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Catholic unionist is a historic term for a Roman Catholic in Ireland who supports continuing or maintaining the Union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain or who supports the Republic of Ireland rejoining the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is a constituent country of the United Kingdom, consisting of the northeastern sixth of the island of Ireland.
The term Catholic unionist has become controversial since the start of the Troubles, due to the strong association of Irish Unionism with Protestantism. The most recent surveys suggest that, although a plurality of Catholics in Ireland are technically unionists in that they support Northern Ireland remaining part of Britain, very few would self-identify as unionist or support an explicitly unionist political party. This has led to the nickname unicorns for self-identified Catholic unionists, by analogy with a non-existent creature.
Catholic supporters of the Ulster Unionist Party - the dominant political force in Northern Ireland until the 1970s - tended to support the reformist Prime Minister Terence O'Neill against the emerging hardline Protestant Unionist Party (later the DUP). The UUP later took a more hardline turn itself, and as of 2016 support for either party among Catholics is almost zero. Catholic union supporters today may vote for the moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party (notwithstanding the SDLP's support for a United Ireland), or for the non-partisan Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, or for none of the major parties.
Notable Catholic Unionists
Historically, after the enactment of Catholic Emancipation in 1829, a great number of Catholics served in senior positions in the British Empire of the 19th century. Probably the most eminent was the lawyer, judge and politician Charles Russell.
- Richard Doherty, author, military historian and RUC reservist from County Londonderry.
- Sir John Gorman, a former Ulster Unionist Party member of the Northern Ireland assembly.
- Sir Denis Henry, was born in County Londonderry in 1864. A son of prosperous Catholic businessman, he was elected MP for South Londonderry in 1916 and later served as Solicitor-General for Ireland and then as the First Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.
- Tina McKenzie. The former chairperson, council candidate and European Parliament candidate for the pro-union political party NI21 and businesswoman. She is the daughter of Harry Fitzsimons, a former member of the Provisional IRA.
Many prominent members of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland have been Catholics, including the majority of its past leaders (such as John Cushnahan, Oliver Napier and Sean Neeson), some of its Deputy Leaders (such as Seamus Close and Eileen Bell), former MP (of the Northern Ireland Parliament) Thomas Columba Gormley, as well as three of its seven current Assembly members. The Alliance Party is not, as such, a Unionist party, as its support for the Union is based purely on that being the wishes of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland.
Republic of Ireland
- Stan Gebler Davies (deceased) – a journalist for the Irish Independent, who stood as a Unionist for the Dáil in 1987.
- Edward Haughey, Baron Ballyedmond (deceased), OBE. Educated by the Irish Christian Brothers in Dundalk; self-made pharmaceutical tycoon who served as a nominee of Taoiseach Charles Haughey in Seanad Éireann.
- Conor Cruise O'Brien (deceased), former member of the UK Unionist Party and the Irish Labour Party.
Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey's 2014 poll results suggest that half of Northern Irish Catholics favour Northern Ireland remaining as part of the United Kingdom. The NILT results also suggest that 6% of Roman Catholics would vote for the nominally unionist Alliance Party, but that only 1% would support any of the mainstream or 'hardline' Unionist parties. Similarly, the poll results suggested that 7% of Protestants would vote for the Alliance Party, while 1% of Protestants would vote for the moderate nationalist SDLP.
A 2011 survey by the Northern Ireland Life and Times survey found that 52% of Northern Irish Catholics respondents favoured Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom over a United Ireland.
- The Belfast Telegraph, 6 November 2013
- Obituary: Stan Gebler Davies The Independent 24 June 1994
- "NI Life and Times Survey "Do you think the long-term policy for Northern Ireland should be for it..."". ark.ac.uk. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
- "NI Life and Times Survey - 2014: NIPARTY "Which Northern Ireland political party would you support?"". ark.ac.uk. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
- Henry McDonald. "The Kingdom will remain United – in Ireland, at least". the Guardian. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
- The Irish Times, 20 June 2011