Brexit and good government matter more than religion in modern Northern Ireland

huhas Northern Ireland reached something of a tipping point? To great excitement, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency has released some of the results of the 2021 census and, for the first time, the proportion of the population stating they are Catholic, or brought up Catholic, has now overtaken those with a declared Protestant identity.

Compared to 20 years ago, the Catholics are up from 43.8 per cent to 45.7 per cent while the Protestants – including Anglicans and Presbyterians – are decline in relative from 53.1 per cent to 43.5 per cent. A tiny increase in non-Christians and a bigger jump in those of no religion (now almost 10 per cent) helps balance the numbers up. ‘Catholic’ these days will also include a small community of Poles, Lithuanians and Slovaks.

Not all Catholics are committed nationalists, let alone republicans; and not all Protestants are unionists, let alone loyalists. It’s not symmetrical; generally, proportionately more Catholic/nationalist voters would favor staying in the UK than Protestant/Unionists opting for a united Ireland. But the province is also becoming more fluid politically. It would seem the long-running demographic and social trends around religion and cultural identity are translating into looser political loyalties. The unionist cause is gradually growing weaker, despite the fierce loyalty it engenders in many.

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