Politics of Northern Ireland

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Since 1998, Northern Ireland has devolved government within the United Kingdom. The government and Parliament of the United Kingdom are responsible for reserved and excepted matters. Reserved matters are a list of policy areas (such as civil aviation, units of measurement, and human genetics), which the Westminster Parliament may devolve to the Northern Ireland Assembly at some time in future. Excepted matters (such as international relations, taxation and elections) are never expected to be considered for devolution. On all other matters, the Northern Ireland Executive together with the 90-member Northern Ireland Assembly may legislate and govern for Northern Ireland. Additionally, devolution in Northern Ireland is dependent upon participation by members of the Northern Ireland Executive in the North/South Ministerial Council, which co-ordinates areas of co-operation (such as agriculture, education and health) between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Northern Ireland Part of the United Kingdom lying in the north-east of the island of Ireland, created 1921

Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom in the north-east of the island of Ireland, variously described as a country, province or region. Northern Ireland shares a border to the south and west with the Republic of Ireland. In 2011, its population was 1,810,863, constituting about 30% of the island's total population and about 3% of the UK's population. Established by the Northern Ireland Act 1998 as part of the Good Friday Agreement, the Northern Ireland Assembly holds responsibility for a range of devolved policy matters, while other areas are reserved for the British government. Northern Ireland co-operates with the Republic of Ireland in several areas, and the Agreement granted the Republic the ability to "put forward views and proposals" with "determined efforts to resolve disagreements between the two governments".

Devolution is the statutory delegation of powers from the central government of a sovereign state to govern at a subnational level, such as a regional or local level. It is a form of administrative decentralization. Devolved territories have the power to make legislation relevant to the area and thus granting them a higher level of autonomy.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea separates Great Britain and Ireland. The United Kingdom's 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi) were home to an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

Contents

Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Belfast, seat of the assembly StormontGeneral.jpg
Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Belfast, seat of the assembly

Elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly are by single transferable vote with five representatives (Members of the Legislative Assembly, MLAs) elected from 18 parliamentary constituencies. Eighteen representatives to the lower house of the British parliament (Members of Parliament, MPs) are elected from the same constituencies using the first-past-the-post system. However, not all of these take their seats. The seven Sinn Féin MPs refuse to take the required oath to serve Queen Elizabeth II. In addition, the upper house of the UK's parliament, the House of Lords, currently has some 25 appointed members from Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland itself forms a single constituency for elections to the European Union.

Single transferable vote Proportional representation voting system

The single transferable vote (STV) is a voting system designed to achieve proportional representation through ranked voting in multi-seat organizations or constituencies. Under STV, an elector (voter) has a single vote that is initially allocated to their most preferred candidate. Votes are totalled, and a quota derived. If their candidate achieves the quota, they are elected and in some STV systems any surplus vote is transferred to other candidates in proportion to the voters' stated preferences. If more candidates than seats remain, the bottom candidate is eliminated with their votes being transferred to other candidates as determined by the voters' stated preferences. These elections and eliminations, and vote transfers if applicable, continue until there are only as many candidates as there are unfilled seats. The specific method of transferring votes varies in different systems.

First-past-the-post voting System of voting

A first-past-the-post electoral system is one in which voters indicate on a ballot the candidate of their choice, and the candidate who receives the most votes wins. This is sometimes described as winner takes all. First-past-the-post voting is a plurality voting method. FPTP is a common, but not universal, feature of electoral systems with single-member electoral divisions, and is practised in close to one third of countries. Notable examples include Canada, India, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as most of their current or former colonies and protectorates.

Sinn Féin is a left-wing Irish republican political party active in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Office represents the British government in Northern Ireland on reserved matters. The Government of the Republic of Ireland also has the right to "put forward views and proposals" on non-devolved matters in relation to Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Office is led by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who sits in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland Office United Kingdom government ministerial department

The Northern Ireland Office is a UK Government department responsible for Northern Ireland affairs. The NIO is led by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and is based at Stormont House in Belfast and 1 Horse Guards Road in London.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland United Kingdom government cabinet minister

Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, informally known as the Northern Ireland Secretary, is the principal secretary of state in Her Majesty's Government with responsibilities for Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State is a Minister of the Crown who is accountable to the Parliament of the United Kingdom and is the chief minister in the Northern Ireland Office. As with other ministers, the position is appointed by the British monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Cabinet of the United Kingdom Decision-making body of the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The Cabinet of the United Kingdom is the collective decision-making body of Her Majesty's Government of the United Kingdom, composed of the Prime Minister and 22 cabinet ministers, the most senior of the government ministers.

