The Catholic unionists
Catholics who believe Northern Ireland is better off staying with Britain – for economic and cultural reasons – say that there are many more like them who are keeping quiet
“My parents reacted with surprise and, I imagine, some discomfort and some others found it a bit bizarre and curious. I was told by some people that really I should join the SDLP.
“I just think being part of the UK makes more sense than Northern Ireland joining the Republic. Certainly economically. Also in an emotional sense I identify more with British culture than with Irish culture despite having been brought up largely with [Irish culture].
“I think a constitutional monarchy is a good idea. If you are going to have a republic then perhaps you should go for a more executive-style presidency. Having a monarch who is completely above politics is a better embodiment of the nation.
“On parades I think the Orange Order has a right to march but they should respect the feelings of the people in the areas they are marching through. At the same time residents in areas shouldn’t go out of their way to be offended by the parades.
“There are more Catholic unionists than is realised. An increasing number of Catholics would be content to stay in the UK but, because of the connotations and associations, won’t describe themselves as unionist. But de facto they are unionists.”
“It’s sad we don’t have normal politics here”
Eimhear McFarlane (19), living in Belfast, from south Down, plans to study business in London, and hopes to stand for the Conservatives in next Northern Ireland council elections
“I support both the Down and Armagh GAA teams and travel to Parkhead at least once a year to support Celtic. I would be very proud of my Catholic background and would describe myself as British-Irish.
“I was really interested in politics when I was young, so I told my Dad I wanted to join a political party. He said: “Come back to me after you’ve researched every political party in the UK.” I did the research and, after six months, I came back to him saying I wanted to join the Tories. He agreed. I was 16.
“I went to Assumption (Catholic) Grammar in Ballynahinch; then Downpatrick High School. I was not the favourite in the A-level politics class. I was the only Tory and got Margaret Thatcher jokes every day.
“The majority of my class sympathised with Sinn Féin. The reaction, the “Up the ’Ra” comments, and all that, did not put me off. Whenever I was younger I kind of toyed with the idea of romanticised republicanism, the one-Ireland, united dream. Then when I started reading about struggles and British history I ended up saying, this is too romanticised.
“When I think of young Catholics voting Sinn Féin or young Protestants voting DUP I just think it’s sad that we don’t have normal politics here.
“I could never in a million years vote for either of [Peter Robinson or Martin McGuinness]. I love Basil [McCrea] and John [McCallister] of NI21; they are great people, they are excellent characters, but I would not jump ship from the Tories.
“I was never drawn to the left wing, I was more centre-right and very definitely would like to be out of the EU. I think Cameron is very wet. I would love Boris [Johnson]. He is very appealing.”
“At 17-18, I decided I was pro-union”
Torr (Victoria) Coggan (21), from Waringstown, Co Armagh, is studying business and economics at Queen’s University Belfast
“My mother is Catholic, my father Protestant and I’m a practising Catholic. My parents did not have strong feelings towards being unionist or nationalist – they have always sort of believed in letting children make their own decisions.
“I went to integrated school from primary (Banbridge) to end of GCSE (Loughbrickland) and that was an important part in breaking down traditional barriers that other people tend to face when deciding about their own political beliefs and opinions.
“My mother has always known I have been a little right-wing so she was not entirely surprised when I told her.
“When I told one side of my wider family they did not react particularly well. I did get the mick taken out of me quite a bit but you stand your ground and the novelty of it seems to have worn off now.
“I have never had rows with my brother or twin sister on the issue; they are not very political. You do come across other people who disagree with you but it is just about having faith in your opinions.