New figures suggest that none of the north’s Six Counties has an outright unionist electoral majority.
A new statistical analysis by Philip McGuinness of Dundalk Institute of Technology shows that four counties now have a nationalist majority - Derry, Armagh, Tyrone and Fermanagh.
In Antrim and Down, both east of the Bann, unionist voters now also make up less than 50 percent, although they still outnumber nationalists.
The figures throw a fresh light on the changes since partition a hundred years ago. In 1921, there were unionist majorities in four counties (Derry, Armagh, Down and Antrim) and just two (Fermanagh and Tyrone) with nationalist majorities.
The county-by-county figures now show that although unionism remains marginally dominant within the Six County statelet created for it, it can no longer lay claim to dominate a single county of the six.
Political gerrymandering has helped to mask the demographic changes taking place. But in recent decades, the continued growth of nationalism west of the Bann has produced a reversal in electoral results in areas including Derry and Armagh.
The recent surge in support for the Alliance Party accounts for much of the slide in unionism in traditional unionist areas.
While constituency boundaries have changed frequently in the last century, Mr McGuinness has sought to make comparisons using data from smaller ‘electoral areas’, which are a feature of local elections.
“In 2019 Alliance did very well east of the Bann and they have either taken a lot of votes from unionists, I think, in that area or else Alliance voters who never bothered to vote actually turned up and voted in 2019,” he said.
“The effect of that is just to push the overall unionist vote in both counties just below 50 per cent, I was surprised to see that because you think of those two counties as being very, very strong unionist counties.”
Sinn Féin’s Executive Office Minister, Declan Kearney, said in a statement this week that unionism “is not a monolith” and “contains thinkers who can anticipate change”.
“Those who are strategically far seeing enough to recognise that it’s better to prepare for ultimate negotiations, rather than wait until it is too late,” he said.
“Everyone must be involved in the dialogue about a new, agreed Ireland; republicans, unionists, nationalists, loyalists, and those from none of these traditions, but who call this place home. Every stripe of political and civic society should have its voice heard. A dedicated citizens’ assembly on constitutional change would create both a forum and foundation to anchor this process of change in Ireland.
“Our approach to the process of constitutional change needs to be about inclusion not marginalisation.”
“For our part, republicans will be sincere and generous partners in helping to pioneer a path towards constitutional change and a new Ireland, with all sections of Irish society, and especially our unionist neighbours.”