Much of the population of Northern Ireland identifies with one of two different ideologies: unionism (which wants the region to remain part of the United Kingdom) and Irish nationalism (which wants a united Ireland). Unionists are predominantly Ulster Protestant, most of whom belong to the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Church of Ireland. Irish nationalists are almost wholly Roman Catholic. There is also a small minority of Ulster nationalists (those who want an independent Northern Irish state), whose religious convictions vary.

Unionism in Ireland political ideology

Unionism in Ireland is a political ideology that favours the continuation of political union between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain. Since the partition of Ireland, unionism in Ireland has focused on maintaining and preserving the place of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. In this context, a distinction may be made between the unionism in the province of Ulster and unionism elsewhere in Ireland.

Irish nationalism Political movement asserting the sovereignty of the Irish people

Irish nationalism is a nationalist political movement which asserts that the Irish people are a nation and espouses the creation of a sovereign Irish nation-state on the island of Ireland. Irish nationalism celebrates the culture of Ireland, especially the Irish language, literature, music, and sports. It grew more potent during the period in which all of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, which led to most of the island seceding from the UK in 1921.

United Ireland Idea that the whole island of Ireland should be a single state

United Ireland is the proposition that all of Ireland should be a single sovereign state. At present, the island is divided politically; the sovereign Republic of Ireland has jurisdiction over the majority of Ireland, while Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Achieving a united Ireland is a central tenet of Irish nationalism, particularly of both mainstream and dissident Irish republican political and paramilitary organisations. Unionists support Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom, and therefore oppose Irish unification. The exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union has increased the likelihood of a united Ireland, in order to avoid the requirement for a possible hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Political representation

Northern Ireland currently has the following political representation:

Northern Ireland Assembly Legislature of Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Assembly, commonly referred to in the UK and Ireland simply as Stormont, is the devolved legislature of Northern Ireland. It has power to legislate in a wide range of areas that are not explicitly reserved to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and to appoint the Northern Ireland Executive. It sits at Parliament Buildings at Stormont in Belfast. As of September 2019, the Assembly is in a period of suspension, after it collapsed in January 2017 due to policy disagreements within the leadership and the resignation of Martin McGuinness following the RHI scandal. Subsequent discussions to restore the Assembly have been unsuccessful.

A Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), or a Member of the Legislature (ML), is a representative elected by the voters of a constituency to the legislature or legislative assembly of a sub-national jurisdiction.

Privy Council of the United Kingdom Formal body of advisers to the sovereign in the United Kingdom

Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, commonly known as the Privy Council of the United Kingdom or simply the Privy Council, is a formal body of advisers to the Sovereign of the United Kingdom. Its membership mainly comprises senior politicians who are current or former members of either the House of Commons or the House of Lords.

Voting patterns

Voting patterns break down as follows:

2017 United Kingdom general election General election held in United Kingdom

The 2017 United Kingdom general election took place on Thursday 8 June 2017, having been called just under two months earlier by Prime Minister Theresa May on 18 April 2017 after it was discussed in cabinet. Each of the 650 constituencies elected one Member of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons. The governing Conservative Party remained the largest single party in the House of Commons but lost its majority, resulting in the formation of a minority government with a confidence-and-supply arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland.

2015 United Kingdom general election Election of members to the House of Commons in 2015

The 2015 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday, 7 May 2015 to elect 650 members to the House of Commons. It was the first general election at the end of a fixed-term Parliament. Local elections took place in most areas on the same day.

2010 United Kingdom general election election of members to the House of Commons in 2010

The 2010 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday, 6 May 2010, with 45,597,461 registered voters entitled to vote to elect members to the House of Commons. The election took place in 650 constituencies across the United Kingdom under the first-past-the-post system. None of the parties achieved the 326 seats needed for an overall majority. The Conservative Party, led by David Cameron, won the largest number of votes and seats, but still fell 20 seats short. This resulted in a hung parliament where no party was able to command a majority in the House of Commons. This was only the second general election since the Second World War to return a hung parliament, the first being the February 1974 election. Unlike in 1974, the potential for a hung parliament had this time been widely considered and predicted, and both the country and politicians were better prepared for the constitutional process that would follow such a result. The coalition government that was subsequently formed was the first coalition in British history to eventuate directly from an election outcome. The hung parliament came about in spite of the Conservatives managing both a higher vote total and higher share of the vote than the previous Labour government had done in 2005, when it secured a comfortable majority.



Vote Share Northern Ireland Elections.png
Shows the percentage of votes, or first preference votes, cast for unionist, nationalist and other candidates in elections in Northern Ireland.
NI Assembly seat share by designation.svg
Shows the proportion of seats obtained at each election to the Northern Ireland Assembly by those members designated as unionist, those members designated as nationalist and those members designated as other.
Northern Ireland election seats 1997-2017.svg
Results in Northern Ireland from UK general elections

Electoral systems

In all elections in Northern Ireland the single transferable vote system of proportional representation is used except for the House of Commons elections where a "first past the post" or plurality voting system is used.

