What connects the NI Census figures, the Union Flag and Peter Robinson’s ‘Catholic Outreach’?

Interesting times in the North at the moment as we have a number of matters all on the go at the moment.

First up, the North of Ireland’s 2011 census figures are to be released on December 11th I believe with the ever huge speculation over what surprises it shall have in store regarding the religious designations of the population. Some are speculating that their will be more people who self-identify as Catholics, irish babymore who do not identify as any specific religion and that there may also be a dip in those who self-identify as one of many Protestant denominations. Further, national designations are to be incorporated including Irish, British and the ever ambiguous, Northern Irish.

In the simple yet also complicated world of Northern politics religion is used as a proxy for what one’s position is regarding the constitutional future of the North. At the moment, the ever wonderful Bangor Dub and a whole host of other commentators have been going through the data released in relation to the demographic breakdown of every school in the North over at BD’s site. The conversation has also  moved onto the census in general.

Second, we have the ongoing issue of Belfast City Council and the flying of the Union flag a top City Hall and two other council buildings for 365 days of the Save-Our-Flag-banner-e1354484769771-570x181year. The SDLP and Sinn Fein have brought a motion to the Chamber to be voted on removing the flag, while the Alliance party are seemingly leading a motion of compromise whereby the flag is flown on designated days, much like with other government buildings. I have noted my own opinion on the matter previously and Fitzjames Horse has noted that while the more some things change over time, they more they stay the same. Unionist politicians are united (at last, unionist unity!!!) that this is an outrage and have organised a sham opinon poll (they have form on sham polls) showing how most people in Belfast are ok, sweet as a nut mate, with the flying of the union jack a top City Hall. Further, they have also done a number of mail drops highlighting this issue and how the Alliance Party are complicit in this outrage. BCC is voting on Monday evening (it’s Tuesday here in Brisbane) on the matter and a protest shall take place on Donegall Square South.

Finally, we have First Minister, Peter Robinson, at a party dinner with his claim that the DUP can entice more Catholics to vote for pro-union parties and that:

Some in unionism wonder will our pursuit of Catholic votes lead to an abandonment of sections of unionism. The simple answer is ‘no’. It is not an either or situation. Unionism is not a religion.

This and many of Robinson’s speeches have been classified under ‘Catholic Outreach‘ and a lot of cold water has been poured on these by better toncommentators than I here and here. This strategy seems very similar to one employed by political unionism back in the 60s when Terrence O’Neill tried the exact same thing, lots of pictures of him drinking tea or standing with smiling nuns. It didn’t work then, many are sceptical of it working now.

So, what have all of these things got in common, or do they have anything in common?

Well, as has been noted over on Bangor Dub’s site, you have an increase in the number of Catholic children in schools in the North. In crude terms, these kids when they grow up would normally vote for Nationalist parties, though of course that is never for certain. We are awaiting the results of the census and some are speculating Robinson and many others may not like what it has to say. Add into the mix that political unionism seems to be about to lose one of its pet loves (the flying of the union flag over City Hall, a council it notoriously ran before) and it is clear to see that Robinson now realises that a ‘protestant parliament for a protestant people‘ and all that ever entailed to the present day is resigned to history.

In fact, it means that unionism now has to do something it has never really had to do before; argue its case. The creation of the North as an unashamed sectarian headcount with an inbuilt ethno-religious majority of Protestant, ulster resistanceAnglo-Scots who wanted to remain in the union and not be ruled from Dublin, whilst many also showed massive disdain and barely concealed hatred for Irish cultural expressions and those who would be their neighbours, has meant that any previous ‘Catholic Outreach‘ from someone like Robinson was seen as nonsense or a political ploy to wrestle away ‘liberal’ unionist voters who would vote elsewhere.

Now, you may see a thread that connects these three events and think that perhaps the First Minister is starting to feel the heat from the impending census results and his party needs to change their strategy as Catholics will soon be in the majority. Meanwhile, many of the trappings of the union are being hollowed out by Nats whenever they find the chance and his party and other unionist parties don’t exactly have form when it comes to treating ‘themmuns‘ with much respect. Sooo, Robinson has decided that his natural majority is shrinking and he needs to do something about this and fast, hence ‘Catholic Outreach‘.

