SINN Fein may be destined to become the largest party in the new Mid Ulster super council area, but latest figures suggest that the biggest obstacle to their political goals will not be Unionist defiance but Catholic indifference.
More than one in four people in the new council area which comprises Dungannon, Cookstown and Magherafelt Districts, now see themselves as Northern Irish only rather than British or Irish, according to the latest census data, released on Thursday.
The information, broken down by each super council area, provides a unique insight into local people’s multi-layered identities.
Catholics are now in the clear majority at 64 percent of the Mid Ulster population, the third largest proportion in Northern Ireland, ahead of Protestants at 33%.
However, turn to the national identity findings and you find that in Mid Ulster 39% thought of themselves as Irish only, ahead of 32% who described themselves as British, whilst a substantial 29% of local residents thought of themselves as Northern Irish.
In fact the local area has one of the highest proportions of people in Northern Ireland who describe themselves as Northern Irish only.
The figures challenge conventional wisdom that national identity and religion are directly linked. Whilst almost two thirds of the local population see themselves as Catholic, less than two fifths of the population regard themselves as Irish.
People who opt for the middle ground in terms of national identity now hold the balance of power in the new almalgamated council area, just as Alliance hold the balance of power in Belfast City Council.
The DUP say the local census findings on identity show the clear majority of local people back the constitutional status quo.
“The lazy sectarian assumption that national identity can be assumed from someone’s religious beliefs can be laid to rest forever”, said DUP MLA Maurice Morrow.
For more comments and analysis on the government figures log onto www.midulstermail.com