Proposed representation in the Republic

Sinn Féin, currently the biggest of the nationalist parties in Northern Ireland, has campaigned for a broadening of the franchise of Northern Ireland voters to allow them to vote in elections to choose the President of Ireland. It has also demanded that all Northern Ireland Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and MPs be allowed speaking rights in the lower house of the parliament of the Republic of Ireland, Dáil Éireann. It was given to understand that the Irish government accepted this and had plans to introduce legislation in the autumn of 2005. [2] The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) backed the move. However, a spokesman for Taoiseach Bertie Ahern later rowed back, stating that it had never been intended that the MPs have a right to attend plenary sessions of the Dáil, but that they would be invited to participate in Oireachtas committees dealing with Northern Ireland matters, and only if there was all-party agreement behind it. The unionist parties, along with Fine Gael, Labour and the Progressive Democrats have all declared their opposition to the move, as has much of the Irish media, with articles highly critical of the proposal published in The Irish Times and the Sunday Independent . [3] [4] Nonetheless on 22 November 2007, representatives from both Sinn Féin and the SDLP, (unionists declined the invitation) attended a meeting of the Oireachtas committee reviewing the workings of the Good Friday Agreement. The 18 Northern Ireland MPs can take part in this committee's debates (as well as other relevant committees by invitation), but will not have a right to vote or to move motions and amendments. [5]

Political parties

Political parties in Northern Ireland can be divided into three distinct categories:

Unionist parties

The Ulster Unionist Party was historically a cross-class Volkspartei who ran the Northern Ireland Government in a dominant-party system from its creation until 1972, although since the rise of the DUP in the 1970s, its support has been concentrated more in the middle class. Until 1972 the UUP's members of the British House of Commons took the Conservative Party whip, but currently sit as a party in their own right. The UUP's member of the European Parliament belongs to the European Conservatives and Reformists Group.

The DUP are a more complex mixture than the other major parties, combining support from rural evangelicals and urban, secular, working class voters. The party is firmly to the right on issues such as abortion, capital punishment, European integration and equal opportunities, although it seems to be moderating its stance on gay rights since the "Save Ulster from Sodomy" campaign of the 1980s. Conversely, the DUP often support social programmes which benefit their working class or agricultural base, for example, free public transport for the elderly and European Union agricultural subsidies. The DUP have grown in recent years as they were originally the only major party to oppose the Good Friday Agreement, although until September 2015 they were part of a government operating it.

The smaller, left-leaning Progressive Unionist Party and Ulster Political Research Group are linked with the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association respectively.

Nationalist parties

The funeral procession of Sinn Fein politician Martin McGuinness, Derry, 2017 Funeral of Martin McGuinness (2).jpg
The funeral procession of Sinn Féin politician Martin McGuinness, Derry, 2017

Similarly, on the nationalist side of the political spectrum, Sinn Féin has overtaken the traditionally dominant SDLP in recent elections. Sinn Féin is a left-wing Irish republican party, committed to espousing an all-Ireland republic. Traditionally the party of the urban Catholic working class and a number of republican rural areas, since the IRA ceasefires of the mid-1990s it has expanded its base considerably and has overtaken the long-dominant SDLP in terms of vote share.

The SDLP are a nominally social democratic party and a full member of the Party of European Socialists and Socialist International. However, as the Northern Ireland party system is not based on socio-economic divisions, it attracts a wide spectrum of opinion and has a middle class support base. The SDLP support Irish reunification, but utterly reject the use of violence as a means to that end. The SDLP has lost considerable support in the past decade, with the retirement of key figures such as former leader John Hume and deputy leader Seamus Mallon and the IRA's cessation of violence. The party has members who wish to follow an agenda focusing primarily on "bread and butter issues" (taxation, employment, education, health, etc.) and those who wish to follow a more nationalist campaign to challenge Sinn Féin.

Unlike in unionism, religion is—according to the study of Evans and Duffy—not a major factor in patterns of nationalist parties' supporters (although Sinn Féin supporters tend to be more secular). Age has a strong impact on party choice: the more radical Sinn Féin has more support among the young than the SDLP has. The most important factor is attachment to nationalist ideology: Sinn Féin has high levels of support among people strongly committed to nationalism [6]

Cross-community and other parties

Among the cross-community parties, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland draws its support mainly from middle class professionals in the suburbs of Belfast. It professes to be the only significant party which does not base its political stance around the constitutional question. The party has strong links with the Liberal Democrats in Britain and is a member of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party and Liberal International.

