Politics of Northern Ireland

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This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Northern Ireland
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Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Belfast, seat of the assembly.

Since 1998, Northern Ireland has devolved government within the United Kingdom. The British Government and Parliament are responsible for reserved and excepted matters. Reserved matters are a list of policy area (such as civil aviation, units of measurement, and human genetics), which Parliament may devolve to 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 108-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.

Elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly are by single transferable vote with six representatives (Member 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. Sinn Féin MPs, currently five, refuse to take the oath to serve the Queen that is required of all MPs. 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.

The Northern Ireland Office represents the British government in Northern Ireland on reserved matters, and represents Northern Ireland's interests within the UK. Additionally, 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.

Much of the population of Northern Ireland identifies with one of two different ideologies, unionist (who want the region to remain part of the United Kingdom) and nationalist (who want a united Ireland). Unionists are predominantly Protestant, most of whom belong to the Presbyterian Church in Ireland or the Church of Ireland. Nationalists are predominantly Catholic. However, not all Catholics support nationalism, and not all Protestants support unionism. It is also important to note that, in parallel with other parts of Europe, the proportion of the population practising their religious beliefs has fallen dramatically in recent decades, particularly among Catholics and adherents of mainstream Protestant denominations. This has not necessarily resulted in a weakening of communal feeling.

Political representation[edit]

Northern Ireland currently has the following political representation:

Voting patterns[edit]

Voting patterns break down as follows:

Shows the percentage of votes, or first preference votes, cast for candidates designating as Unionist, Nationalist and Other in elections in Northern Ireland.
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.
Results in Northern Ireland from UK General Elections. Sinn Féin increased its number of seats from two in 1997 to five in 2005, four of them in the west. It retained its five seats in 2010.

Electoral systems[edit]

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[edit]

Sinn Féin, currently the biggest of the republican/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 has accepted this and had plans to introduce legislation in the autumn of 2005.[3] 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 northern 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.[4][5] 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.[6]

Political parties[edit]

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

There are some parties who could fit comfortably in more than one of these groups, or about whom it could be argued which group they would fall into, such as the Conservative Party who, while pro-union, stated an intention before the 2007 election to designate as "other" should they gain any seats in the Assembly (which they did not).

Unionist parties[edit]

The Ulster Unionist Party were historically a cross-class massenpartei 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, their support has been more 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 from 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 the party 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 the only major party to oppose the Good Friday Agreement, although they now are part of a government operating it.

The smaller, left-leaning Progressive Unionist Party and Ulster Political Research Group have been linked with the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association respectively. The now-defunct UK Unionist Party managed to have its leader, Robert McCartney, elected as the MP for the North Down constituency in the 1997 UK general election.

Nationalist parties[edit]

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 inevitably attracts a wider spectrum of opinion and has a middle-class support base. The SDLP support Irish Reunification, but reject utterly 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 republican parties' supporters (though Sinn Féin supporters tend to attend less). The left–right ideology has also less impact than in case of unionism. The 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 the people strongly committed to nationalism[7]

Cross community and other parties[edit]

Among the cross-community parties, the Alliance Party 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 is a small grouping advocating independence for Northern Ireland.

Fianna Fáil, the third-largest party in the Republic, has recently opened a cumann (branch) in Derry, and begun 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.[8][9] 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 to the left-wing links between the party and the Irish Labour Party.

Future of political parties in Northern Ireland[edit]

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. A Protestant SDLP councillor recently defected to Sinn Féin. 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, and class-based party structures in other established democracies have weakened since the end of the Cold War. Since the beginning of the peace process, the non-ethnic parties have declined, while the more radical Sinn Féin and DUP have prospered. Some observers counter that, in the long-term, the constitutional question may become less relevant due to the increasing role of the European Union, and therefore a less sectarian political system may develop although there has been little so far to bear this out.

Political demography[edit]

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 on the island of Ireland where those favouring remaining part of the UK were in the majority, was structured geographically to guarantee a unionist majority in its government.[citation needed]

The proportion of people claiming to be Roman Catholic in the Northern Ireland Census has increased over the decades, though 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] As of the 2011 census, people who state they are Catholic or brought up Catholic now outnumber people who state they are Protestant or brought up Protestant in half of all Northern Ireland's local council areas, as well as in half of all Westminster and Stormont constituencies.

