The BBC in Northern Ireland have continued their habit of subjecting those of us in the region to pointless local variations. The latest is a survey of children’s attitudes in the province, which suggests that (brace yourselves) Protestant children are most likely to consider themselves British and Catholic children have a tendency to consider themselves Irish.
There is little or nothing useful, instructive or enlightening about the programme’s findings. What is instructive however, is the welter of criticism from republicans the academic expert on the programme, QUB’s Professor Paul Connelly, received for emphasising the sense of a distinct Northern Irish identity many children from here increasingly feel. Professor Connelly also had the temerity to suggest that perhaps embracing this inclusive identity may be a positive thing, and perhaps a means to moving beyond the old tribal, ethno-religious divisions of the two traditional communities.
I am not instinctively a fan of this type of identity navel gazing. It panders to a nationalist version of politics which seeks to neatly categorise people into national ethnic groups. I do however, find it fascinating to see republicans dismiss patent realities because they don’t correspond with the impoverished view of identity, they need to adopt to feed their warped political analysis.
The fact that people actually do feel distinctly Northern Irish has to be ignored and rubbished. The subtleties and the multi-layered characteristics of people’s identity are ignored in preference to a simplistic British / Irish divide. The fact that people can feel Northern Irish, Irish and British is seen as an anathema. Thank god the reality is different from their jaundiced propaganda.