Other parties who contest elections in Northern Ireland include the Green Party, the Workers' Party and the Northern Ireland branch of the Conservative Party. The feminist Northern Ireland Women's Coalition briefly held seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly, but is now defunct. Ulster Third Way was a small grouping advocating independence for Northern Ireland.

Fianna Fáil, the second-largest party in the Republic, opened a cumann (branch) in Derry, and began recruiting at Queens University Belfast. The leadership as of 2005 had decided not to take part in electoral politics in Northern Ireland, however in the latter part of 2007 the Taoiseach said his party was consulting its grassroots on the possibility of contesting elections in the North, and that in advance of this Fianna Fáil had registered as a political party in Northern Ireland. [7] [8] Some, within both Fianna Fáil and the SDLP (including former SDLP European elections candidate Martin Morgan) have advocated an alliance, or even a merger, between both parties. However, many in both parties are hostile to the idea, with some in the SDLP pointing out the left-wing links between the party and the Irish Labour Party.

Future of political parties in Northern Ireland

Some commentators believe there are indications that the religious and ethnic basis of the party system may start to disintegrate. For example, in the 1998–2003 Assembly, there was a Catholic Member of the Legislative Assembly sitting for the Ulster Unionist Party. The SDLP have had a number of Protestant representatives in the past and a Protestant SDLP councillor defected to Sinn Féin in 2004. Up to now, these have been one-off events, which have occurred periodically throughout Northern Ireland's history without setting a trend—cf Sir Denis Henry in the early part of the 20th century. In any event, social class is an important part of competition within the main ethnic political blocs,[ citation needed ] and class-based party structures in other established democracies have weakened since the end of the Cold War.

There are indications that party stances on issues like same-sex marriage are causing people who feel strongly about these issues to vote accordingly, rather than on the constitutional issue.

Political demography

Map of religion or religion brought up in from the 2011 census in Northern Ireland. Stronger blue indicates a higher proportion of Catholics. Stronger red indicates a higher proportion of Protestants. Religion or religion brought up in.png
Map of religion or religion brought up in from the 2011 census in Northern Ireland. Stronger blue indicates a higher proportion of Catholics. Stronger red indicates a higher proportion of Protestants.

Once established under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, Northern Ireland, since it was an approximation of that area where those favouring remaining part of the UK were in the majority, was structured geographically in a way which guaranteed a unionist majority in the Parliament of Northern Ireland.

The proportion of people claiming to be Roman Catholic in the Northern Ireland Census has increased since the 1920s, [9] although the rate of this increase has slowed in recent years. In contrast, the proportion of people claiming to be Presbyterian and Church of Ireland in the census has decreased. A Catholic plurality over Protestants is predicted by the time of the 2021 census, [10] with Catholics dominant to the west and south of Northern Ireland, while Protestants are expected to retain a majority primarily to the east and north. The anticipated Catholic plurality is based on the assumption that the current trends of demographic change will continue, but at a slower rate than previously. The last 20 years have seen a 10.5% reduction in the proportion of the population who state they are Protestant or brought up Protestant (from 58.5% to 48%), and a 3.5% increase in those of who state they are Catholic or brought up Catholic (from 41.5% to 45%). [11]

Between the 2001 and 2011 censuses there was an unprecedented wave of migration into Northern Ireland following the accession of eight countries into the EU. Since 2004, Northern Ireland has welcomed a disproportionate number of A8 citizens (particularly Polish citizens) compared with the rest of the UK. [12] Most of these new migrants from the A8 countries were Catholic. Of the entire Catholic population in the 2011 census, 3.1% were born in an A8 country. [13] In the 2011 census 1.24% [13] of the population of Northern Ireland were Catholics born in an A8 country. In comparison, between the 2001 and 2011 censuses the proportion of the total population claiming to be Catholic only increased by +0.50% (from 40.26% [14] to 40.76% [13] ). The period of this migration, from 2004 onwards, did not correspond with any rise in the share of the vote for nationalist political parties.

The religious affiliations, based on census returns, have changed as follows between 1961 and 2002:

Religious affiliations in Northern Ireland 1961–2011 [15]
Religions1961199120012011
Roman Catholic34.9%38.4%40.3%40.8%
Presbyterian (Protestant)29.0%21.4%20.7%19.1%
Church of Ireland (Protestant)24.2%17.7%15.3%13.7%
Other religions (including other Protestant)9.3%11.5%9.9%9.6%
Not stated2.0%7.3%9.0%6.7%
None0.0%3.8%5.0%10.1%

The religious affiliations in the different districts of Northern Ireland were as follows. The "Protestant and other Christian" category includes groups such as Quakers that are not associated with either Unionism or Republicanism in Northern Ireland.

