Is the heated rhetoric of a United Ireland slowly giving way to the goal of a common island?

On Monday night the following day I started jotting down some thoughts on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Show, but then Peter’s copy came in thinking I was going to let his piece take some of its own before I drop my own penny in the pool let.

This debate is usually a zombie-like piece going through the motions. The Cranberries classic in the opening video was awesome and a fitting backdrop to Hume’s furious charge of SF’s peace-killing strategy at the time.

The only misleading guidance came in their inaugural speeches when Byrne pointed to the likely emergence of a Catholic majority. It’s a common mistake, however catastrophically axiomatic when elevated to the mainstream perspective within nationalism.

Demographics can mean fate and / or change, but always the kind that you think is inevitable. Often times, people are just looking for stories they want to hear instead of paying attention to what is buried in the actual data.

Are you taking the 2011 census? At the time, the focus was on the decline in the proportion of Protestants below 50%, which for the first time reminds us of the reality of a double minority situation and the increase in those who call themselves Northern Irish.

But it’s one of the softer data points in this census. Equally important was the rapid increase in the number of those who described themselves as Catholics. Given the dominance of Catholics among school-age children, that number should have skyrocketed.

Instead, it only hobbled up 1%. The real growth areas are those with no religion or no fixed religion, which grew from 14 to 17 percent between 2001 and 2011. This is where the growth point lies, and Allianz is part of it.

Even Gregory Campbell read the dates and switched stories. He says Northern Ireland is now made up of three minorities. It reflects the new political realities that he and his party colleagues finally had to take note of.

You can fire Campbell for some wild things he has said in the past. But this is Northern Ireland, crazy stuff is part of the landscape. But somewhere in there, I think he made it clear to the eye, if not to the ear, trade unionists are no longer afraid.

Nationalists should think about it. It is not union fears that advocates of a United Ireland must address, but the many subtle and divisible aspirations they have (some of them, like playing rugby for the island, are already hidden in the eyes).

Andrew Trimble was the hitter. Not a politician, and after years of playing for Ireland and living in Dublin, not a trade unionist. But he represents A growing group of people who are very fond of the Post-Belfast Agreement in Northern Ireland::

“There’s a growing middle ground in Northern Ireland and they don’t want to be forced to choose.”

Former Irish rugby player @andrew_trimble #cblive

– Claire Byrne Live (@ClaireByrneLive) March 22, 2021

Dearbhail McDonald gets it too. It built on Trimble’s argument that younger people don’t want to be forced to choose between Irish and British, an accomplishment that would (as of now) go away if or when sovereignty shifts.

She compared the cohesion in the North-South cooperation over the foot and mouth disease in 2001 with the Covid controversy last year. Has our focus on the constitutional issue affected our ability to act across the island? Former Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton responded by referring to Albert Reynolds’ words in the Downing Street statement …

… The lessons of Irish history, and Northern Ireland in particular, show this Stability and well-being will not be found in any political system which is Denied allegiance or rejected by a significant minority on grounds of identity of those who are ruled by him. [Emphasis added]

For the sake of clarity, this is a qualitative argument that it has taken the time to reach a much broader consensus for change that the bare minimum of 50% + 1 is required by law to win a marginal poll. This is also underpinned by the reality of the three minority scenario.

This is also what Seamus Mallon alluded to in his autobiographical hometown. Those who jumped on him so quickly at the time didn’t seem to understand that the numbers just weren’t there for the individual identity revolution they expected.

In 2003 we warned trade unionists in A Long Peace that …

… The strange math of a parity referendum makes traditional loyalties irrelevant. Crucial will be those who, for whatever reason, choose not to go through their “home” lobby.

In theory, only one defect would be required for the tuning to oscillate. a Protestant vote for a united Ireland, a Catholic vote for the status quo. In practice, apathy might be as important as apostasy; the absent and the swinging voter are both up for grabs.

What happened in the eighteen years in between is that both identities have slowed down and a third and much faster growing population has emerged whose permission must be obtained in order to even trigger a referendum.

Unionism finally seems to be getting the nuance of this warning. And not because of Campbell’s recent understanding of the situation. If you don’t believe me (and I know many of you really don’t), are you comparing contributions to the Irish Institute civic space?

Micheál Martin is the only nationalist leader who seems to really understand this. His descent from RTÉ to Friedhofsplatz in the end in favor of his deputy and the opposition leader (both clearly not) gave him at least time to expand.

In the middle of it all, he asked the same questions about changes to the flag of an anthem as Varadkar and McDonald did in the beginning (both said no) and instead of saying no like they had, he cautioned against the superficiality of focusing on symbols.

So what has to change from Martin’s point of view? Relationships said he …

There are three relationships that underpin the Good Friday Agreement: the Anglo-Irish, the North-South relationship and the two traditions on this island. We still have to work on these three relationships no matter what happens in the next decade and that will underpin our common development on the island of Ireland. ” [Emphasis added]

The simple discourse about symbols inherently divides rather than bringing people together. The bill he is pursuing is Hume’s Agreed Ireland, and he warned that the best way to make progress is when interests converge rather than diverge.

He spoke about how the Donegal County and Derry and Strabane councils are making progress in developing the entire northwest corner of the island Park the Constitutional Question and roll up your sleeves to work what matters to people.

Martin’s problem is that even the national broadcaster doesn’t seem to be listening to him, even if you as a Taoiseach think they would. But most of the conversation was good. We’re talking about unionists, said Bruton.

Regarding Sinn Féin’s ads in US newspapers, Diarmuid Ferriter was keen and noted that it is long gone time to talk to the Americans about the heads of the unionists. This is a problem that we must resolve among ourselves.

I would add one last thing. All of the comparisons you’ll hear about who is doing better, North or South, don’t have the cut we often imagine. Northern Ireland is already taking off economically and with a lower cost of living.

We don’t compete against each other (and we really never have). Both places (and I may say this with the false certainty of long exile) are excellent places to live, so some people have houses on either side.

It’s good to hear people talk who can listen. After the shocks of Brexit, the Trump administration, we could look forward to a more mixed future, with capital being released to regulate important things like climate change and the redistribution of wealth.

The photo by felixgeronimo1 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

Mick is the founding editor of Slugger. He has written articles on the impact of the internet on politics and the media and is a regular guest and speaker across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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