Ulster nationalism is a minor school of thought in the politics of Northern Ireland that seeks the independence of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom without joining the Republic of Ireland, thereby becoming an independent sovereign state separate from both.

Independence has been supported by groups such as Ulster Third Way and some factions of the Ulster Defence Association. However, it is a fringe view in Northern Ireland. It is [not] supported by any of the political parties represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Given what has happened with the Northern Ireland protocol, one might think that people in Great Britain (that is, the island which forms the much larger part of the United Kingdom) don't care about Northern Ireland. Johnson was quite happy to put a trade border in the Irish Sea for instance, which was contrary to the ideals of Unionism.

One would be right to think that. In a poll of GB attitudes towards NI, YouGov found

When asked what they want to happen with Northern Ireland, again around four in ten (43%) don’t have a strong view, saying that it is ultimately up to the Northern Irish. A further third (35%) want Northern Ireland to remain in the UK, while 15% think it should join together with the rest of Ireland.

I understand that many people in the Protestant community do not want to be part of a United Ireland. But given the frequent - and accurate - complaint that people in Britain don't care about them, why is there so little support for the idea of an independent country?

  • 1
    Supporting self-determination isn't precisely the same as not caring what happens to a place.
    – Obie 2.0
    Oct 8, 2022 at 0:02
  • 1
    I didn't say it was. Can you point to the part of the question which has caused this misunderstanding?
    – Ne Mo
    Oct 8, 2022 at 14:02
  • +1 This is an interesting question but I'm confused; the title asks about Ulster nationalism in NI but the body of the question cites opinions in the UK as a whole. Is your last paragraph asking why the Protestants don't support total independence given that the people of GB don't care about them? Oct 10, 2022 at 17:52
  • Thanks. Yes, that's correct. I am asking why, given that GB people don't seem to see NI Protestants as being 'like them', a far greater number of Protestants in NI favour continued union with GB over a NI independent from both GB and the Republic of Ireland. As I pointed out GB voters don't care whether NI leaves or stays. Contrast with Scotland, where over 50% of English voters usually say they want Scotland to remain in the union with England en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Ne Mo
    Oct 10, 2022 at 19:50
  • There are two reasons, I suspect. Money and history. The original creation of NI gave unionists guaranteed control and a lot of autonomy (they didn't have an incentive for more independence). They still remember that. The other is money: the NI economy is heavily subsidised by the rest of the UK. They would lose that with independence. They used to have both local control and subsidy: why would they want independence?
    – matt_black
    Oct 12, 2022 at 12:15

1 Answer 1


Globally, regions with factions seeking independence are regions in which there is a long cultural tradition identified with the region: Think of Catalonia, or Kurdistan, or even Scotland. It is often the case that the these are "Nations", even if not currently independent nations.

This is not the case with Northern Ireland. The Protestant community is descended from protestant scots who were "planted" in Ireland 400 years ago, This means that "Northern Ireland" isn't a traditional nation. It's not even a traditional region of Ireland (it is composed of 6 of the 8 counties of Ulster).

So there is no tradition of "Northern Ireland Nationalism". However there is a strong tradition of Loyalism. For Loyalists, Northern Ireland is a compromise, not an ideal. It is a way of remaining in the United Kingdom, which is the real goal.

  • I can see that the Protestant community in Northern Ireland is a different animal to somewhere like Catalonia. However, in North America it took a lot less than 400 years for the 'planted' settlers to develop the demand for an independent country. And Ulster (which encompasses all of NI and a part of the Republic) is a place with an identity, not an arbitrary chunk of land.
    – Ne Mo
    Oct 8, 2022 at 14:00
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    USA: Different country, different people, different history, different outcome. Perhaps if there had been a visionary leader in 1850 that had promoted an "Ulster nationalist" agenda then things might have been different. There wasn't. . . However this remains my answer. There's no Ulster Nationalism, because Ulster isn't a nation.
    – James K
    Oct 8, 2022 at 14:43
  • Not trying to make you change it, but if we can't compare 'different country, different people, different history', then the answer to any why question is 'that's just the way it is'.
    – Ne Mo
    Oct 8, 2022 at 15:59
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    I think the USA is the exception,and you can look at the exceptional situation in 1776.
    – James K
    Oct 9, 2022 at 10:42
  • @NeMo There is a large nationalist movement in Northern Ireland. They want the nation of Ireland.
    – Caleth
    Oct 10, 2022 at 8:18

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