Districts of Northern Ireland by predominant religion at the 2011 census. Blue is Catholic and red is Protestant. Religion Northern Ireland Districts 2011 Census.png
Districts of Northern Ireland by predominant religion at the 2011 census. Blue is Catholic and red is Protestant.
District2001 [16] 2011 [17]
CatholicProtestant and other ChristianOtherCatholicProtestant and other ChristianOther
Antrim 35.2%47.2%17.6%37.5%43.2%19.2%
Ards 10.4%68.7%20.9%10.9%65.4%23.6%
Armagh 45.4%45.5%9.1%44.8%43.0%12.2%
Ballymena 19.0%67.8%13.3%20.4%63.3%16.3%
Ballymoney 29.5%59.1%11.3%29.6%56.7%13.6%
Banbridge 28.6%58.7%12.7%29.4%55.3%15.3%
Belfast 42.1%40.3%17.5%41.9%34.1%24.0%
Carrickfergus 6.5%70.4%23.1%7.6%67.2%25.2%
Castlereagh 15.8%64.9%19.3%19.5%57.3%23.2%
Coleraine 24.1%60.5%15.4%25.0%56.8%18.2%
Cookstown 55.2%38.0%6.8%55.1%34.0%11.0%
Craigavon 41.7%46.7%11.6%42.1%42.1%15.8%
Derry 70.9%20.8%8.4%67.4%19.4%13.1%
Down 57.1%29.2%13.7%57.5%27.1%15.4%
Dungannon 57.3%34.9%7.7%58.7%29.8%11.5%
Fermanagh 55.5%36.1%8.4%54.9%34.3%10.8%
Larne 22.2%61.9%15.9%21.8%59.7%18.5%
Limavady 53.1%36.1%10.7%56.0%34.3%9.7%
Lisburn 30.1%53.6%16.4%32.8%47.9%19.3%
Magherafelt 61.5%32.0%6.5%62.4%28.3%9.3%
Moyle 56.6%33.8%9.6%54.4%32.3%13.3%
Newry and Mourne 75.9%16.4%7.7%72.1%15.2%12.7%
Newtownabbey 17.1%64.5%18.4%19.9%57.8%22.3%
North Down 10.0%64.5%25.5%11.2%60.3%28.5%
Omagh 65.1%26.3%8.6%65.4%24.8%9.8%
Strabane 63.1%30.9%6.0%60.1%30.7%9.2%
Religious affiliations in Northern Ireland according to religious background [18]
Religions20012011
Roman Catholic43.8%45.1%
All other Christian53.1%48.4%
Other Religions0.4%0.9%
None2.7%5.6%
Northern Ireland Census Religion.png
The percentage of respondents in each religious category of the census in Northern Ireland or the area that would later become Northern Ireland. There was a high level of non-enumeration during the 1981 census, mainly due to protests in Catholic areas about the 1981 Irish hunger strike. [9]

Views on the Union

According to a 2018 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey carried out by Queens University Belfast and Ulster University, 62% supported remaining part of the United Kingdom via devolved government or direct rule, with support for leaving the UK and forming a united Ireland at 19%. In terms of religion, 39% of Northern Ireland Catholics supported remaining part of the United Kingdom via devolved government or direct rule, usually while also supporting nationalist political parties. [19] The proportion of Catholics supporting a united Ireland was 39% according to the same poll. The proportion of Protestants in the study who wished to join the Republic was 5%, with 83% preferring to remain in the United Kingdom in some form. [19] There are also considerable numbers of people who give ambiguous answers to questions about the future constitutional status of Northern Ireland. Some nationalists have historically sought a favourable arrangement for Ireland within the United Kingdom. Some Protestants (such as paramilitaries and their supporters) usually term themselves as loyalists as well as unionists. As a result, the term "loyalist" has become less popular among unionists in recent decades, especially with unionist politicians. 4% of Catholics and 1% of Protestants supported independence for Northern Ireland as part of the same survey. [19] Support for this, while fluctuating, is regarded as insignificant.

Northern Ireland Constitutional Preference.png
Shows the proportion of responses to the question "Do you think the long-term policy for Northern Ireland should be for it," in each year of the Northern Ireland Life and Times survey. [20] This is an annual survey conducted by Queen's University Belfast and Ulster University.

Elections in Northern Ireland are often characterised as mini-referendums on the constitutional question. Voters may also perceive voting to be about strengthening the hand of their section of the community within Northern Ireland, or about gaining advantage for their social class.