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 were Catholic. Of the entire Catholic population in the 2011 census, 3.1% were born in an A8 country.[13] In the 2011 census 1.97%[13] of the population of Northern Ireland were born in an A8 country, 1.24%[13] of the population of Northern Ireland were Catholics born in an A8 country and 1.48%[14] of the population of Northern Ireland were either Catholic or brought up Catholic and 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%[15] to 40.76%[13]) while the proportion claiming to be Catholic or brought up Catholic only increased by +1.39% (from 43.75%[16] to 45.14%[14]). Catholics from an A8 background cannot automatically be assumed to be proponents or supporters of Irish nationalism, and the period of their 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[17]
Religions 1961 1991 2001 2011
Roman Catholic 34.9% 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 Stated 2.0% 7.3% 9.0% 6.7%
None 0.0% 3.8% 5.0% 10.1%

The religious affiliations in the different districts of Northern Ireland were as follows:

Districts of Northern Ireland by predominant religion as of the 2011 census. Blue is Catholic and red is Protestant.
District 2001[18] 2011[19]
Catholic Protestant and other Christian Other Catholic Protestant and other Christian Other
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[20]
Religions 2001 2011
Roman Catholic 43.8% 45.1%
All other Christian 53.1% 48.4%
Other Religions 0.4% 0.9%
None 2.7% 5.6%

The percentage of respondents in each religious category of the census in Northern Ireland or the area that would later become Northern Ireland. Note that there was a high level of non-enumeration during the 1981 census mainly due to protests in Catholic areas about the Republican hunger strikes.[21]

Views on the Union[edit]

Results of this survey[22] on the future of Northern Ireland have remained fairly constant over the past several years.
Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey 2006[23]
Religion Affiliation 2003
Protestant Unionist 69%
Nationalist 0%
Neither 30%
Don't know 0%
Catholic Unionist 3%
Nationalist 54%
Neither 42%
Don't know 2%
Total Unionist 36%
Nationalist 23%
Neither 40%
Don't know 1%

According to a 2010 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey carried out by Queens University Belfast and the University of Ulster, 73% support remaining part of the United Kingdom via devolved government or direct rule, with support for leaving the UK and forming a political United Ireland at 16%. In terms of religion, 52% of Northern Ireland Catholics now support remaining part of the United Kingdom via devolved government or direct rule, usually while continuing to support nationalist political parties.[24] The number of Catholics supporting a United Ireland has now dropped to 33% amongst the Catholic population, according to the same poll. The proportion of Protestants given in the study who wish to join the Republic is under 5%, as 90% prefer remaining in the United Kingdom in some form.[24] There are also considerable numbers of people who give ambiguous answers to questions about the future constitutional status of Northern Ireland. Some who want unification consider themselves to be republicans as opposed to nationalists. Some nationalists have sought a favourable arrangement for Ireland within the United Kingdom. Some in the Protestant community (such as paramilitaries and their supporters) usually term themselves as loyalists, as opposed to unionists. As a result, the term "loyalist" has become less popular among unionists in recent decades, especially with unionist politicians. A small minority of people from both religious backgrounds[citation needed] advocate independence for Northern Ireland (possibly accompanied by some form of realignment of the Border with the Republic). Support for this concept while fluctuating is regarded as insignificant.

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 2013 an Ipsos Mori poll asked "If there was a referendum tomorrow would you vote for...?" and the answers for different regions of Northern Ireland were as follows,[25][26]

Belfast City Greater Belfast Down Armagh Tyrone/Fermanagh Londonderry Antrim
Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom 60% 77% 66% 64% 53% 55% 84%
Northern Ireland to be joined with the Republic of Ireland outside of the United Kingdom 20% 9% 18% 21% 19% 23% 13%
Would not vote 11% 11% 12% 10% 21% 16% 1%
Don't know 10% 3% 4% 4% 7% 6% 2%

National identity[edit]

In Northern Ireland national identity is complex and diverse. Many in Northern Ireland have a British national identity seeing the English, Scottish 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, Scottish 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. There are four of the twenty six districts in Northern Ireland, concentrated along the eastern seaboard, where Catholics are more likely to view themselves as being British than view themselves as being Irish; Carrickfergus, Larne, North Down and Ards, whereas even in those districts where Protestants are most likely to view themselves as Irish, such as Derry, Fermanagh and Newry and Mourne, Protestants are still more than ten times more likely to view themselves as British as view themselves as Irish.

While Protestants outnumber Catholics in only half of the districts in Northern Ireland those who consider themselves British outnumber those who consider themselves Irish in twenty of the twenty six districts in Northern Ireland. This is partly because Catholics are more likely to see themselves as British than Protestants are to see themselves as Irish, but is also partly because those of no religion are substantially more likely to see themselves as British as see themselves as Irish.

