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The politics of neither: how Northern Ireland is shunning unionism and nationalism

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25.06.2019

Northern Ireland is arguably as polarised as at any time since the IRA hunger strikes of 1981. It has been without a Stormont government since the beginning of 2017 due to divisions over matters such as the Irish language, Brexit and the legacy of the 30-year Troubles.

Yet at the same time, the cross-community Alliance party recently had its biggest ever share of the vote, at 18.5%, in the European elections. And last week research suggested that more people than ever in the province, 50%, say they are “neither unionist nor nationalist”. The Northern Ireland Life and Times survey finds that half the population does not identify with the two main tribal groups who want to see sovereignty lie with either London or Dublin.

At the same time the censuses have found a gradual rise in the number of people who consider themselves Northern Irish (as opposed to Irish or British) – people such as the golfer Rory McIlroy (born in 1989), whose background is Catholic but who attended a non-Catholic school and said he felt more of a connection to the UK than Ireland.

It is not easy to reconcile these contrasting realities of deep division and a growing repudiation of sectarian labels.

In the recent European elections, the combined centre vote (including Greens) rose to........

© The Guardian