Over lockdown, I decided to start learning French. When my teacher asks what my nationality is, I always say that I'm British and Irish. It's a half truth. On their own, those two labels can't sum up my whole identity. I'm British, Irish and Northern Irish. Explaining this to people outside Northern Ireland usually leads to confusion. I get why.
As Northern Ireland reaches its centenary, it seems apt that a growing number of people (33%) are now choosing to identify as 'Northern Irish.' The latest statistics should surprise nobody. They reflect how Northern Ireland, and its population, are changing. We should celebrate that, but we should also be careful not to dismiss those who identify as British and Irish.
What does a 'Northern Irish' identity mean? It is a difficult question to answer. It is personal to every individual.
For me, the Northern Irish identity speaks to my sense of belonging in Northern Ireland, the feeling that I don't fit in anywhere else. For some, Northern Irishness means being both British and Irish. It can mean being Irish, but from the north. It can represent Northern Irishness within the UK. I think for many, to be Northern Irish is to reject British and Irish identities. It is about defining yourself outside of the orange and green binary that defined our parents.
British and Irish identity politics has played a significant role in Northern Ireland's history. We're stamped with the orange and green binary when we're born. We simply follow the path laid down by history.
The growth of the Northern Irish identity shows that a new generation has decided to reject the practises of the past. It aligns strongly with young people and the neithers, the growing cohort of voters that have delivered victories to Alliance and the Greens. People are growing frustrated with political unionism and nationalism. They aren't picking sides, they are defining their own.
With that in mind, it seems that I'm in the minority when it comes to feeling British. Only 20% of 25-34-year-olds feel as I do. For the 18-24-year-olds, it is 17%. The older generation feel differently. A whopping 51% of the over 65s identify as British. The trend isn't reflected for the Irish identity. In my age category, 30% of people say they are Irish. That gets lower as age increases.
The statistics will cause concern within unionism, but unionists shouldn't be shocked. They should blame themselves. Any young people find Britishness uncomfortable because of Brexit, defence of Empire and the use of union flag by right wing politicians. Politicians need to take a different approach for things to change.
While we should celebrate the fact that people are thinking differently, we need to be careful not to put Northern Irishness on a moral high ground. You can't detach yourself from the legacy of colonialism just by getting an Irish passport and calling yourself Northern Irish.
Just because somebody identifies as Northern Irish doesn't mean they're more enlightened or more progressive that somebody who aligns with traditional labels. British and Irish identities are important to many and there aren't going to disappear.
People need to start taking Northern Irishness seriously. But getting rid of orange and green isn't going to fix our problems. To do that, people need to commit to the real work of reconciliation and understanding.
Sarah Creighton is a lawyer and political commentator