LONG before the keenly anticipated religious breakdown census figures were released last week it was clear that great change is coming to the North of Ireland. Much as loyal Ulster has, Chicken Licken-like, been pretending that everthing’s fine, much as agitated senior unionists today argue that Catholics outnumbering Protestants does not automatically equate to a united Ireland, and much as we might agree with them, there can be no underestimating the visceral impact that the official ending of the Protestant state has had on people and their forebears whose lot in life – and that of their forebears – was to be the permanent underdog and scapegoat.
Those young people who have educated themselves and are now in the vanguard of the drive to create a new future and a new island view this rapidly changing landscape not as a cause for uncertainty and doubt, but as an opportunity to bring what none of us in these benighted six counties – Catholic, Protestant, Dissenter and Other – has ever communally known: cohesion, contentment, hope and optimism. Meanwhile, many of us old enough to have lived through the Troubles, and indeed the years preceding them, have been left emotional and drained by the past few days as we reflect on what the rancidly sectarian gargoyle of a statelet created in 1921 has delivered in over 100 years – death, division, hatred, suspicion, failure. All of which still hover over us more than 100 years on.
It is not triumphalist, but rather a statement of simple fact, to say that we are on the cusp of huge changes that are going to make this place where we live – whatever its future status – unrecognisable from the dark days of that monochrome, monolithic Protestant state. The days of decree are long gone and the days of collegiate, respectful government are upon us, though we have seen in recent months how painful and difficult that is for the leading party of unionism to accept. But accept it they will, however begrudgingly and belatedly, and when they do the senior figures within the DUP will have a decision to make: Will they continue to allow themselves to be led by the nose by voteless wheelie bin jockeys and unelected poundshop Paisleys to defeat after defeat? Or will they strike out for an accommodation they can live with based on mutual respect and understanding?
The #NICensus2021 asked everyone in #NorthernIreland the same questions.@NISRA have released results for Belfast City Council— Census 2021 - Northern Ireland (@NICensus2021) September 22, 2022
Visit https://t.co/olEJo7rpfN to find out more about your council area with the @NISRA #AreaExplorer
This weekend the umbrella group Ireland’s Future will gather in Dublin in their thousands. The DUP have made it clear that they want no part in discussions around the future of the island, and that’s their choice. But as political heavy-hitters are joined by people from all walks of life as well as celebrities from the worlds of sport, cinema and television in Ireland’s biggest indoor arena, at some stage senior unionists are going to have to acknowledge the narrowness of vision and the paucity of thought that sees them embarrassingly exploited for photo opportunities on bleak, flag-draped podiums in provincial towns by loudmouths who are where they are solely because of the depth of their bitterness.
The future can indeed be bright. But it can’t be only orange. And it can’t be only green. Let’s between us make it a splash of colour.