Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, First Minister Peter Robinson, Taoiseach Enda Kenny (Credit:  NGNS)
In a stunning column that turns the future on its head, Irish Times columnist Gerry Moriarty has shown that a Catholic majority in Northern Ireland will occur much faster than had previously been thought.

There has been a clear and inexorable pattern of Catholic population increasing while the Protestant population declines.

However, Moriarty presents it in a new and stark way and asks several critical questions.

Key of course is what will the upcoming Catholic majority mean for Northern Ireland?

But first to the facts and figures.

Moriarty opens his column by saying:

"The British and Irish governments and the people of Northern Ireland are facing the prospect – and sooner than most people might think – of how to manage a transformed constitutional situation where the majority in the North are likely to be from a Catholic background."

He goes on:

"The figures are revealed in the statistics: there are now significantly more Catholics than Protestants in nursery, primary, second- and third-level education in Northern Ireland. If that trend continues, and it’s difficult to see a reason why it should not, then in another generation or so the majority population should be Catholic or from a Catholic background – people of voting age, most of whose immediate antecedents are nationalist in their political outlook.

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He pointed out that figures from Northern Ireland’s Department of Education for 2010/11 show 120,415 Protestants and 163,693 Catholics in the North’s schools.

Those figures that is a breakdown of 57.6 per cent Catholic, 42.4 per cent Protestant.....figures for 2009/10 obtained from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that at university level the trend has continued

"In total... at third level there are 20,995 students (59.3 per cent) from a Catholic background and 14,410 (40.7 per cent) from a Protestant background." Moriarty writes

In the 2001 census the figures showed Protestants at 53.1 per cent and Catholics at 43.8 per cent. The 2011 census is expected to show that gap is much narrower.By the 2021 census the change will be dramatic

In the last election 48 per cent voted for Unionist parties and 42 per cent for nationalists. The rest voted cross community, mainly Alliance.

Of course, there is no certainty that Catholics would vote for a United Ireland, indeed, many say they would not.

However, with Scotland trembling on the edge of major devolution and conceivably outright independence, the old United Kingdom is not what it once was.

One could say the same about the Irish Republic of course, and many Catholics, now that they share power in Northern Ireland would hardly want to join up with a country in the throes of a terrible economic malaise.

But how a Catholic majority would work out is unpredictable. But it seems certain that it will happen within a generation.

The Protestant state for a Protestant people created against the wishes of Catholics corralled in 1921 into the new state may find itself on the ash heap in the future.

As Yeats might have said, All changed, changed utterly.