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The Northern Ireland census

At the end of the day, class struggle trumps demographics

26 September 2022

In the North of Ireland, the achievement of a plurality of those identifying as being from a Catholic background is a significant moment in Irish politics.

45.7% identify as Catholic or brought up Catholic.
43.5% identify as Protestant or brought up Protestant.
9.3% of people said they were not brought up in any religion.

Its significance is as an indicator of the outcome of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, when decades of struggle led to an end to a violent sectarian hegemony and economic, political and military suppression of nationalists. Unfortunately, the new dispensation, by design, remains sectarian with constant battles around the sharing out of patronage and resources. It goes without saying that Britain remains in control of the province.

The anti-imperialist and socialist consciousness of the past has been replaced by identity politics. In terms of national identity, 31.9% said they had a British-only identity, while 29.1% said Irish-only and 19.8% said Northern Irish-only. 8% of people said they were both British and Northern Irish. The language of identity and inclusion is everywhere, driving out any concept of class oppression.

Perhaps the strongest indicator of the effects of identity is the disjunction between the Catholic ID (45.7%) and Irish (29.1%), a sign that calls for Irish unity are likely to fail.

The old Northern Ireland was immensely strong but fragile, relying heavily on armed repression. In the new Northern Ireland unionism has weakened and other forces have moved forward, mainly Irish bourgeois nationalism. In a time of Brexit partition is less stable but also less fragile. Dublin has driven forward with an inclusive "Shared Island" that stands in sharp contrast to ideas of a republic, let alone a workers’ republic.

Sinn Fein have been quick to climb on board, putting onions into their hankies to weep at the death of the British queen, standing by as Charles III asserted his claim to the North and slyly hinting that a United Ireland would be part of the British commonwealth.

The census shows widespread acceptance for partition in its current phase. However, converting that acceptance into stability is proving elusive as each iteration of the Stormont administration comes crashing down.  The formal representatives of the workers in the trade union leaderships call to "Get Stormont working" ignoring its past failures and its anti-working-class role when it is in session.

What is expressed by unions in the North as capitulation is expressed in the South as partnership. The main union leadership sit quietly in committees administering a system built around collaboration with transnational capital and supporting the political stability based on the Good Friday Agreement.

All is not well. This consensus eats away at workers’ rights and has seen a rotting away of the major capitalist parties. A Sinn Féin presence in government is seen as a solution, ignoring their pro-capitalist political programme and their role in administering the British colony.

The decline of the militaristic Northern administration of the past should be welcomed, but behind the demographics remains the class reality of capitalism and imperialism, a reality that continually intrudes on a decaying system operating in crisis mode.

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