The ‘Good Friday Agreement’ that saw an end to the armed conflict in Northern Ireland has a number of provisions including the possibility of a vote on the removal of the border with the Republic and thus a United Ireland. It has always been the express political aim of Sinn Fein to achieve a United Ireland and the party has clearly taken heart from recent census results of the population in the six Counties.
The census revealed that the once significant gap between the Protestant majority and Catholic minority has diminished significantly. The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency published the results of the 2011 census showing that 45% of the population are now Catholic while 48% are Protestant. This compares to the 2001 census when the ratio was 53% Protestant to 44% Catholic – a very significant closing of the gap.
When asked to identify themselves as British, Northern Irish or Irish 48% identified as British with 29% identifying as Northern Irish and 28% as Irish. Respondents were allowed to choose a number of identities in the census. 40% identified as ‘British only’, 25% as ‘Irish only’ with 21% ‘Northern Irish only’.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has ramped up the pressure by calling for a referendum during the lifetime of the current Northern Assembly (parliament). In an attempt to sway moderates he has also suggested that there would be economic benefits on both sides of the border should a United Ireland come into effect after a ‘border poll’. Of course any such moves are going to be fiercely resisted by Ulster Unionists who claim Ulster as their own.