Catholic unionist

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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[edit]

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.

Northern Ireland[edit]

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[edit]

Voting trends[edit]

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.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5][6]


See also[edit]