In 2016 an Ipsos Mori poll asked "If there was a referendum on the border tomorrow would you:" and the answers for different regions of Northern Ireland were as follows, [21]

Belfast CityGreater BelfastDownArmaghTyrone/FermanaghLondonderryAntrim
Vote to stay in the United Kingdom65%77%57%50%51%53%72%
Vote for Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland outside the United Kingdom17%10%27%41%28%28%17%
Don't know17%10%13%7%19%16%6%
Would not vote0%3%3%2%2%2%6%

The same poll recorded answers from people in different age groups as follows, [22]

Age band18-2425-3435-4445-5455-6465+
Vote to stay in the United Kingdom67%63%51%57%60%77%
Vote for Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland outside the United Kingdom19%19%30%28%22%14%
Don't know12%15%18%13%13%7%
Would not vote2%3%1%2%6%2%

Answers from people of different religious backgrounds were as follows, [21]

Community backgroundProtestantCatholicNeither
Vote to stay in the United Kingdom88%37%51%
Vote for Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland outside the United Kingdom5%43%15%
Don't know5%17%30%
Would not vote2%2%4%

National identity

Map of predominant national identity in the 2011 census in Northern Ireland Map of predominant national identity in the 2011 census in Northern Ireland.png
Map of predominant national identity in the 2011 census in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, national identity is complex and diverse. Many in Northern Ireland have a British national identity seeing the English, Scots and Welsh as fellow members of their common nation while seeing those from the Republic of Ireland as foreigners. Many others in Northern Ireland see those from the Republic of Ireland as being members of their common nation encompassing the island of Ireland and see the English, Scots and Welsh as foreigners. Co-existing with this dichotomy is a Northern Irish identity which can be held alone or, as is also the case with Englishness, Scottishness and Welshness, alongside a British identity, or alongside an Irish identity. A small number of people see themselves as being both British and Irish.

While there is a strong correlation in Northern Ireland between religious background and the perception of which geographical area forms the nation to which that person feels they belong, it is not a strict relationship and national identity is not simply distributed proportionally in accordance with the percentages of different religions in a particular area. For example, Catholics overall are almost five times more likely to view themselves as being British only, than Protestants are to view themselves as being Irish only. In the 2011 census there were four of the twenty-six districts in Northern Ireland, all on the eastern seaboard, where Catholics were more likely to view themselves as being British than Irish: Carrickfergus, Larne, North Down, and Ards; whereas even in those districts where Protestants were most likely to view themselves as Irish, such as Derry, Fermanagh and Newry and Mourne, Protestants were still more than ten times more likely to view themselves as British than Irish.

While in the 2011 census Protestants outnumbered Catholics in only half of the districts in Northern Ireland, those who considered themselves British outnumbered those who considered themselves Irish in twenty of the twenty-six districts. This is partly because Catholics were more likely to see themselves as British than Protestants were to see themselves as Irish, but is also partly because those of no religion were substantially more likely to see themselves as British as see themselves as Irish.

In the 2011 census respondents gave their national identity as follows.

2011 Census [23]
National identityRespondents
British
876,577
Northern Irish
533,085
Irish
513,390
English, Scottish or Welsh
29,187
Other
61,884

National identity by religion [24]

National IdentityAllCatholicProtestant and other ChristianOther religionsNo religion
British48.4%12.9%81.6%50.1%55.9%
Irish28.4%57.2%3.9%12.4%14.0%
Northern Irish29.4%30.7%26.9%18.0%35.2%
English, Scottish or Welsh1.6%0.8%1.5%2.9%5.2%
All other3.4%4.4%1.0%29.1%7.1%

Detail by religion [25]

National identityAllCatholicProtestant and other ChristianOther religionsNo religion
British only39.9%10.3%68.3%42.4%42.9%
Irish only25.3%53.2%2.1%8.1%9.4%
Northern Irish only20.9%26.9%14.5%12.0%23.7%
British and Northern Irish only6.2%0.9%11.1%3.3%7.9%
Irish and Northern Irish only1.1%2.0%0.2%0.5%0.8%
British, Irish and Northern Irish only1.0%0.8%1.0%1.0%2.1%
British and Irish only0.7%0.8%0.5%0.7%1.0%
English, Scottish or Welsh only1.0%0.6%0.8%2.1%3.5%
Other4.0%4.7%1.6%29.9%8.7%
Total100.0%100.0%100.0%100.0%100.0%

National identity by district [26]