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

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

2011 Census[27]
National Identity Respondents
Northern Irish
English, Scottish or Welsh

By Religion[28]

National Identity All Catholic Protestant and other Christian Other religions No religion
British 48.4% 12.9% 81.6% 50.1% 55.9%
Irish 28.4% 57.2% 3.9% 12.4% 14.0%
Northern Irish 29.4% 30.7% 26.9% 18.0% 35.2%
English, Scottish or Welsh 1.6% 0.8% 1.5% 2.9% 5.2%
All other 3.4% 4.4% 1.0% 29.1% 7.1%

Detail by religion[29]

National Identity All Catholic Protestant and other Christian Other religions No religion
British only 39.9% 10.3% 68.3% 42.4% 42.9%
Irish only 25.3% 53.2% 2.1% 8.1% 9.4%
Northern Irish only 20.9% 26.9% 14.5% 12.0% 23.7%
British and Northern Irish only 6.2% 0.9% 11.1% 3.3% 7.9%
Irish and Northern Irish only 1.1% 2.0% 0.2% 0.5% 0.8%
British, Irish and Northern Irish only 1.0% 0.8% 1.0% 1.0% 2.1%
British and Irish only 0.7% 0.8% 0.5% 0.7% 1.0%
English, Scottish or Welsh only 1.0% 0.6% 0.8% 2.1% 3.5%
Other 4.0% 4.7% 1.6% 29.9% 8.7%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%

By District[30]

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. Percentages show the difference between the proportion of people describing themselves as Irish and the proportion of people describing themselves as British. Data from 2011 census
District British Irish Northern Irish English, Scottish or Welsh All 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[30]

District Catholic Protestant and other Christian Other Religion or None
British Irish Northern Irish All Other British Irish Northern Irish All Other British Irish Northern Irish All 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%

By Age[27]

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. Percentages show the difference between the proportion of Catholics describing themselves as Irish and the proportion of Catholics describing themselves as British. Data from 2011 census
Ages attained (years) British Irish Northern Irish English, Scottish or Welsh All other
0 to 15 45.1% 31.4% 30.5% 0.9% 3.6%
16 to 24 44.2% 32.3% 29.6% 1.5% 3.3%
25 to 34 40.5% 31.0% 30.0% 1.7% 8.6%
35 to 44 47.3% 28.7% 29.3% 2.1% 4.5%
45 to 54 50.8% 28.3% 28.0% 1.9% 2.2%
55 to 64 54.5% 24.9% 28.8% 1.9% 1.1%
65 to 74 57.5% 21.3% 29.8% 1.7% 0.4%
75 to 84 58.6% 19.6% 29.1% 1.6% 0.3%
85 and over 61.7% 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 2013 an Ipsos Mori poll asked "If there was a referendum tomorrow would you vote for...?" and answers for people giving different national identities were as follows.[31]

National Identity British only Irish only Northern Irish only Other
Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom 90% 23% 72% 68%
Northern Ireland to be joined with the Republic of Ireland outside of the United Kingdom 2% 48% 7% 7%
Would not vote 5% 18% 16% 18%
Don't know 2% 10% 6% 3%

Discussion of national identity may be complicated by the fact that many in Northern Ireland are not willing to accept national identities of others:

A 1997 publication by Democratic Dialogue financed by the Central Community Relations Unit of the Northern Ireland Office stated that "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.".[32]

Four polls taken between 1989 and 1994 revealed that when asked to state their national identity, over 79% of Northern Irish 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".[33]

However, many commentators consider the argument an exclusive disjunction, ignoring the fact that many people in Northern Ireland consider themselves both British AND Irish, or hold some other combination of identity. This can been seen in various 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.[34] 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.

Catholic Protestant No religion ALL
Strongly or weakly 36% 96% 83% 70%
Not at all 62% 4% 15% 28%
Don't know 2% 1% 2% 2%
Catholic Protestant No religion ALL
Strongly or weakly 91% 48% 55% 65%
Not at all 9% 51% 43% 33%
Don't know 1% 2% 2% 2%
Catholic Protestant No religion ALL
Strongly or weakly 38% 83% 61% 63%
Not at all 61% 16% 35% 36%
Don't know 1% 1% 4% 2%
Northern Irish
Catholic Protestant No religion ALL
Strongly or weakly 72% 85% 78% 78%
Not at all 28% 15% 20% 21%
Don't know 1% 1% 2% 1%

