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The Census in Northern Ireland: a Middle Ground?

Published on 27 March 2021 at 18:02

Last Sunday, Northern Irish residents filled in their Census forms. However when it comes to national identity, residents face the option of picking between the traditional "green" or "orange" identity of Irish or British, with a middle ground option simply stating Northern Irish.



One individual who does not believe in having to pick between the green, orange or even the middle ground for that matter is the Alliance Party activist Scott Moore. Mr. Moore insists that he does not “personally have a Northern Irish national identity.” He further stated that “I reject national identity completely. I’ve had a bad impression of it since I was very young and I don’t believe it’s the answer to our problems in the very long-term.”



Having said that, the Strabane native went on to explain that “I think Northern Irish national identity can have a practical use, and a positive impact, because it can have a unifying effect and serve as a bulwark against sectarian division.” Mr Moore further added that “Personally, I think that Northern Irish identity should be protected, with opportunities made available for those who hold it to express it, though of course without it being promoted above other identities.”


If you do not identify as British, Irish or Northern Irish, what can you identify as? Mr Moore, also a student at Queens University, claimed that he identifies himself “as a post-nationalist or a world citizen.” Post-nationalism or non-nationalism is the process or trend by which nation states and national identities lose their importance relative to cross-national and self-organized or supranational and global entities.

 

 

There are several factors that contribute to aspects of post-nationalism. These factors include economic, political, and, cultural elements. The increase of globalisation, for example, has shifted the emphasis from national economies to global ones. In turn individuals tend to associate themselves with global issues more than local ones, and thus they identify more with the international realm than their local communities.


In the 2011 UK census, it was reported that 21% of people in Northern Ireland identify as “Northern Irish”. However, it is still unknown what impact 10 years has had on this figure. 

 


Mr Moore believes that “it’d send a strong message about how people in Northern Ireland see themselves, and help disrupt the prevailing narrative that this society is a strict binary of British and Irish people, with no overlaps or nuances.”

 

The importance of this census cannot be emphasised enough. 2021 marks the 100th year anniversary since the partition of Ireland. Conversation over the future of Northern Ireland was recently highlighted in an episode of Claire Byrne Live. The programme reflected all angles of a United Ireland. With the Good Friday agreement being signed 23 years ago, there is a new generation that may change the face of Irish politics.


In the meantime the Alliance Party remain the biggest political party in Northern Ireland that fits into the ‘neutral bracket’ and Mr. Moore is to the forefront of the party.


The Alliance Party has an open-door policy whenever it comes to nationalist, unionist and middle ground views. However, it begs the question, what box would the majority of members tick on the census?


“I think there is data on that somewhere. But Alliance folk see themselves as holding a variety of identities. Not all would necessarily identify as Northern Irish, though I’m sure many would.” Mr Moore revealed to Frontier. However, the Alliance party will certainly hope that a rise in people identifying as Northern Irish would be a major boost heading into the next Northern Ireland assembly elections.


With both Sinn Fein and the DUP having lost seats during the last British general election in December 2019, it is only right to question whether "orange" and "green" politics are on the decline?


An increase in people identifying as Northern Irish, as opposed to Irish or British, will only add credence to this claim. Mr. Moore made it clear, “Alliance is neutral on the constitutional question, but not on all of politics, that’s important to note. But I think anything that serves as a bulwark against sectarian division and helps see people as part of one community together would help parties which don’t define themselves along constitutional lines.”


Whatever the census results reflect, it would be surprising if a significant majority display particular support for one of the three categories.

 


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