Map of districts of Northern Ireland colour coded to show the predominant national identity. Stronger green indicates a higher proportion of people describing themselves as Irish. Stronger blue indicates a higher proportion of people describing themselves as British. Data from 2011 census National Identity Northern Ireland Districts 2011 Census.png
Map of districts of Northern Ireland colour coded to show the predominant national identity. Stronger green indicates a higher proportion of people describing themselves as Irish. Stronger blue indicates a higher proportion of people describing themselves as British. Data from 2011 census
DistrictBritishIrishNorthern IrishEnglish, Scottish or WelshAll Other
Antrim 55.2%20.1%30.4%2.3%3.9%
Ards 73.6%7.5%31.9%1.9%1.5%
Armagh 44.4%32.4%27.1%1.1%3.9%
Ballymena 69.0%11.1%27.9%1.4%3.8%
Ballymoney 60.6%16.4%30.9%1.7%1.7%
Banbridge 61.1%16.2%31.8%1.5%1.8%
Belfast 43.2%34.8%26.8%1.5%5.1%
Carrickfergus 76.5%5.3%30.3%2.1%1.8%
Castlereagh 66.2%14.7%31.3%1.5%2.6%
Coleraine 62.4%14.5%31.6%2.0%3.2%
Cookstown 37.3%33.5%32.1%1.2%3.7%
Craigavon 48.3%25.6%28.7%1.4%6.4%
Derry 23.7%55.0%24.6%1.4%2.0%
Down 40.2%32.2%34.1%1.9%2.0%
Dungannon 30.9%38.8%27.1%0.9%9.6%
Fermanagh 37.2%36.1%29.5%1.7%3.1%
Larne 69.8%10.1%31.4%2.1%1.2%
Limavady 42.2%32.0%30.7%1.5%1.4%
Lisburn 55.6%24.7%28.7%2.0%2.4%
Magherafelt 31.4%42.7%29.8%1.0%2.8%
Moyle 38.6%34.1%32.1%2.2%1.4%
Newry and Mourne 20.2%53.0%27.6%1.2%4.3%
Newtownabbey 66.5%13.4%31.2%1.3%2.4%
North Down 71.1%9.1%33.0%3.0%2.4%
Omagh 28.6%40.9%32.7%1.1%3.4%
Strabane 33.0%39.2%31.8%1.4%1.3%

National identity by religion or religion brought up in for each district [26]

DistrictCatholicProtestant and other ChristianOther Religion or None
BritishIrishNorthern IrishAll OtherBritishIrishNorthern IrishAll OtherBritishIrishNorthern IrishAll Other
Antrim 23.1%43.7%34.2%7.1%80.6%3.1%27.8%3.3%60.4%6.5%26.8%19.0%
Ards 34.1%31.7%38.2%6.4%80.9%3.7%30.4%2.2%67.7%6.0%35.1%9.1%
Armagh 7.1%62.5%28.7%6.2%81.6%3.6%25.7%2.3%49.3%10.5%25.1%25.3%
Ballymena 24.6%38.9%34.7%11.0%83.6%2.7%25.7%2.5%62.3%6.5%28.4%14.4%
Ballymoney 19.0%44.5%38.8%4.1%81.1%2.9%27.2%2.2%65.1%8.4%28.0%13.3%
Banbridge 22.6%41.7%39.4%4.5%81.2%3.8%27.7%2.0%59.1%8.3%33.8%11.5%
Belfast 11.7%64.3%25.0%5.6%78.3%5.5%28.7%3.6%47.7%13.3%27.5%26.3%
Carrickfergus 41.1%24.6%35.6%10.7%82.0%3.0%29.2%2.4%68.3%5.3%33.7%8.5%
Castlereagh 22.1%50.0%34.5%6.3%81.3%3.9%29.9%2.3%61.9%8.9%33.7%11.8%
Coleraine 25.0%39.2%36.5%8.4%79.1%4.3%29.3%2.6%56.5%10.3%33.4%16.8%
Cookstown 8.1%53.8%37.7%5.2%82.5%3.6%24.0%2.1%44.2%9.1%24.4%31.5%
Craigavon 12.2%51.2%31.5%10.6%82.5%3.2%26.3%2.7%49.9%9.1%26.7%26.4%
Derry 7.3%70.5%24.3%2.5%76.7%7.2%25.9%3.5%39.4%24.7%21.9%26.2%
Down 20.1%47.4%37.1%2.9%77.4%5.6%28.7%3.6%52.1%14.4%32.1%16.7%
Dungannon 5.7%57.6%28.6%13.0%79.6%4.5%24.5%3.0%33.3%12.0%22.8%42.1%
Fermanagh 11.4%56.2%32.4%4.8%77.1%6.2%25.5%3.0%43.4%16.8%24.0%28.1%
Larne 38.8%30.6%37.7%3.0%81.7%3.0%28.6%2.5%64.1%6.5%35.4%12.1%
Limavady 18.1%50.5%34.4%2.5%79.8%4.1%24.9%2.5%51.4%10.9%28.8%18.7%
Lisburn 16.5%58.6%27.8%4.3%80.2%4.7%29.0%3.2%62.2%8.8%30.3%13.9%
Magherafelt 6.5%62.1%33.0%3.8%82.4%4.2%23.1%2.3%46.9%13.4%30.2%22.1%
Moyle 14.6%53.1%35.3%2.8%76.3%5.0%27.8%3.3%49.4%17.8%23.8%19.8%
Newry and Mourne 7.1%64.7%28.0%5.0%76.3%5.8%26.8%3.8%34.6%22.8%22.1%28.9%
Newtownabbey 24.7%46.1%34.1%5.7%80.9%3.4%30.1%1.7%63.1%7.3%32.1%12.3%
North Down 37.1%31.5%36.1%9.7%78.8%5.2%31.9%3.4%63.7%7.9%35.7%11.6%
Omagh 8.7%55.7%36.0%4.4%78.5%4.9%25.0%2.5%40.6%15.9%23.7%28.9%
Strabane 8.9%57.4%35.4%2.6%79.2%4.7%25.2%1.9%40.9%21.1%25.5%26.4%