Note: percentages may not total 100 due to rounding.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Due to the abstentionist nature of Sinn Féin MPs, the fact that the Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1871, meaning the church no longer sends representatives to the House of Lords (unlike the Church of England, which continues to send two archbishops and 24 bishops, known as Lords Spiritual), as well as the fact that bishops of the Roman Catholic Church are not represented, this has resulted in most Northern Ireland members of House of Lords (such as Eileen Paisley and David Trimble — see List of Northern Ireland Members of the House of Lords) coming from Unionist backgrounds by default. In July 2009 Nuala O'Loan, who is married to the SDLP MLA Declan O'Loan, was appointed by Gordon Brown to this legislative body. The late Gerry Fitt, the first leader of the nationalist SDLP, sat from 1983 until 2005.
  2. ^ "UK | Northern Ireland | Major reform of local government". BBC News. 22 November 2005. Retrieved 16 March 2010. 
  3. ^ 01/08/2005 – 14:17:53. "Sinn Féin hails Dáil speaking rights plan | BreakingNews.ie". Breaking.tcm.ie. Retrieved 16 March 2010. 
  4. ^ The haunting. "Adams, stay out of our House — National News, Frontpage — Independent.ie". Unison.ie. Retrieved 28 October 2008. 
  5. ^ The haunting. "How Adams got it wrong on speaking in the Dáil — Analysis — Independent.ie". Unison.ie. Retrieved 28 October 2008. 
  6. ^ "BBC NEWS | UK | Northern Ireland | MPs attend Dáil joint committee". News.bbc.co.uk. Last Updated:. Retrieved 28 October 2008. 
  7. ^ Beyond the Sectarian Divide: the Social Bases and Political Consequences of Nationalist and Unionist Party Competition in Northern Ireland by Geoffrey Evans and Mary Duffy. In British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 27, No. 1. (Jan. 1997), esp. p.72–76
  8. ^ "BBC NEWS | UK | Northern Ireland | Fianna Fáil accepted as NI party". News.bbc.co.uk. Last Updated:. Retrieved 28 October 2008. 
  9. ^ "BBC NEWS | UK | Northern Ireland | Fianna Fáil 'will organise in NI'". News.bbc.co.uk. Last Updated:. Retrieved 28 October 2008. 
  10. ^ "Future Catholic Majority". Retrieved 26 December 2012. 
  11. ^ "CAIN: Religion in Northern Ireland". Cain.ulst.ac.uk. Retrieved 26 December 2012. 
  12. ^ http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/Documents/RaISe/Publications/2012/general/3112.pdf
  13. ^ a b c d http://www.ninis2.nisra.gov.uk/Download/Census%202011_Excel/2011/DC2253NI.xls
  14. ^ a b http://www.ninis2.nisra.gov.uk/Download/Census%202011_Excel/2011/DC2254NI.xls
  15. ^ http://www.ninis2.nisra.gov.uk/Download/Census%202001/Religion%20(administrative%20geographies).xlsx
  16. ^ http://www.ninis2.nisra.gov.uk/Download/Census%202001/Community%20Background%20(NRA).xlsx
  17. ^ "NISRA: Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency Census 2011". Retrieved 24 January 2013. 
  18. ^ "Census 2001". Retrieved 19 January 2014. 
  19. ^ "Census 2011". Retrieved 19 January 2014. 
  20. ^ "Key Statistics to Output Area Level". Retrieved 24 January 2013. 
  21. ^ http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/ni/religion.htm
  22. ^ "Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey Homepage". Ark.ac.uk. Retrieved 28 October 2008. 
  23. ^ "NI Life and Times Survey – 2006: UNINATID". Ark.ac.uk. Retrieved 28 October 2008. 
  24. ^ a b "2010 Survey opinion question on long-term policy for Northern Ireland". Northern Ireland Life & Times. 2010. Retrieved 20 June 2011. 
  25. ^ "BBC Spotlight Ipsos Mori Poll". BBC. 5 February 2013. Retrieved 17 January 2013. 
  26. ^ "Ipsos Mori Poll, page 20". BBC. 5 February 2013. Retrieved 17 January 2013. 
  27. ^ a b http://www.ninis2.nisra.gov.uk/Download/Census%202011_Winzip/2011/DC2106NI%20(a).ZIP
  28. ^ http://www.ninis2.nisra.gov.uk/Download/Census%202011_Winzip/2011/DC2239NI%20(a).ZIP
  29. ^ http://www.ninis2.nisra.gov.uk/Download/Census%202011_Winzip/2011/DC2237NI%20(a).ZIP
  30. ^ a b http://www.ninis2.nisra.gov.uk/Download/Census%202011_Winzip/2011/DC2240NI%20(a).ZIP
  31. ^ "Ipsos Mori Poll, page 18". BBC. 5 February 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2013. 
  32. ^ Report by Democratic Dialogue[dead link]
  33. ^ Breen, R., Devine, P. and Dowds, L. (editors), 1996. "Social Attitudes in Northern Ireland: The Fifth Report" ISBN 0-86281-593-2.  Chapter 2 retrieved from http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/othelem/research/nisas/rep5c2.htm on 24 August 2006.
  34. ^ How strongly to you feel yourself to be Irish? Northern Ireland Life & Times Survey, 1999

External links[edit]