In Northern Ireland, Catholics have outnumbered the Protestant population: a shame in a country that was designed a century ago to maintain a Protestant demographic majority.
If the facts are stubborn, the figures are perhaps even more so. The results of the major census of 2021 – the first since Brexit – published on September 21 are final: 45.7% of the inhabitants of Northern Ireland are Catholic, ahead of Protestants who now represent 43.88% of the population.
Diarmaid Ferriter, historian and essayist, sees this as a real turning point: “For a long time, Protestants have witnessed the loss of their political supremacy. Now comes the time of the loss of their numerical supremacy, which constitutes a new blow for them,” she explains.
Is this demographic evolution, which is explained by a higher birth rate among Catholics than among Protestants, likely to change the political situation to the point of threatening the integrity of the United Kingdom?
A change of benchmarks
Not necessarily, because as Diarmaid Ferriter points out, religious identity no longer necessarily has an impact on the vote: “Things have become much more blurred in this area,” says the essayist.
Indeed, in the most recent elections, support for the nationalist parties – Sinn Fein and Unionist – peaked at around 40% each, with 20% of voters voting in favor of newer and less divisive political formations.
Similarly, opinion polls consistently show that Northern Irish citizens are more broadly in favor of remaining united with the British crown than joining the Republic of Ireland, especially for economic reasons.
However, at the same time, the feeling of belonging to the British sphere has eroded: 31.86% of those surveyed identify themselves as British and 29.13% as Irish, while in the previous census – dating from 2011 – 40 % defined themselves first as British, and 25% as Irish.
Seemingly contradictory data summed up well by Patricia McBride, spokeswoman for Ireland’s Future, a movement for Irish unity in a post-Brexit society: “In their political choices, people are much more likely to question whether their vote will improve their financial situation. They vote not so much with their heart as with their reason,” she concludes.
And especially with their wallets…