Monday 19 February 2018

Eilis O'Hanlon: Flag-draped loyalists risk throwing away their prize

Middle-class Catholics are Unionism's best defence against a united Ireland

THE census figures in Northern Ireland are like awards ceremonies in Hollywood. People can't wait to hear the results, then immediately dismiss the whole thing as meaningless on finding out they haven't won.

Of course, census results are simply raw data. Winning and losing shouldn't come into it. But in Northern Ireland everything is a zero sum equation. If the other guy is happy, then I must have lost. If he's out rioting, then I must be winning. So it was again, as the initial realisation that the Catholic and Protestant communities were now almost neck and neck (45 and 48 per cent of the population respectively) was immediately tempered on the nationalist side with the shock of realising that only 25 per cent of those surveyed described themselves first and foremost as "Irish".

That shouldn't have been a surprise. Recent polls have confirmed the trend against nationalists wanting a united Ireland, though those were invariably rubbished on the grounds that the sample size was too small, or the methodology allegedly suspect. The census figures are harder to wish away. Everyone is asked the same questions, and can answer whatever way they like; there's no reason to lie or conceal. But you can understand the confusion. It seems so counter-intuitive that a growing nationalist population would seem to be increasingly, well, not-very-nationalist in its aspirations. That's why republicans are now demanding a border poll to find out the exact figures.

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