The results of the 2009 Young Life and Times Survey have recently been published on the ARK web site. The survey is based on questionnaires sent to a sample of 16 year olds and suffers from the unreliability of all such surveys and opinion polls.
Nonetheless, with that caveat, the results show up some interesting results.
For example, on identity, when asked “Which of these best describes the way you think of yourself?”, only 28% of the sample self-identified as ‘British’, while 36% self-identified as ‘Irish’. The second most popular description, beating British, was ‘Northern Irish’ on 30%. Thus 66% - two in three – young people seem to identify primarily with the island of Ireland, or their particular part of it.
Amongst boys the situation is more pronounced than among girls. Only 25% of the boys questioned saw themselves primarily as ‘British’. The ‘Irish’ and ‘Northern Irish’ groups accounted for 68% of the total.
Even amongst Protestants only a bare majority – 51% - saw themselves first and foremost as British. Almost as many (40%) saw themselves as ‘Northern Irish’), though the 6% who self-identified as ‘Ulster’ can almost definitely be added to the ‘British’ group.
Perhaps unionism can gain some reassurance from the 5% of Catholics who saw themselves as ‘British’ – only partly compensated by the 2% of Protestants who identify as ‘Irish’. However, 76% of Catholics saw themselves as ‘Irish’ – greatly outscoring the Protestant ‘British’ category.
The attachment of the two religious groups to their perceived ‘natural identity’ is visibly different – Protestants are less likely to have a primary ‘British’ identity than Catholics are to have a primarily Irish identity. Protestants seem to be moving more towards a ‘Northern Irish’ identity. The results of the wider NILT survey for 2009, due soon, will allow a comparison between the 16 year olds and their parents and grandparents.
A second question: “How important is your national identity to you?” adds an interesting twist to the results above.
35% of Catholics say that their national identity is ‘very important’ – the figure for Protestants is only 24%. In fact, 21% of Protestants say that their national identity is ‘not very important’ or ‘not at all important’ – the corresponding figure for Catholics is only 11%.
So it seems that amongst 16 year-olds the ‘Irish’ identity is not only more widespread than the ‘British’ identity, but it is also more strongly held. Young Protestants, on the other hand, seem to have a weaker attachment to their Britishness.
Remember, these young people, 16 years old in 2009, will be voting next year!