In Northern Ireland, Catholics on the verge of becoming the majority

This is a first in the history of Northern Ireland, marked by interreligious conflicts: Catholics should come out in the majority of the last census in the British province, the results of which are published Thursday, a development with heavy political implications.

Northern Ireland, bruised by decades of inter-community violence, was born 101 years ago with a geographical division ensuring in this province a Protestant majority and thus power to the unionists, supporters of the attachment with the United Kingdom. In the rest of the island, now the Republic of Ireland, Catholics are the majority.

Calls for more equality between Protestants and Catholics - mostly in favor of reunification with the Republic of Ireland - were one of the first sources of violence in the context of the "Troubles". These three decades of conflict claimed 3.500 lives and ended with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which established power sharing between communities.

At the last census in the province in 2011, 45% of the population identified as Catholic and 48% as Protestant or other Christian religions, a gap already much narrower than ten earlier. In 2001, 53% of the inhabitants said they were Protestant, 44% Catholic.

If the trend has continued, as specialists believe, Catholics should logically overtake Protestants in this new census. What quickly put back on the table the question of an independence referendum and a reunification of the province with the Republic of Ireland.

Already in May, the nationalists of Sinn Fein, a former political branch of the IRA paramilitaries and supporters of reunification, won the local elections for the first time.

And if Sinn Fein is now the majority in Belfast, polls also place the party at the top of voting intentions in the Republic of Ireland, where legislative elections are scheduled for 2025.

New elections?

In Northern Ireland, Unionists are trying to downplay what a Catholic majority would mean on the advisability of an independence referendum. But according to the Good Friday agreement, the British Minister in charge of Northern Ireland must organize a referendum "if it seems likely to him that a majority of voters would express the wish that Northern Ireland should no longer be part of from the United Kingdom ".

Since May, the main unionist party (DUP) has blocked the executive by refusing to share power with Sinn Fein as long as the post-Brexit provisions applying in the province are not modified.

According to the DUP, these provisions, which introduce a de facto customs border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom to which the unionists are very attached.

In an attempt to calm tensions, British Prime Minister Liz Truss, who at the time was the head of diplomacy, introduced a law to unilaterally modify provisions of the Brexit agreement, at the risk of alienating the European Union which threatened a trade war.

Meanwhile, the new British Minister for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, has however urged Unionists to return to the local assembly by October 28 or else new elections could be held. summoned.

While in Northern Ireland the idea of ​​reunification is gaining ground, the British government is also facing the desire for independence in Scotland, where the local government wants to organize a new referendum next year. The "no" had won in 2014 but Brexit, which the majority of Scots were opposed to, revived the debate.

According to a study published Thursday by the British Social Attitudes Institute, which measures long-term trends in British society, 52% of Scots favor independence, up from 27% in 1999 and 33% in 2014.

The Editorial Board (with AFP)

Image Credit: Shutterstock /Lukassek / Saint Eugene's Cathedral in Derry, Northern Ireland.

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