NI’s achievements should be recognised

Differing fortunes of the two states in Ireland

Sir, – I refer to Michael McDowell’s valuable article “A ‘good’ united Ireland can be achieved” (Opinion & Analysis, September 28th).

He reprinted James Craig’s statement in Stormont in 1934 in which he boasted that “we are a Protestant parliament and a Protestant state”. Craig remarked that he said this because “in the south they boasted of a Catholic state”. He went on to say that it would be interesting for future historians to compare which state got on better and prospered the more.

There are criticisms that one can make about how the Northern state developed. But it is wrong to write, as Michael McDowell does, that in 1934 “both parts of Ireland were facing decades of progressive economic and population decline”. In fact, the first 50 years saw very different experiences for each.

In Northern Ireland, the population grew every decade from the 1926 census until 1971. The total population in 1971 stood at 1,536,065, an increase of 22.2 per cent from its figure of 1,256,561 in 1926. The Catholic population grew from 420,428 in 1926 to an estimated 559,800 in 1971, an increase of 139,372 or 33.1 per cent.


In the Irish Free State/Irish Republic, the population fell every decade from the 1926 census until the 1960s when it began to rise. The total population stood at 2,971,992 in 1926 and by 1971 it stood at only 2,978,248, an increase of a mere 6,256, just 0.2 per cent. A rise similar to that in the North would have kept another 600,000 Irish citizens at home.

In the Southern state, the number of Protestants fell from 208,024 in 1926 to 120,032 in 1971, a decline of 42.3 per cent. The number of Catholics rose from 2,751,269 in 1926 to 2,795,596 in 1971, an increase of only 44,327 (1.6 per cent). This meant that Catholic numbers in the North, with an increase of nearly 140,000, grew at a very much higher rate than Catholic numbers in the South – a third increase compared to stagnation.

There are many reasons for the differences in fortunes of the two states in Ireland during the first half century after partition. Unlike the South’s failed protectionist economic policies, the North’s outward economic policies attracted firms such as Du Pont to Derry and British Enkalon to Antrim. The availability of free secondary education and the welfare state in the North from the 1940s, thanks to the union, was a great advantage for all.

Northern Ireland had many failings in the first half century after 1921. It also had many achievements, which should be acknowledged. – Yours, etc,


Professor Emeritus

of Irish Studies,

Queen’s University Belfast.