National identity by age [23]

Map of districts of Northern Ireland colour coded to show the predominant national identity amongst Catholics. Stronger green indicates a higher proportion of Catholics describing themselves as Irish. Blue indicates more Catholics describing themselves as British than as Irish. Data from 2011 census National Identity Among Catholics Northern Ireland Districts 2011 Census.png
Map of districts of Northern Ireland colour coded to show the predominant national identity amongst Catholics. Stronger green indicates a higher proportion of Catholics describing themselves as Irish. Blue indicates more Catholics describing themselves as British than as Irish. Data from 2011 census
Ages attained (years)BritishIrishNorthern IrishEnglish, Scottish or WelshAll other
0 to 1545.1%31.4%30.5%0.9%3.6%
16 to 2444.2%32.3%29.6%1.5%3.3%
25 to 3440.5%31.0%30.0%1.7%8.6%
35 to 4447.3%28.7%29.3%2.1%4.5%
45 to 5450.8%28.3%28.0%1.9%2.2%
55 to 6454.5%24.9%28.8%1.9%1.1%
65 to 7457.5%21.3%29.8%1.7%0.4%
75 to 8458.6%19.6%29.1%1.6%0.3%
85 and over61.7%18.0%26.5%2.0%0.2%

National identity and constitutional preference

Like the relationship between religion and national identity, the relationship between national identity and constitutional preference—whether Northern Ireland should stay part of the United Kingdom or become part of a united Ireland state—presents a strong correlation, but not an absolute one. In 2016 an Ipsos Mori poll asked "If there was a referendum on the border would you:" and responses sorted by national identity were as follows: [27]

National IdentityBritish onlyIrish onlyNorthern Irish onlyOther
Vote to stay in the United Kingdom86%31%62%61%
Northern Ireland to be joined with the Republic of Ireland outside of the United Kingdom4%56%18%13%
Don't know7%12%18%21%
Would not vote3%1%2%5%

A 1997 publication by Democratic Dialogue financed by the Central Community Relations Unit of the Northern Ireland Office stated, "It is clear that many in Northern Ireland are willing to tolerate the Other's cultural identity only within the confines of their own core ideology... most nationalists have extreme difficulty in accepting unionists' Britishness or, even if they do, the idea that unionists do not constitute an Irish ethnic minority which can ultimately be accommodated within the Irish nation." Discussion may be hindered by the lack of definitions which command cross-community support. For example, with regard to "Irishness," the 1997 publication stated that "Irishness is a highly contested identity, subject to fundamentally different nationalist and unionist perceptions which profoundly affect notions of allegiance and group membership." [28]

Four polls taken between 1989 and 1994 revealed that when asked to state their national identity, over 79% of Northern Ireland Protestants replied "British" or "Ulster" with 3% or less replying "Irish", while over 60% of Northern Irish Catholics replied "Irish" with 13% or less replying "British" or "Ulster." [29]

Many people in Northern Ireland consider themselves both British and Irish, or hold some other combination of identities, as can be seen in the annual results of the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey. In 1999, for example, the survey found that 91% of Roman Catholics and 48% of Protestants thought of themselves as strongly or weakly Irish. [30] At the same time, 55% of people who declared themselves to be neither Protestant nor Catholic (and this would have included people of Protestant or Roman Catholic backgrounds as well as people of other faiths, none and immigrants) thought of themselves as strongly or weakly Irish.

British
CatholicProtestantNo religionALL
Strongly or weakly36%96%83%70%
Not at all62%4%15%28%
Don't know2%1%2%2%
Irish
CatholicProtestantNo religionALL
Strongly or weakly91%48%55%65%
Not at all9%51%43%33%
Don't know1%2%2%2%
Ulster
CatholicProtestantNo religionALL
Strongly or weakly38%83%61%63%
Not at all61%16%35%36%
Don't know1%1%4%2%
Northern Irish
CatholicProtestantNo religionALL
Strongly or weakly72%85%78%78%
Not at all28%15%20%21%
Don't know1%1%2%1%

Note: percentages may not total 100 due to rounding.

See also

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