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Coveney: No surprise in Northern census results but good relationships needed before border poll

Coveney and Doherty were speaking after it emerged that catholics now outnumber protestants in Northern Ireland.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

SIMON COVENEY BELIEVES that Northern Ireland census data confirms that society is changing but that work is needed on building relationships before a border poll. 

Foreign Affairs Minister Coveney, speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland this morning, said that news that Catholics outnumber protestants in the North was not a surprise. 

The 2021 Census, which asked people about both their current religion and religion of upbringing, shows 45.7% of Northern Ireland’s population is or was raised Catholic, while 43.5% are Protestant or another Christian religion.

It is the first time that the proportion of Catholics in the population has surpassed the number of Protestants.

The Census figures usually prompt debate over what they may mean for Northern Ireland’s future and public opinion on the question of the reunification of Ireland. 

Coveney said that there was a lot of work needed in building connections with the various parties in the North. 

“Clearly, things are changing in Northern Ireland. The makeup of the population there is changing and that’s been happening for some time.

“I don’t think those of us who who have been involved in the politics of Northern Ireland and how things are changing were surprised by that census results.

“But I think the focus for now in Northern Ireland has got to be on relationships,” Coveney said. 

The Minister for Foreign Affairs said relationship building was particularly important with the appointment of new British Prime Minister Liz Truss and other key posts filled by new people in the British Government. 

“We have a lot of work to do in the context of trying to settle the Northern Ireland protocol issue. We have to listen to unionism as well as, of course, everybody else in Northern Ireland.

“And we have to try to make sure that the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are functioning again because they haven’t been functioning for quite some time.

“I think the priority for now has got to be on getting the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement functioning again,” he added. 

Coveney said until those relationships are established he believes it is “very hard to plan” for a future border poll.

“At the moment there is a huge problem with trust in Northern Ireland, between different political parties and between parties and those relationships have got to be mended. And then of course, we have to plan for the future,” he added. 

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty, speaking on the same radio station, said he agreed with Simon Coveney that the results of the census were not a surprise.

“We can see in terms of the trend, we can see the change that has taken place in the North, but we can actually see that change taking place right across the island of Ireland and people that desire for change.

“There is an onus on all of us in politics to plan for the future. There’s an immediate responsibility on the DUP to get back into the executive to start delivering, but there’s a responsibility in all of us to recognize that change is happening and that we need to plan for that change.

“And that means that the government needs to take a lead in relation to what that will look like,” he said. 

Doherty said there are “more and more people” saying in opinion polls that there is a “desire for constitutional change”.

“So therefore, there is a responsibility and goals to actually map out what that looks like. That’s why we’re calling on the government to bring forward a citizens assembly and a paper on Irish unity,” he added. 

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