Census shows ‘historic and irreversible change’ is underway – San Feno
Census results in Northern Ireland clearly indicate that historical and irreversible change is taking place, a Sinn Féin senior has said.
North Belfast MP John Finucane said the figures emphasize the need to intensify preparations for a future referendum on Irish unity.
However, the DUP’s Stormont Assembly member Philippe Brett warned against “lazy analysis” linking religious affiliation with public opinion on constitutional change.
Mr Finucane said: “Today’s census results are another clear indication that the island is undergoing historic change and the diversity of society that enriches all of us.
“There is no doubt that change is ongoing and irreversible. Moving forward in how this change takes shape requires maturity to meet the challenges facing our society.
“We can all be part of shaping a better future – a new constitutional future and a new Ireland.
“But we must prepare for it. The Irish government must set up a civil assembly to plan for the possibility of a unity referendum.
“The planning period is important. That planning and the dialogue and engagement needs to happen now, and people from all backgrounds and communities should be involved.
“The division of Ireland has failed. Together we can build a better future for everyone who lives on this island.”
Mr Brett said the census results should not be interpreted as a “mini-referendum” on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland.
He said the vote share for those advocating a united Ireland had fallen from 42 percent in the 2001 Westminster election to less than 40 percent in the May assembly election.
“The publication of the census should be about shaping the investment and public services that Northern Ireland needs in the future, not border voting or communal headcount,” he said.
“It is simple and lazy to draw political conclusions based on the number of Protestants and Catholics.
“For the past 20 years there has been a trend towards a Protestant minority, a Catholic minority and a minority who do not identify themselves. Instead of focusing on divisive border surveys, we must ensure that Northern Ireland builds first-class public services and a truly shared future.
Sinn Féin has called for a divisive boundary survey behind this census publication, indicating that their main focus is removing Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom, rather than a shared future.
#NICensus2021 result online now
View results per 100 people #Northern Ireland Related passport, ethnic group, national identity, language, religion and more.
To download the result visit https://t.co/0ARV5aUdu9 or check it online at https://t.co/olEJo7rpfN. pic.twitter.com/fTvuXLdVsY
– Census 2021 – Northern Ireland (@NICensus2021) 22 September 2022
Nuala McAllister of the Cross-Community Alliance party highlighted the increase in the number of people who do not identify with any religion.
The legislator cautioned against interpreting the results through the traditional orange and green prism of Northern Ireland.
“It’s really important that right now it’s not about keeping one particular people in the majority, but about creating a shared future that really reflects the diversity and vibrancy of Northern Ireland,” she told Radio Ulster .
Ulster Unionist Party legislator Mike Nesbitt said the results point to the development of a “modern pluralistic society” in Northern Ireland.
“While most of the focus will be on religious headcount, it has been clear for several decades that not all Catholics are nationalists or Republicans, and not all Protestants vote for federalist parties,” he said.
“The situation regarding identity and nationality is more complex than some portray and the Ulster Unionist Party is focused on increasing the number of people who support and vote for the union, regardless of religious affiliation or background. That is for the future. The challenge is.”
SDLP leader Colm Eastwood said the census figures represented a “critical moment” in the history of the island of Ireland.
“The importance of this change should not be underestimated or belittled by fear or sly politics,” he said.
“I acknowledge that today’s figures may create a sense of insecurity for some. But it is my sincere hope that we can all take a serious and honest thought about the scale of the change we have now experienced and remain committed to having a conversation about the powerful potential for change in the future.”