higher unemployment rate for Catholics, and a lower rate of labour force participation. Faced with such a bleak prospect, many young Catholics emigrated.

However, in recent years – partly due to equality laws, and partly due to the generally higher level of education amongst young Catholics than amongst young Protestants – the rate of Catholic unemployment has been dropping, and in many areas is not significantly higher than Protestant unemployment.

The 2008 Labour Force Survey Religion Report provides copious statistics on the position of Catholics and Protestants in the labour market, including the graph below:

Although Catholics are still more likely to be unemployed than Protestants, the difference has dropped dramatically since 1992.

Likewise, the prospects of employment for Catholics have almost caught up with those for Protestants:

There is still work to do, but the evolution in the labour market is clearly towards more equality, which in turn will reduce the impetus towards emigration for Catholics. And if Catholics do not emigrate, then the old unionist safety valve is no longer functioning – and with more Catholics amongst the children and young people of Northern Ireland, that can only mean one thing – in the long-term there will be a Catholic majority. As the 2008 Labour Force Survey Religion Report (section 2.4) puts it:

[Population aged 16-24] The proportion of Protestants was 49% in 1990 and 44% in 2008. The proportion of Roman Catholics was 44% in 1990 and 49% in 2008.
In a few days this blog will look again at the breakdown amongst school-children, but it seems that at all ages below around 30 there is a Catholic majority. Over the age of 60, on the other hand the LFS Religion Report reminds us that:

The proportion of Protestants was 66% in 1990 and 63% in 2008. The proportion of Roman Catholics was 30% in 1990 and 32% in 2008.

Time is running out for Protestant 'Ulster'.


Paddy Canuck said...

It's a Catch-22, though, isn't it, for nationalists as well as for unionists. On the one hand, measures being taken now ensure there will be a Catholic majority eventually. But on the other hand, those very same mechanisms remove at one fell swoop the inequities that were the principal driving force behind the urge towards a united Ireland (ties of common nationality notwithstanding). To my eyes, looking across the Pond, it seems to me the whole thing is fast approaching a point of stalemate, or more charitably, stasis. If Catholics can achieve equality within Northern Ireland, but at the same time have all the practical advantages of being part of the RoI (including fiat citizenship), then it's hard for me to see why they would open a can or worms and give up an Ulster bird in the hand for two in the Republican bush. Meanwhile, the Protestants aren't ruling the roost without regard to the wishes of the Catholics anymore, BUT, no one's forcing them into a political arrangement they don't want. No one gets everything they want, but everyone gets what's really important to them. At this rate we might never see a united Ireland in the legal sense, but could very well see one in just about every practical sense very soon.

Jud said...

In a 'normal' democracy you would have a point.
The irony is the best defense the union has right now is a functional, productive Stormont executive.
It baffles me why Unionists do not see that and do everything in their power to get the institutions up and functioning so as to make the national question less important.

The evidence, however, points to a continued desire for institutional superiority and point scoring over the ability to take political, financial and strategic matters in to their own hands if it means sharing this with Nationalists, and I don't think that will ever change.

Nationalists will not move on from the national question until they feel they are in a position that maximizes their control of their own destiny.

I don't think Northern Ireland will ever be that place.

Yorkie said...

My guess is that if/when there is a Catholic/Nationalist majority in NI, 'virtual unity' will come about in that the future of the whole island will be in the hands of people who see themselves as being Irish. It doesn't matter so much whether they will vote in a border poll for a UI, but that they could. Of course some unionists would not be able to stomach the situation of their future being in the hands of 'the others', so there could be increased unionist emigration, which could then lead to a bigger nationalist majority and a pro-ui vote. Impossible to predict, but should be interesting!

Ivan said...

Good points. I think there are psoitive (ethnic identity etc) and negative pro-UI motivators: as the former are stronger they should remain prevalent even if the latter decline.

bangordub said...

That is what I call the Unionist Paradox.
Inabilaty to face the future in the face of inenevatable change demonstrated as a desire to return to the past.
Horseman, another tour de force.

Anonymous said...

"Time is running out for Protestant 'Ulster'."

And we will see a reunited democratic, multi-religious (and none),all inclusive and prosperous shared Ireland. ASAP

Anonymous said...

Do not underestimate the power of nationalism on home ground.
Time has not changed the nationalistic tendencies of the Irish and the desire for independance in the end could not be denied by the British. The same is true for reunification but the minority community on the island have nothing to fear.

peteram79 said...

Some interesting views on demographics and the SF failure to persuade unbelievers of the merits of a UI here

hoboroad said...

I see the TUV have selected Keith Harbinson as their candidate for Lagan Valley in the upcoming General Election.

hoboroad said...

Lyle Cubitt has thrown his hat in the ring for the North Antrim seat at Westminister.

hoboroad said...

Anonymous said...

This gets back to what I have said before about partition. The Unionists took way too much land in the 1920's. Had they accepted a SMALLER state - but with a much higher % of the total population - rather then rely on the vagaries of Catholic emigration, they might not be in this mess now.

Slender said...

Jud said...

"Nationalists will not move on from the national question until they feel they are in a position that maximizes their control of their own destiny.

I don't think Northern Ireland will ever be that place."


That said, put your comment in the mirror....

Unionists will not move on from the national question until they feel they are in a position that maximizes their control of their own destiny.

I don't think a united Ireland will ever be that place.

Do you?

If nationalists have no will to compromise, to give to others what they wish for themselves, then they have no right to a united Ireland ever.

There will never be a simple unitary united Ireland. It is simply far too unjust. If it ever happens it will have to be in the manner of the Annan plan for Cyprus or the like.

hoboroad said...

When David Cameron and George Osborne move between their suite of offices at the eastern end of the parliamentary estate and the Commons chamber they do so with a pomp that would not embarrass a medieval monarch. A crowd of attendants accompanies them, constantly changing positions but never disrupting the order: staffer, Cameron, staffer, Osborne, staffer. The party moves through the corridors at breakneck speed, heads thrown back, staring into the middle distance rather than looking around at their colleagues. This display certainly succeeds in getting them noticed. But to the Tory MPs whom they march past without even a glance, the whole procession symbolises not power but the remoteness and arrogance of those who are running the party.

hoboroad said...

Conservatives 39%
Labour 33%
Liberal Democrats 17%

Sunday Times/YouGov Survey

hoboroad said...

Anonymous said...

"Slender said...

There will never be a simple unitary united Ireland. It is simply far too unjust. If it ever happens it will have to be in the manner of the Annan plan for Cyprus or the like."

Summary: if the tide turns against us, it will be unjust to deny us what we fought tooth and nail to deny our neighbours.

Why? God knows. It won't be explained. It never is.

Summary of the summary

Paddy Canuck said...


"Unionists will not move on from the national question until they feel they are in a position that maximizes their control of their own destiny... I don't think a united Ireland will ever be that place...
Do you?"

If they consider themselves, ultimately, Irish, then yes, of course. If they consider themselves ultimately British, then no. Great Britain would be. But that's another place...

Paddy Canuck said...

Anon. makes a good point against Slender. It's disingenuous to claim that the majority in Northern Ireland can force the minority into a unitary state ONLY in the even that unitary state is the UK, not if it's a united Ireland. That simply doesn't wash. If a majority of Northern Ireland one day decides that, the former majority that once had its way is morally obliged to concede.

That said, I don't believe a unitary Ireland is the best fit, either. Some sort of federal system with devolved powers, esp. cultural ones, would seem to be a much better idea of Protestants are to be accommodated in a united Ireland.

hoboroad said...

Anonymous said...

Come the day!!!!