This is not really a strategy born from a position of strength but a realisation that the numbers are stacked against him and he is required to do something he and his party have not done before, make the union attractive to large swathes of Catholics who would self-identify as Irish, a demographic they have traditionally done their utmost to antagonise.

Of course, if you work over on Slugger O’Toole, which I had hoped had turned a corner but I shall now refer to as Bullshit Mountain (apologies Jon Stewart!), supposedly it’s Nationalists that are going through something of a political crisis. I do laugh…

 

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20 responses to “What connects the NI Census figures, the Union Flag and Peter Robinson’s ‘Catholic Outreach’?

  1. Terence O’Neill was undermined by extremists, including the founder of the DUP. Robinson may see the way the wind is blowing, but he still feels obliged to support his party members stirring the pot on parades and he still felt it necessary to investigage the EU funding for the Narrow Water Bridge.

    • Hi Cuchulainn,

      Thanks for commenting here.There is some truth in your assertion regarding O’Neill being undermined, however, it could also be argued that when confronted with Catholics wanting civil rights and equality in general he failed the test.

      I am pretty certain he does see how the wind is blowing but to draw your comment out a little further, it would appear he wants to have his cake and eat it. He wants Catholic voters to support the union, he undoubtedly knows that they will more than likely not vote DUP especially in its current guise but in all honesty, he’s probably ok with that. However, after what we have seen tonight where the trouble at City Hall and elsewhere will all be on the DUP and UUP, his speeches should be seen by serious commentators as being hot air, a smoke screen, while the reality is what we see on May Street and the back of City Hall.

      Burning of the tricolour, chants of ‘No Pope’, rioting etc., it shows that many unionists/loyalists who decided to rock up this evening haven’t changed that much and pay lip service to equality or their neighbours.

  2. Unionist outreach and a shared future in action, Loyalist style, on the streets of Belfast tonight.
    It may be 2012 but for some, it is still 1690, let alone 1922. The Unionist politicians have been stoking this up for days. Perhaps Nelson McCausland may have some words for us tonight?
    The Short Strand is under attack tonight. Again.
    Loyalism, when it suffers what it perceives as a setback. always, I repeat, always responds with violence or the threat of violence. I cannot think of an exception.
    The sad thing is that the DUP cannot escape responsibility for this one.

  3. Couldn’t agree more.
    Unionist outreach and a shared future in action, Loyalist style, on the streets of Belfast tonight.
    It may be 2012 but for some, it is still 1690, let alone 1922. The Unionist politicians have been stoking this up for days. Perhaps Nelson McCausland may have some words for us tonight?
    The Short Strand is under attack tonight. Again.
    Loyalism, when it suffers what it perceives as a setback. always, I repeat, always responds with violence or the threat of violence. I cannot think of an exception.
    The sad thing is that the DUP cannot escape responsibility for this one.

    • Thanks BD,

      Your thread has really gotten some legs at the moment, good work.

      We all had a feeling this trouble may happen, right? I didn’t mention it in the post above or elsewhere as I did not want to be accused of ‘inflaming’ a situation or something just as silly.

      As always, the poor people over on the Short Strand are attacked and I am sure that over on Bullshit Mountain Mick et al will spin this as being something that those residents had coming to them. I am just amazed that people ACTUALLY believed that Robbo wanted a proper Catholic Outreach when we usually see this as a ‘Kafflik Outreach’.

      I see Chris Donnelly has a great post over on Bullshit Mountain about the whole matter and that Fick Mealty still doesn’t get it and actually used FJH’s post on Divis St 1964 in a pretty warped manner to argue that the flag issue is serious and probably should remain flying. In the words of the Pixies, ‘I’m amazed.’

  4. The Protestant people of Ulster will rise once again and reclaim our beloved Protestant land, we will never ever go into a Rome ruled Irish republic.

    No Surrender not an inch.

    • Thanks for the heads up BJK, I’ll go get a rifle and sit waiting. I shan’t hold my breath…

      Seriously, do you have something to actually add as opposed to some tired old cliches or some insights about the matter? Were you at the disturbances last night? Did you see what happened?

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