Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Focus should not be on a sectarian headcount, but on a place at peace with itself regardless of religion or culture

Editor's Viewpoint

The claim by researcher Dr Paul Nolan that Catholics will outnumber Protestants in Northern Ireland in just three years will jangle some nerves.

Such statistics are of interest to historians and others. For some unionists they are a wake-up call, while for some nationalists they may herald the fulfilment of a long-held and cherished dream of politically reshaping this island.

Recent developments such as Brexit and the border issue give an added edge to the debate, particularly in light of the centenary anniversary of the establishment of Northern Ireland in 2021, the year Dr Nolan says the population shift will come.

However, this does little to help us in the chronic and febrile political stalemate we find ourselves in.

Indeed, such talk, which is centred solely on a sectarian headcount, is deeply unpleasant at one level, because it denies people the right to make political choices for themselves, irrespective of accident of birth.

Our history shows that many people are not easily boxed into stereotypes, given the added difficulty of our current political apathy.

However, there is an opportunity now for an important political debate, with major questions about the future. Unionism might seem to have the most to lose, but there should also be a realistic focus on the present.

Unionists have been criticised for not reaching out enough to nationalists, and unionism's most urgent challenge is to make Northern Ireland a comfortable place for everyone.

People should not be put into two camps automatically because of their birth. There are still coherent and persuasive arguments about identity on both sides.

Above all, the real hope is for a Northern Ireland of the future that can be sufficiently comfortable with itself so that it can aspire to being a place where considerations concerning people's religion and cultural backgrounds will no longer matter.

Belfast Telegraph

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