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More of us are describing ourselves as Northern Irish

By Noel McAdam

Growing numbers of people in Northern Ireland are electing to describe themselves as ‘equally Irish and British’, according to a survey published today.

The report from the University of Limerick also showed an increasing number who, from a range of options, self-identify as and are prepared to accept the label of ‘Northern Irish’.

From a sample of 1,179 people, around a quarter opted for the ‘Northern Irish’ label, compared to around about a fifth in previous surveys. And within that group of some 25%, about a third agreed they were ‘equally British and Irish’.

The research is based on information from the 2007 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey which was conducted by ARK, a joint research initiative by Queen’s University and the University of Ulster.

Ten years after the Good Friday Agreement, with the issue of identity remaining central, with political and religious elements inter-linked, the study is evidence of some change in perceptions and moving away from traditional labels.

Author professor Orla Muldoon said: “As you might expect, Catholics in Northern Ireland are more likely to describe themselves as being Irish, while Protestants are more likely to describe themselves as British. Almost two thirds (59%) of those who responded to the survey identified themselves as British Protestants or Irish Catholics.

“There was, however, an increase in the number of people who identified themselves as being ‘Northern Irish’, with around one in four (25%) opting for this label, compared to around one fifth (20%) in previous surveys.

“Within this group, around one third described themselves as being equally British and Irish. They did not see Britishness or Irishness as being mutually exclusive and rejected the notion that these identities are ‘opposites’. This indicates a shift away from the traditional national and religious identities that underpinned the Troubles.”

The project also involved presenting all 1,179 people who took part with emblems or historical images that might be viewed differently by people with different identities, and gauged their responses to these images.

“Emotional responses to iconic images, such as flags and emblems, were stronger among respondents with traditional identities. Those who described themselves as Irish Catholic said they were more likely to feel uneasy or annoyed when presented with an image of a Union Jack or a photo of a news presenter wearing a poppy. British Protestants, however, were more uneasy or annoyed when presented with an Irish Tricolour or an Irish language letterhead,” Prof Muldoon added.

“While this research has confirmed that national and religious identity in Northern Ireland are often interlinked, it has also highlighted that an increasing number of people are moving away from the traditional labels.”

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the report is available online at .

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